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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #31

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 6, 2005
Sub-Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States/Australia
Budget: $40,000,000
Box Office: $70,064,800
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Producers: Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Levin
Production Company: Dark Castle Entertainment
Screenplay: Charles Belden, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Special Effects: Bruce Bright
Cinematography: Stephen Windon
Score: John Ottman
Editing: Joel Negron
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stars: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton, Brian van Holt, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard, Damon Herriman, Andy Anderson

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Suggested Audio Candy:

The Prodigy Spitfire

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It appears there can be no accounting for taste. Certain fated features just appear destined to be shunned, misunderstood and, in due course, forgotten. One such film is Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2005 remodelling of Vincent Price’s 1953 chiller House of Wax. I state this whilst being fully aware it grossed nearly double its $40m outlay. The knives may have already been sharpened and prepared to plunge but this didn’t deter the younger generation it was shrewdly marketed towards from fleecing their parents and catching it at their nearest multiplex. The producers had evident done their homework.

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However, despite its theatrical success, Collet-Serra’s film has since been bundled with all the other modern teen slashers that arrived in the wake of Scream. Wes Craven’s reinvention of an age-old formula may have been a breath of fresh air back in 1996 after such a lean spell for slasher but it was also responsible for a landslide of like-minded movies all looking to tap into the same golden vein that had made Craven’s venture such a lucrative one. Stick around at the close of this appraisal for a more intimate run-down of the prime suspects in question, each of which is synonymous with the brand I speak of (and there are a multitude of others) but, before we go a solitary step further, let me make it abundantly clear that House of Wax does not belong to this particular fellowship.

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Indeed, it’s a shadowy little number with nothing “teen” about it, outside of the explicable casting that suggests otherwise. Folk perish here and those sorry souls are then encased in enough searing hot wax to make Willem Dafoe blush, before being melted down accordingly. Make no mistake, Collet-Serra’s film is a mean-spirited affair and doesn’t pander to its audience. Moreover, it provides an indisputable fifties classic with the lick of paint it downright deserved and made it current in the process. You could argue that David Schmoeller had already reinvented said wheel with his quaint 1979 terrorizer Tourist Trap but, despite being far better than it has ever been given credit for, it didn’t possess the bells and whistles at its disposal that $40m in financial backing affords you.

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The $40m budget is here for all to observe, every last nickel. Production company Dark Castle Entertainment was formed in 1999 by Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver and Gilbert Adler as a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures and had already enjoyed progressively noteworthy returns from its prior projects William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill, Steve Beck’s Thir13en Ghosts and Ghost Ship, and Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika, none of which were particularly well received by critics interestingly. Former vice director of development Susan Levin (now married to Robert Downey Jr.) was also still involved at this point so House of Wax had ample clout behind its assembly. But like all four earlier releases, it was besmirched by hatred upon its eventual advent.

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My next bugbear is Paris Hilton, though not for the reason you will be anticipating. It appears this outspoken irritant’s presence may have been one of the chief reasons that certain blades were unsheathed before the film even exited post-production. Tom Putnam’s misguided rom-com The Hottie and the Nottie, of which she assumed the lead role, has been a mainstay in many undesirable lists and currently languishes in the lower reaches of the worst user-rated movies in motion picture history and why? I have no idea. It’s no better or worse than a thousand other such-like teen-centric comedies (alright, maybe shoddier than a fair share of them) but it’s the fact that the rich socialite turned business savvy mogul puts in a turn that gains it disdain from certain quarters. Yawn!

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Another irksome revelation is that even supposed non-haters say that the performances are all fine…except for hers when, in truth, she’s just as credible as any of the others, portraying a young woman dreading her destined undoing and doing so with some conviction. Judge her on her own merits please! She may never do Emily Brontë but here she matches the rest of the youthful cast stride-for-stride. When said cast comprises some of the hottest young properties in the industry right now, that’s no bad turn in my books.

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The whole world is familiar with the malicious manner in which she meets her maker and admittedly it’s splatter of optimum caliber but I didn’t feel it necessary to pump my fist or breaking into falsetto like some. Don’t get it twisted, an hour in a room with Paris and I may well desire to snap her like a Pretzel but she is easy enough on the eye and the whole “let’s hate on Hilton” campaign just got tiresome after so long.

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Anyhoots, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Time for a dash of synopsis. House of Wax focuses on half a dozen youngsters on their way to a football game who set up camp nearby to an old run-down wax museum. We have the ambitious Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her significant other Wade (Jared Padalecki), mildly slutty best friend Paige (Hilton) and her boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri’chard) who may or may not have placed a bun in her oven (not that it will ultimately matter), with Carly’s twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and immature buddy Dalton (Jon Abrahams) tagging along to make up the numbers. Unbeknownst to them, the ghost town they have chosen to pitch their tent nearby harbors an ominous secret and their trespasses have been duly noted.

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The tempo is steady throughout the opening act with first-time director Collet-Serra (who later brought us Orphan) choosing against playing his hand before time, wisely opting to build tension instead. By doing so he also affords himself the time to flesh out his characters although, it has to be said, they’re pretty much your regular disposable teens and hardly difficult to suss. One by one, they begin to fall foul of their tormentors and House of Wax follows the well-worn template to the very letter. Having said that, any dearth of substance is more than made up for with a profusion of style and, at its heart, beats an old-fashioned chiller the likes of which we all grew up idolizing.

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Meanwhile the epic climactic act doesn’t let the package down one iota, delivering a money-laden spectacle to liquefy the iciest of hearts’ glaciation. The elaborate and costly set dribbles away elegantly before our grateful eyes and, with that, our yarn draws to its close. 105 minutes may seem like a lengthy slog for such a simple stalk and slash picture but precious few of them are wasteful and the last thirty are more than worthy of the price of admission alone. Give House of Wax an opportunity when you desire an old school horror fable with a glossy sheen as, given the chance, it may well melt away your defenses like it did mine.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For The Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Collet-Serra’s film takes its sweet time before the grue begins to flow but, once it does, it becomes difficult to work out how it escaped with a meager 15 certificate. Paris’ pipe-mare isn’t the only bloodletting on display and there’s a steady flow of deep red amidst the aforementioned meltdowns, including a vicious moment containing a pair of pliers and a peeking pinkie which teases; then delivers with gruesome glee. Meanwhile, orifices are agonizingly glued shut, Achilles tendons disconnected, and heads detached stylishly equating to a bloody good time for all. As for skin, Hilton spends a large chunk of her screen time prancing about in her underwear and, say what you will about her, but she was certainly put together right.

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Disposable Teens

 

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Here are just a smattering of the movies that arrived post-Screamgate, all of which were firmly aimed at a younger demographic. Some suck a little, others don’t but all can be accused of having jumped on Craven’s mid-nineties bandwagon to some degree.

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Jim Gillespie’s popular slasher may have arrived first on the scene after Scream made the genre trendy again but it was actually based on a 1973 novel of the same name thus can be absolved of much of the blame for cashing in. Truth be known, it’s not half bad and Gillespie goes as far as its limitations can take him. There is some decent build-up amongst all the pouting and its young cast each give creditable accounts of themselves, particularly Ryan Phillippe as the petulant Barry. Ultimately it may fail to deliver on its promise but it still got in before the deluge of like-minded fare and is well executed for the most part. 7/10

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Alas, the same cannot be said for the inevitable sequel. Danny Cannon’s film infuriates me to the nth degree. So many characters and not a solitary reason to care about any of them. Even the maids are snuffed out unceremoniously whilst going about their daily chores and without a single line of dialogue. Moreover, it has such a nonsensically improbable plot that you just want to cuff the screen in anger. A couple of half-decent kills gain it a mark and I would be callous to claim that there isn’t a tiny glimmer of enjoyment to be gleaned but it’s more of an angry pleasure than anything else. 5/10

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Danny Blanks’ film arrived on the scene while the going was still good and, despite being somewhat unfairly dismissed by critics as by-the-numbers, performed rather tidily at the box office. The intro was pure sirloin, the second dispatch, T-Bone and, while much of the remainder was butt steak, it still slid down rather effortlessly. There is a nice demented (clichéd but demented) turn by the ever-spankable Rebecca Gayheart and the urban legend angle is novel for a while. However, it increasingly descends into the customary stalk and slash shenanigans and leaves no real after taste once the credits roll. Having said that, it’s far better than its many detractors claim. 7/10

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A film of two halves if ever there was one. Victor Salva builds a commendable level of tension for the first hour but, alas, doesn’t really have an idea where to take it from there as it squandered much of that early potential and plays it safe instead. Having said that, Gina Philips and Justin Long make for eminently likeable leads, the opening act is excruciatingly suspenseful, and the “I didn’t see that coming” conclusion is both mean-spirited and genuinely unsettling in equal measures. 7/10

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Unlike some, I actually don’t have any real problem with Salva’s sequel (other than the fact that the hateful teenagers pushed me to the brink of sanity). It’s merely that the original hinted at something far more sinister. However, I am yet to find a film that doesn’t benefit from Ray Wise putting in a turn and, quibbles aside, it can never be accused of being uneventful. The Creeper of the title is provided with numerous moments to cast his ominous shadow over proceedings and, when he swoops down, there’s enough of the deep red coulis splashed around to ensure we remain invested. 6/10

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Also flecked by the erroneous brush of the modern teen slasher, Geoffrey Wright’s delectable black comedy didn’t receive anywhere near sufficient love. Cleverly constructed and well-played by a cast which included Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr and Michael Biehn, this makes a mockery of the belief that getting laid is a surefire way to get snuffed out as the killer prefers his victims to be sporting intact hymens and leaves venereal disease to provide any sluts with punishment for their promiscuity. Alas, it fell on deaf ears and Cherry Falls simply got lost in the crowd. Shame as it’s the smartest movie on the list and deserved a lot better than disinterest. 7/10

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A vaguely above-middling dollop of slash by-numbers fare from Boris von Sychowski featuring a gaggle of bikini-clad thrillseekers (including a young James McAvoy) being taught why there exist safety warnings on water slaloms as they are picked off one-by-one by an unseen assailant. There’s nothing not to like but, by the same token, not a whole lot to raise it above par either. 6/10

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Say what you will about Katt Shea’s universally despised semi-sequel to Brian De Palma’s Carrie but this one is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Well-mannered splatter rescues it from the dominion of the insipid and a welcome cameo by Amy Irving from the original is a nice touch. Unfortunately, it fell on its own sword by attempting to cash in on its predecessor but, taken on its own merits and accompanied by a six-pack of Budweiser, it really ain’t all that tragic. 6/10

Paris J’Taime

 

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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)

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2 thoughts on “House of Wax (2005)

    • Yes, some complain that it is too slow-moving but I love the way it builds in the opening half and was never less than glued to the screen from the opening credits. Grossly underrated.

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