I’m a simple man. I like my coffee dark, my Mexican food spicy, and my horror films as bloody as possible, but even I found some parts of the remake of House of Wax so grotesque that I actually found myself wincing. That, my friends, is a sign of quality stuff. While House of Wax won’t win any awards for…well…just about anything, this was one of the last films that I expected to even remotely like, let alone thoroughly enjoy, and I credit that not only to some excellent production values, but also to a mean spirit that rivals that of the dour Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Unlike that film, however, House of Wax is still goofily pleasurable, and seems more rooted in the slasher stylings of the eighties than the nihilistic sensibilities of the modern horror film.
A group of friends are traveling to the year’s biggest college football game, but a backwoods “shortcut” finds them hopelessly lost and they decide to camp out until morning. Carly (Cuthbert) and her boyfriend Wade (Padalecki) are on the trip to sort out their relationship, as Carly is moving to New York for school and wants Wade to join her. Carly’s troubled twin brother, Nick (Murray), spitefully comes along for the ride, freshly out of jail for car theft, and, with his camcorder obsessed pal Dalton (Abrahams) in tow, seems determined to make his sister’s little getaway as uncomfortable as possible. Blake (Ri’chard) and Paige (Hilton) have issues of their own, as Blake is obsessed with getting to the football game, while Paige is dancing around whether or not to tell Blake that she may be pregnant. It’s a lot of characterization stuffed into a few minutes, but that’s okay because soon most of these people will be dead anyway.
A mysterious truck interrupts the kid’s party, and the volatile Nick throws a bottle at it, sending the driver roaring off. The next morning, Wade finds that the fan belt of his car is broken, and, with the help of a local weirdo, he and Carly venture into the isolated town of Ambrose for help, while the others head back to the highway to get to the game. The one street town features a sinister hilltop wax museum as its centerpiece, but seems otherwise abandoned, save for a group of people attending a funeral service in the local church. Amongst the mourners is the gentlemanly Bo (Van Holt), the owner of the gas station who tells Wade and Carly the sordid history of the wax museum and the family who used to run it. Bo takes the pair to his house to find the part for their vehicle, but when Wade wanders off he discovers a horrifying secret about the seemingly benevolent mechanic, and soon our friends must fight to escape Ambrose lest they too become exhibits in the House of Wax.
While it takes a little bit of time to get going, once it does House of Wax is an astonishingly gory, cruel, and effective little horror picture. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is an obvious fan of the more intense slasher flicks of the eighties, and this vibe permeates his film. Fingertips are snipped off, lips are super glued shut, heads lopped, and throats slashed; it’s as if the creators of the film sat down and drummed up the most uncomfortable and nauseating death scenarios they could come up with, and they work marvelously. The film looks great, with eerie and atmospheric sets, especially the titular wax house which makes for a cool looking and novel locale for the film’s finale. My only gripe with House of Wax is that it’s not a particularly scary film, instead relying on gross-out tactics rather than traditional jolts. Still, gorehounds will love it, especially those weaned on classic, over-the-top slasher fare like The Burning and Just Before Dawn.
Warner Brothers presents House of Wax with a bevy of extra goodies, including a funny/strange cast commentary on a series of bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage that is presented in a sort of split-screen fashion so that we see the cast as they watch the footage and comment on it. It’s actually pretty funny, with Cuthbert seeming to be the most lucid of the bunch, while Paris Hilton says things like “that’s hot” and “ewwww”. Meanwhile Padalecki appears to be either stoned out of his mind or blissfully unaware that he was in a movie at all, while Justin Timberlake- look-alike Murray seems to be…well…as much of a douche bag in real life as his character was in the film. There are also a few featurettes, and a really cool alternate opening sequence that, in my opinion, should have been in the film, as it sets the tone nicely.
This isn’t a terrifically intelligent film, but that’s okay because slashers aren’t supposed to be smart. Besides, this is the kind of featherweight film that I find myself going back to again and again because they’re easy on the eyes as well as the brain, which is what makes this flick the sort of DVD that’s ripe for purchase. I expect my slasher flicks to be fun, scary, and gross, and, while House of Wax isn’t all that scary, two out of three certainly ain’t bad.