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House of Wax (2005) – Movie Review

House of Wax (2005) DVD cover art

Written by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes, based on a story by Charles Belden
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki

My Advice: Wait for cable.

On their way to the biggest game of the century (or something), a group of friends inexplicably decide to camp out in the middle of nowhere. They piss off the locals, because that’s what you do in horror movies when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and then they stumble upon a small town that seems to be almost deserted–but not quite. Because they’re stuck there waiting for a part for their car so they can get out of Dodge, they fall prey to a series of strange events that all seem to emanate outwards from that strange ginormous House of Wax up there on the hill…

[ad#longpost]I realize that you’re not supposed to take films like this seriously. From what I can tell, Dark Castle, the same people who brought you that godawful remake of Thirteen Ghosts and the terribly flawed House on Haunted Hill remake, are trying to make horror flicks on the (relative) cheap that appeal to audiences today the same way that the originals appealed to audiences back in the day: fun, cheap, mindless thrills. From a business standpoint, this makes a lot of sense, because without a lot of money on the table you don’t have to make that much before you’re turning a profit.

There’s trouble in paradise, though: because the movies suck. Perhaps there is an audience who can turn down their mental rheostats to the point where these things don’t bug them, but I’m just not one of those people. What obviously hip, seemingly well-to-do kids decide to camp out in the middle of nowhere on their way to a football game? When faced with a creepy encounter with a local, what kids would say, “Hey, let’s stay here again tonight?” The beginning of this movie is ponderous as it tries to spend time setting up characters that aren’t characters–they’re just the usual tired slasher flick archetypes. You can almost imagine what their tarot cards would look like: The Slut, The Goofball, The Stud, The Boyfriend, The Good Girl, The Misunderstood Thug, and so on. Since we know these characters–because we’ve seen them in every other horror movie of this kind–why are we even wasting time trying to develop a back story? If you’ve got a movie where my brain needs to be turned off and you spend the first part of the movie trying to engage my brain? Not a good combo.

Now, if you can just stay sane until the actual slasher portion of the flick takes off, you might be okay. Once the body count gets under way, there’s a decent squirm and oh-shit factor in store for you. There’s also a pretty surprising amount of just pure unadulterated sadism, which is okay for the most part, since these kids are all dumbasses anyway, and for the first two-thirds of the movie you wish they would simply Die Faster. Cuthbert makes the best of a bad situation and Chad Michael Murray actually manages to make a likable character out of the thuggish cardboard cutout he was given, so they get high marks. And you’ll be pleased to know–and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here–that the person you would probably pay money to see killed does have a rather spectacular death. So that’s worth it regardless.

Also spectacular is the ending–which I can’t say anything about lest I give something away–and it’s a high tension, now-what type of scenario that’s almost edge-of-your-seat worthy. It just really needed to be tacked on to a better movie. And that’s what’s sad: the basic conceit of the film is a good one. But again, brainless characters with a mildly brain-needed plot is a recipe for disaster. And the plot holes just kill. Not to mention the soundtrack. Gods.

The DVD of the film comes with a B-Roll and Bloopers Video Cast Commentary, which is pretty self-explanatory, a production design featurette, an effects featurette, a gag reel, an alternate opening, and an intro by Joel Silver.

If this is your thing, go for it. But otherwise, wait and see it for free if possible.