Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing the fifth film from Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis’s Dark Castle Entertainment. The 2005 House of Wax is a remake in name only to the first major-studio black-and-white 3-D feature from 1953 starring Vincent Price, which was in turn a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933.
This was the directorial debut of Jaume Collet-Serra who would go on to make the far superior horror film Orphan, Disney’s The Jungle Cruise with Duane Johnson and Emily Blunt, as well as the upcoming DC comics adaptation Black Adam. It is also notable for being written by Chad and Carey Hayes who would find their footing eventually with The Conjuring and its worthy sequel. House of Wax (2005) is now available in a collector’s edition from Scream Factory.
“Hey, town’s looking real good. We almost finished what Ma started. Those two are good, they’ll fit perfectly. What I tell ya, huh? Ain’t your work more real now? Ma would be proud, yeah, she’d be real proud. She always said your talent would make up for what God took away from you. There’s two more, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.” – Bo
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes the most of his material in the 2005 remake of House of Wax, which, truth be told, feels more like a remake of Tourist Trap, but that’s neither here nor there. The grandest obstacle that this hand-picked rookie filmmaker had working against him was not Paris Hilton, in fact she did an admirable job of delivering what was required of her character in the script. No, the biggest challenge was trying to make an hour-long setup in a movie feel suspenseful and engaging when nothing remotely interesting or substantial happens. There is an attempt to build atmosphere, but there’s not much cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (Star Trek Beyond) can do when all he has to work with is a secluded campsite and a group of insipid characters, lacking much of anything resembling intelligence or personality, headed to a football game in Louisiana. There’s a deleted scene included on this disc that reveals an effective opening kill that would have established a more effectively suspenseful mood than the origin flashback of the twin brothers who get fully introduced in the better part of the movie.
John Ottman’s (Eight Legged Freaks) compelling score does manage to get under the skin during the quieter moments which are far and few between. Most of the time is occupied with the backdrop of abrasive nu metal music while siblings Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) argue around the campsite or the others get hammered on booze and toss around the old pig skin. Everything starts kicking into gear when the group parts ways after an altercation with one of the locals and Carly follows her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) into the ghost town of Ambrose to retrieve a new fan belt for his car. An interesting side note, Padalecki starred in the popular TV series “Supernatural” months after this theatrical release and, about four years later, there was a meta episode that involved a shape-shing Leshy from Slavic folklore stalking a small town wax museum that includes an on screen Paris Hilton decapitation that outdoes the rusty pipe forehead impalement we get in House Of Wax.
It’s in this town where they meet a mechanic shop owner named Bo (Brian Van Holt) who pulls double duty as the masked maniac Vincent. Once poor Wade gets captured by Vincent and is basically tortured in a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the French extreme films of the period, the slash and stalk mode of the movie begins, and all of the magnificent production design and glorious set pieces are laid out on display. The movie theater sequence with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in the background is a particular highlight. The way the film projector breaks and the sound becomes distorted adds a layer of unearthly ambience and a welcomed dreamlike quality to what’s unfolding on screen. In the grand finale, Jason Baird’s special effects prominently showcase what the titular house can offer on a visual scale, and though there is partial CGI, it’s never over abundant and what a sheer thrilling spectacle this is when the film ultimately delivers in spades.
The extras on this Scream Factory collector’s edition are impressive as always.
The new features being produced by Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment with the standout being “To Me They Live and Breathe — An Interview with Make-up Effects Artist Jason Baird”. Here he talks about the extensive detail used on extras to deliver convincing wax figures in the church scene and throughout the abandoned town of Ambrose. There’s also an insightful interview with Paris Hilton where she gives an amusing anecdote of a failed attempt to have the director allow her to wear high heels during her chase scene with the masked killer. Perhaps allowing some of those doltish creative choices would have livened the dull sections of the film with some much-needed campiness. All-in-all, House of Wax isn’t without some merit when it comes to the later visuals and special effects, and if you already own the vastly superior House on Haunted Hill, or the other Dark Castle Entertainment films Scream Factory has released thus far, then this might be worth adding to your collection.
House of Wax Special Features:
- NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive
- NEW Die, My Darling – An Interview With Actress Paris Hilton
- NEW The Tale Of Blake And Paige – An Interview With Actor Robert Ri’chard
- NEW Organ Grinder – An Interview With Composer John Ottman
- NEW To Me, They Live And Breathe – An Interview With Makeup Effects Artist Jason Baird
- B-Roll And Bloopers Video Cast Commentary
- From Location: Joel Silver Reveals The House Of Wax
- Wax On: The Design Of House Of Wax
- The House Built On Wax: The Visual Effects Of House Of Wax
- Alternate Opening: Jennifer Killed
- Gag Reel
- Vintage Interviews With Cast And Crew From The Electronic Press Kit
- Vintage Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory July 13th, 2021.