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Warner Home Video presents
House of Wax (2005)

"This place is freaking me out!"
- Carly (Elisha Cuthbert)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: October 25, 2005

Stars: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Jared Padalecki
Other Stars: Paris Hilton, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri'chard, Damon Herriman, Murray Smith, Dragitsa Debert
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, some sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:52m:36s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 085393894528
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-BB- B-

DVD Review

When House of Wax hit theaters in early 2005, it received more press for the presence of wealthy slacker/sex-tape starlet Paris Hilton as one of the expendable victims than it did as what it actually was: a decent by-the-numbers "dead college student" project. Other than the title, it bears no major plot resemblance to the 1953 Vincent Price classic—aside from hapless humans being used as something much more than models for the creation of wax figures—and first-time director Jaume Collet-Serra does a good job showing that he's an astute student of the modern-day slasher film.

That may be something of a veiled compliment depending on your tastes, but horror fans (especially those groomed on short-attention span hack-em-up titles like Scream) who don't go in with grand expectations should feel rather comfortable here, as the story of a group of college students on a road trip to a big football game spends its time ending predictably tragic when they decide to camp a little too close to the titular building. It is stock character time, with standard issue heroine (Elisha Cuthbert), her level-headed boyfriend (Jared Padalecki), street tough troublemaker (Chad Michael Murray), vacuous blonde (Paris Hilton), token African-American (Robert Ri'chard) and comic relief (Jon Abrahams) finding themselves experiencing all manner of waxy, bloody unpleasantness as Collet-Serra builds to a preposterously goofy climax that is as cleverly done as it is completely illogical.

After a wonderfully tense prologue (something Collet-Serra has difficulty coming close to repeating for the duration), there are admittedly a few little unexpected grim surprises along the way, but as a rule the plot requires characters to separate at inopportune moments so that they can be dispatched or held hostage. Once all the plot points are finally revealed during the third act things move like a million other genre titles (fight, run, fight, run), until Collet-Serra defies building code realism with a sprawling final confrontation that is full of goopy, dripping dumbness that requires a monumental leap of faith by viewers.

Cuthbert, decked out in a form-fitting Jessica-Biel-from-the-remake-of-The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre white tank top, screams and jiggles her way neatly through House of Wax as the de facto heroine (there's always at least one in something like this), though in one of the film's biggest logic gaffes receives an incredibly painful and bloody wound that once wrapped in duct tape is apparently a non-issue for the duration. Hilton, easy target for mockery that she is, seems to be playing a modestly toned-down version of her real-life self, and as a result her character is somehow less annoying than reality. A few sex tape jokes are tossed in for no reason other than it's Hilton, but her death scene is a gory beaut, and one of the best in the entire film.

Collet-Serra stages a couple of above-bar creepy sequences here, including a bizarre mechanical contraption used to turn a human into a wax figure, and even tosses in a decapitation and someone getting their lips Crazy Glued together for good measure. That doesn't make this one scary as much as it relies on the act of bloodletting and jump scares to make its fidgety, dramatic points. The thing is, even though I felt as if I had seen the framework of this one countless times before, I can't honestly say I didn't mindlessly enjoy House of Wax. Maybe my low expectations helped.

There isn't anything new here, but it's pieced together well enough to make it watchable fun.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty solid all the way around, and for such a dark, shadowy film that's saying something. It's not flawless—one character death is very murky and if it wasn't for the screams I wouldn't have been sure anything happened—but colors and fleshtones have a natural hue throughout. Image detail is a bit soft on some of the interior shots, though there are no major compression issues, and grain is fairly minimal, however somewhat more noticeable on a few of the darker sequences, but not a major hindrance overall.

There is also a separate fullscreen version of this title available, so choose wisely.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English, as well as dubs in Spanish or French (Quebec). I was a bit nonplussed at the quality of the dialogue, which seemed slightly flat and devoid of any notable fullness. It was clearly audible, just not quite as rich as the rest of the elements. The rest of the fairly aggressive mix thankfully shapes up a whole lot better, with fine directional movement (both front and rear) and a pleasing depth to the John Ottman (Gothika) score. A deep, rumbling .LFE track helps sell all the jump scares, making the lackluster dialogue less of a distraction.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tales From The Crypt, A Scanner Darkly
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No feature commentary here, but there is something called a B-Roll and Bloopers Cast Video Commentary (26m:29s). This has Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki and Chad Michael Murray (in split screen) lounging on a couch watching an assortment of miscellaneous footage and offering giggly comments and recollections. I almost felt a wee bit uncomfortable for Hilton when she seemed actually surprised that a particular scene was cut to imply she was performing a sex act on someone, but for the most part the chatter is lightweight, and aside from the appeal of seeing the attractive cast (I will rarely condemn an opportunity to ogle Cuthbert) there wasn't much need for the split screen effect. In the "just about overkill" department, there is an extra Gag Reel (03m:17s) if you can't get enough flubs and falls, though once again, for me, the presence of Cuthbert made this almost tolerable. On second thought, not really.

Next up are a pair of short behind-the-scenes pieces that appear to have been shot at the same time and then split, featuring input from director Jaume Collet-Serra, producers Herb Gains, Susan Levin and Joel Silver. The first is Wax On: The Design of House of Wax (07m:24s), and this one focuses on the work of production designer Graham Walker to create the creepy town and all of its buildings. House Built On Wax (10m:12s) includes a look at stylish creativity of visual effects supervisor John Breslin, and how Collet-Serra wanted to rely more on practical effects and keep the CG to a bare minimum. This one also carries a nice look at how the elaborate wax building was created.

There is one deleted scene entitled Alternate Open: Jennifer Killed (01m:38s), in which some anonymous character not featured in the final film meets a very grisly death. Not sure why this was chopped, but it's a nifty death scene, presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.

From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax (01m:32s) is a quickie from the producer, on the set of Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang chatting up the release of House of Wax. This one has a couple of nice surprises in it, making it worth a look.

Trailers for the feature, as well as Tales From The Crypt and A Scanner Darkly, are also included. The disc, housed in an amaray case inside of a cardboard slipcase, is cut into 31 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

You should know immediately if a film like this—crazed killer/expendable college kids/grisly death scenes—appeals to you, and if it does, then I'd have to say House of Wax certainly merits a peek.

There is no real reinvention of the horror genre here, nor is there anything to make this necessarily stand out in the crowd, but it is constructed well, with the de rigueur gore, jump scares, red herrings and attractive, but doomed cast.

Recommended for genre fans with low expectations.


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