House of Wax Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes
2005, 113 minutes, Rated R
Released on July 13th, 2021
Elisha Cuthbert as Carly
Chad Michael Murray as Nick
Paris Hilton as Paige
Jared Padalecki as Wade
Brian Van Holt as Bo
Robert Ri’chard as Blake
Jon Abrahams as Dalton
College friends Carly and Paige join their boyfriends Wade and Blake on a road trip to the biggest football game of the year. Along for the ride are Carly’s delinquent brother Nick and his dorky pal Dalton, a guy who spends much of his time behind a video camera. They follow a GPS shortcut to beat traffic but end up in a remote backwoods area not found on any map. Reluctantly, they agree to camp overnight in a clearing where they are met by a powerful stench and a creeping pickup truck. The next morning Wade’s car won’t start, so he and Carly venture into a nearby town that is eerily quiet. They explore the area and find a wax museum that is actually made of wax; the walls, floors and furnishings are all wax, as are several life-sized figures – not celebrities – just random people. Things are not what they seem in this town and soon the group find themselves targeted by a masked killer.
Dark Castle Entertainment executive producers Robert Zemekis and Joel Silver continue their run of remakes of vintage horror films of the 1950s that started with House on Haunted Hill (1999) and Thir13en Ghosts (2001), with a new spin on the classic House of Wax (1953). The original film starring Vincent Price (The Tingler) was in fact a remake of the 1933 chiller Mystery of the Wax Museum starring Lionel Atwill (Man Made Monster) and Fay Wray (King Kong). This 21st-century adaptation jettisons almost everything but the title and the high concept of people entombed in wax.
House of Wax (2005) introduces a new mythos and expands the killer’s reach beyond the confines of a single house to encompass the entire community. Our story is set in a forgotten town that never moved past the early 1960s, where the streets are empty and everything looks closed, including the movie theater still playing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (The Conjuring) manage to subvert audience expectations by mixing up the formula and including a few nasty surprises for our protagonists. This re-imagining owes more to a film like Tourist Trap than its predecessor, making it all the more interesting. There are some great set-pieces involving our heroes evading the killer with the trip through the movie theater being a particular highlight.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, The Shallows) makes a strong debut with this creepy chiller. He keeps his camera moving and successfully generates some decent tension exploring the various shadowy environments. Serra surrounds himself with a highly talented crew, including production designer Graham ‘Grace’ Walker (Pitch Black), who creates an appealing world of waxy horrors. Cinematographer Stephen Windon (Deep Blue Sea) brings it all to gorgeous life with his stylistic lighting and solid compositions. On a side note, Windon would go on to shoot seven (!) Fast & Furious sequels. The creepy figures that fill the town and the more grisly moments are well-realized by make-up artist Jason Baird (Ghost Ship). Composer John Ottman (Urban Legends: Final Cut) elevates the material with his orchestral score and editor Joel Negron (Sleepy Hollow) systematically creates a number of suspenseful moments building to an over-the-top finale.
Elisha Cuthbert (Captivity) is put through the wringer as our heroine Carly. From being nearly dumped head first into a charnel-pit of squishy roadkill to being on the wrong end of a pair of wire cutters, she is definitely a fighter. Chad Michael Murray (The Haunting in Connecticut 2) co-stars as Carly’s wayward brother Nick, and once he loses the tough guy demeanor, he is rather likable. Just before a career defining turn on the long-running series Supernatural, Jared Padalecki (Friday the 13th, 2009) was cast here as Carly’s unfortunate boyfriend Wade. He and Cuthbert share nice on-screen chemistry, as his character is a genuinely nice guy.
Making her acting debut, hotel heiress/model Paris Hilton (Repo! The Genetic Opera) plays party girl Paige, and she turns in a respectable performance that is stronger than many critics at the time were willing to admit. Famous for being famous, Hilton is the biggest name attached to this production, thanks in part to a strategically leaked sex tape on the internet. The studio embraced her notoriety and started a “See Paris Die!” marketing campaign to draw crowds. Not all of the performances in this picture are knockouts, but Hilton is far from being the worst.
House of Wax stands out as one of the better Dark Castle films, but it is also the longest, clocking in at just under two hours whereas the rest hover around the ninety-minute mark. This ultimately is not a deal-breaker, as the end result is rather satisfying, but should be pointed out to casual viewers looking for a quick thrill. The film is a surrealist nightmare that is well-written and beautifully executed. There is a wickedly dark sense of humor partnered with some truly painful-looking moments of slashing, piercing and puncturing.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film’s interpositive has received a 2K scan and restoration that improves upon the earlier 2006 Blu-ray release. This transfer is a little darker and small-object detail is sharper both in wide exteriors and more intimate close-ups. The neon in the town pops with color while the shadows in the titular location and movie theater are enveloping. Black levels are strong and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 5.1 gets the job done with a pleasing use of the surround channels adding a nice atmosphere to the creepy locations. Directional sound effects are present throughout the house and town and music cues are robust without being intrusive. Dialogue levels are always clean and understandable and optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Supplemental interviews and featurettes are the norm for many Blu-ray releases, but none are as beautifully staged as Die, My Darling (8 minutes), an interview with Paris Hilton, who looks like a million bucks (several million, actually). She has nothing but positive things to say about her experience on set filming in Australia. She talks about being offered the role and later getting her head cast by the make-up department. Hilton talks about the elaborate sets and filming her death scene and the pointed marketing campaign.
Actor Robert Ri’chard sits for the interview segment The Tale of Blake and Paige (5 minutes) and remembers working opposite Paris Hilton and filming intimate scenes. He talks about his approach to his character and the numerous script revisions and the goal of making a modern classic.
To Me They Live and Breathe (9 minutes) is a video conference interview with make-up artist Jason Baird, who reveals how the various wax bodies in the film were prepared. He highlights specific figures that stand out and tells of an accident involving fire that resulted in a hasty two-week period rebuilding all of the figures.
In another video conference piece, composer John Ottman details his process of creating the film’s Gothic score in Organ Grinder (6 minutes). He talks about his approach to the various themes and the decision to hire a real orchestra instead of using synthesizers. It is interesting to hear details of his writing process.
Returning from the previous Blu-ray disc is the segment B-Roll and Bloopers Video Cast Commentary (26 minutes), which features cast members Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Paris Hilton and Jared Padalecki sitting on a couch discussing behind-the-scenes footage shot on set – presented in split-screen.
Producer Joel Silver contributes a humorous segment titled From Location (2 minutes) in which he talks about the promising young cast of this movie while on the set of his other film Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
In the archival featurette Wax On: The Design of House of Wax (7 minutes), viewers are treated to a peek at the construction of the sprawling town set and building the wax figures. Interviews include producers Joel Silver, Susan Levin and Herb Gains, director Jaume Collet-Serra, make-up artist Jason Baird, cinematographer Stephen Windon and actor Jared Padalecki.
A House Built on Wax: The Visual FX of House of Wax (10 minutes) is another holdover from the previous release that studies the director’s preferred use of practical effects when possible and using CGI only when necessary. Many of the same participants from the previous featurette are featured here with the addition of miniatures supervisor Greg Tuckwell and visual effects supervisor John Breslin.
An alternate opening (2 minutes) offers a bonus kill to get things started.
A gag reel (5 minutes) offers a bit of levity that earns a few smiles.
A collection of short EPK interviews and a finished featurette (20 minutes) includes actors Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams and Robert Ri’chard as well as Jaume Collet-Serra and Joel Silver.
A theatrical trailer is also included.
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