[box cover]

House of Wax (2005)

The remake of the 1953 Vincent Price 3-D horror classic House of Wax gets off to a nicely weird start ("remake" meaning there's wax and killing, and that's about it). It's 1974, and amid gooey close-ups of boiling paraffin, a bickering couple straps a howling toddler into a high-chair. It's all shot in close-up so we never see a human face — and the whole thing has this vague It's Alive vibe that's kind of funny and trashy and old-school. So imagine one's disappointment when we suddenly flash-forward three decades and there's angst-rock blaring on the soundtrack as we follow six surly, disposable teens (three of them played by Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and, dear Lord, Paris Hilton) on a road trip. Sure enough, they take a shortcut, have car trouble, get a ride from a tooth-challenged hick and end up in a town so remote it doesn't even show up on GPS (!), and … well … you can guess what happens next. Sadly, director Jaume Serra has taken the Gothic premise of a madman casting his living victims in wax and — no doubt at the behest of copycat-hungry producers — turned House of Wax into yet another teens-versus-hillbillies slasher flick. (Seriously: nigh-invincible, paramilitary-trained, slasher-hillbilly wax artistes? Is there a trade school for that?) But all that aside, the film actually has a lot going for it, if only by comparison to other recent entries in the 21st-Century-Classic-Horror-Remake subgenre. It takes its sweet time setting up the situation. The gore is fairly abundant and clever. The final showdown — set in a literally melting hellscape — is so outrageously over-the-top that it's kind of freaky. The actors playing hillbillies (Brian Van Holt and Damon Herriman) have a nasty energy. And Cuthbert, primed after years of being tied up and/or menaced by cougars on "24," takes gratuitous abuse like a champ. (And since you asked: Hilton is sparingly used, plays her vacuous self, gets chased while wearing designer lingerie, and is, in fact, violated on videotape — though not in the way you'd expect.) Warner Home Video presents House of Wax in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English, French, and Spanish, all with optional subtitles). Supplements include "B-Roll and Bloopers Video Cast Commentary" with Cuthbert, Hilton, and others (26 min.), the featurettes "Wax On: The Design of House of Wax" (7 min.) and "House Built on Wax: The Visual FX of House of Wax" (10 min.), a gag reel (3 min.), an alternate opening sequence (1 min.), "From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax" (1 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
Mike Russell



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