Title: House of Wax
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriters: Chad Hayes
Starring: Chad Michael Murray, Paris Hilton, Elisha Cuthbert
Gruesome, nasty, occasionally beautiful, and very effective, House of Wax is one of the more satisfying horror flicks of recent days, and surely one of the best slasher efforts. If it did not remind me so much of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, I would likely be showering it with all kinds of hosannas; as it stands, I will merely defend it against those who call it a “rip-off” or dismiss it as mere formula. It is formula, but that is no reason to dismiss it.
The director is Jaume Serra, whose background is in commercials and music videos; here, he shows not only a flair for genre, but also an impressive ability to come up with understated, chilling imagery. Consider the mysterious opening sequence — a family scene that quickly goes horrifyingly awry, shot with a mostly static camera, often taking a God’s eye view, and never showing a single face. The reason for the latter eventually becomes clear, but the series of shots is the very definition of “haunting.”
Consider, also, that though this is a slasher film with every fiber of its being, not every scare it provides is necessarily a jolt — someone jumping into frame accompanied by a sting on the soundtrack. Possibly the most frightening image in the entire thing, aside from the aforementioned opening, is the sight of someone slowly peeking out from under a trapdoor. What happens immediately afterward is scary enough, but that initial image may just burn itself into your memory.
This is not to say that House of Wax does not have some good jolts for the jumpers among you. I am jaded and fairly difficult to startle — I don’t particularly try to steel myself, but I have seen enough horror movies to be able to anticipate the next “Boo!” moment with a fair degree of consistency. I must admit that House of Wax “got me” several times; occasionally with nothing more than a loud noise — the cheapest way to get a scare, sure — but sometimes with something more elaborate and artful. There’s a little bit of everything.
A little bit of everything, that is, except gore, of which there is a lot. How gratifying to see a horror film that not only does not attempt to get a PG-13 rating, but stretches the R to its outer limits. Anyone can do gore, but what we have here is not merely blood and guts — it is particularly nasty gore, the kind that may send a shiver down your spine if you do not avert your eyes. Some of what we are shown here must have taken a perverse imagination, but I am glad that there was one available.
The film’s primary claim to fame is the presence of one Paris Hilton, in a supporting role as an inevitable victim. She not only does not embarrass herself, but proves to have an astonishingly game sense of humor about her public persona; either that, or she is so clueless as to have had several jokes played at her expense. Either way, her death is simply priceless.
I suppose it is unfortunate that the characters are so unbelievably stupid, and that the cast is filled with attractive and instantly forgettable actors. Between this movie and the television show 24, I have shouted at Elisha Cuthbert enough to last both of us a lifetime; she needs to play someone intelligent, pronto. Her finest moment here is when she takes a dive into a pit of deer carcasses.
The film is somewhat more rote in its last act, though it does offer up a lush, visually spectacular climax — I am sure you can figure out the climactic event to which I am referring. House of Wax is no great shakes, but it is more gleeful, more deliciously sick, and cleverer than most.