The twenty-third entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax (2005). A remake of the great Vincent Price House of Wax (1953), Collet-Serra’s film ventures into much nastier territory than the classic horror film, which worked more as a creepy early-1900’s mystery. Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), and their friends are on their way to a big football game. They stop to camp for the night and are spied on by a creepy stranger in a rundown pickup truck. They yell at him to leave and after Nick throws a beer bottle at his truck, the stranger finally drives off. They wake up the next morning to find that the fan belt on Nick’s (Jared Padalecki) car is broken. Lester, a resident of Ambrose, a nearby town, drives by and offers to drive Wade and Carly into town to get a new belt. The others stay behind to get ready to leave for the football game. They arrive in Ambrose to discover an eerie ghost town. Soon, Carly’s friends start disappearing. And there is something incredibly creepy about the wax figures that she discovers in the town. Will Carly be able to escape from Ambrose alive? Will anything be left of her friends?
Collet-Serra’s film is incredibly dark and visually disgusting. There are few modern mainstream horror films that I can think of that really feature a production design that harkens back to the truly visceral and horrifying aesthetic of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), but House of Wax definitely tries to leave the viewer feeling gross for watching the events unfold. There is a really menacing and nasty vibe that hangs over the entire film. It works so perfectly with the creepy design of the Ambrose location, which features many haunting storefronts and buildings, including a movie theatre that repeatedly plays Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962). For those expecting just another fun teen slasher film, this one really delivers the gory moments that you’ll definitely remember long after the film is over.
At the time of its release, many were quick to speak negatively of the film simply because socialite Paris Hilton was in the cast. Without even seeing the film, it was condemned as simply an extension of her media persona that pre-dated the Kardashian empire that rules social media today. As any loyal horror fan can attest, Paris Hilton delivered respectable performances in two horror films of the 2000s, in House of Wax and in horror-musical Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008). The entire cast of House of Wax turn in solid performances here. Elisha Cuthbert as Carly and Chad Michael Murray as Nick are perhaps the strongest, but the remainder of their group are entertaining and enjoyable.
House of Wax is one of the films released by Dark Castle in the late 1990s and early 2000s that attempted to revive classic horror films with remakes that would appeal to younger modern audiences but also get them interested in the older films, as well. House on Haunted Hill (1999), Thir13en Ghosts (2001), and Ghost Ship (2002) are among the other films produced by Dark Castle during this time. While remakes are always a hot topic, as so many look down on them, I have always felt that the Dark Castle films were really engaging and always took new directions with their films instead of simply rehashing the exact same narrative as the original productions. House of Wax is certainly no exception. The film is very loosely based on the Vincent Price narrative, and the titular house of wax attraction is really one of the few similarities.
With its gritty and nasty aesthetic, its fun performances, and its amazing production and set design, House of Wax proves to be an absolutely essential watch this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen this film based on the negative word of mouth when the film was released, it is time to look past that thoughtless negativity and enjoy the dark film beneath the surface.
House of Wax is streaming with membership on HBO Max and AMC+. It can be rented on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. The Shout! Factory blu-ray, which features a new restoration and excellent special features, can be purchased HERE.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!