House of Wax (2005) turns fifteen in April. So, what better time to take a look back at the oft-maligned slasher redux to determine if it deserves the hate that is so often thrown its way.
For this critic, most of the vitriol is unwarranted. The film actually holds up surprisingly well. It succeeds at what it set out to do, which is to entertain. While House of Wax is far from being Oscar bait or even a truly great film, I cannot deny the flick’s inherent entertainment value.
House of Wax follows a gaggle of friends making a road trip to catch a college football game. When they stop off in a small town to camp for the night, the buddies encounter a series of strange events. The group soon discovers that the town they’ve stopped in is home to a bizarre and intricately crafted wax museum. The more time they spend there, the more evident it becomes that something sinister has a foothold on the township and whatever that is sets its sights on the comrades.
In reading the plot crunch above, you may have gathered that the film sounds more like a remake of the 1979 slasher, Tourist Trap than the 1953 Vincent Price starrer on which it is based. And you wouldn’t be wrong in that assessment. There are striking similarities between the two flicks. In addition to telling a similar story, both films dabble in surrealism and are likely (in one way or another) to leave the viewer asking themselves what the hell they just watched.
One area where House of Wax breaks from the formula laid out by Tourist Trap is with its runtime. Tourist Trap follows the unwritten rule that a slasher film should clock in at 90-minutes or less. In most cases, anything more is overkill. However, in spite of coming in at just under two hours, House of Wax held my attention from start to finish, even when revisiting it fifteen years later.
In spite of being longer than the average slasher picture, it never drags. The film is effectively paced and builds to a dramatic and highly enjoyable conclusion, taking care to flesh out its core cast of characters along the way.
The picture delves into its primary characters’ backstory and interpersonal relationships, making the main protagonists (Elisha Cuthbert, James Padalecki, and Chad Michael Murray) easier to identify with and ultimately more interesting. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) takes a risk and also delves into the backstory of his villains. That’s something that a lot of horror movie enthusiasts discourage (myself often included) but in this case, a little extra backstory adds to the experience, rather than detracts. Learning of the abuse the antagonists in the film went through gives the viewer an idea of the lengths to which they will go and therefore makes them that much more imposing.
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As far as the secondary characters, they are there get killed off and they do well enough at that. Paris Hilton’s Paige, dies a brilliant death. Seeing as the socialite seems to have more detractors than fans, it’s easy to surmise that she was cast as cannon fodder. Her performance certainly isn’t inspired; it’s not even particularly good, but it’s worthwhile when we get to see her character kick the bucket in grand fashion.
The effects in House of Wax are brought to life brilliantly and make up for some of the feature’s shortcomings. Not only are the gore FX top notch, the wax museum and the sculptures displayed within are also very impressive. The production design is elaborate and really well-executed. Graham ‘Grace’ Walker (The Road Warrior) really outdid himself with the creation of the wax museum set.
Without giving too much away, the set design plays a major role in the denouement. Viewers are treated to a sticky, waxy finale that left a lasting impression on me. If you somehow missed this one upon its initial release, House of Wax is an enjoyable flick with ample gore, and an exciting finale.
Wicked Rating: 6/10
Director(s): Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer(s): Charles Belden, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Stars: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, James Padalecki
Studio/ Production Co: Dark Castle Entertainment
Budget: $40 Million
Length: 113 Minutes