[Blu-ray Review] Scream Factory Takes Us Deep Into a House of Horrors with 'House of Wax' (2005) Collector's Edition
In the early 2000s, production label Dark Castle Entertainment produced a slew of horror remakes such as House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, but perhaps one of their best (and most underrated) remakes was House of Wax (2005)…
…Based on the 1953 Vincent Price vehicle of the same name, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s (Orphan) version was a much different beast. Slick, thrilling and loaded with gruesome kills, 2005’s House of Wax got burned at the box office, budgeted at roughly $40 million while only taking in about $68 million worldwide, a relatively minimal profit. Thankfully, Scream Factory has just released a Collector’s Edition of the film that will hopefully have viewers returning to this excellent, gothic house of horrors.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (The Conjuring), House of Wax follows a group of friends led by soon to be heading off to New York, Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her doesn’t-want-her-to-leave, shy-guy boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki) as they all travel to a college football game. After one of their vehicles breaks down, Carly and Wade hitch a ride to a small town which is home to a House of Wax that screams “run”, where they discover that not all of the wax figures are as they appear to be, and a maniac is on the loose, determined to make them a part of his museum.
Much like other remakes at the time, House of Wax aimed for a darker, bloodier experience, and Collet-Serra’s update is dripping with a violent atmosphere. Typical to other aughts horrors, House of Wax is dipped in sickly hues of yellow and green and opens in 1974, where we are witness to our killer’s upbringing and some cringey child abuse set to the tune of John Ottman’s eerie orchestral score. Ottman discusses in an interview entitled “Organ Grinder” that he wanted to use the money he was given to hire an orchestra so that he could give the film a score that made it feel like a big-time feature, while also developing a theme for the killer that leaned more empathetic than ominous, and the results are palpable. House of Wax is a tale of mistreatment leading to murder, which gets the audience uncomfortable and squirming in their seats.
Identifying or empathizing with a killer causes a feeling that makes your skin feel grimy—or covered in wax—and House of Wax pours that sensation over viewers to great effect. There is a heavy theme of duality here as well, in which nothing is quite as it seems, leaving room for a few shocking surprises along the way.
The film also does a great job of providing endearing characters that we want to root for. Mostly. Aside from Carly and Wade, there’s also Carly’s misunderstood brother/“Evil twin” out on parole, Nick (Chad Michael Murray), his voyeuristic buddy, Dalton (Jon Abrahams), jock Blake (Robert Ri’chard), and of course, Carly’s best friend, Paige (Paris Hilton). You could say producer Joel Silver was a genius in his casting decisions here, because not only did he compile a group of actors that were either teen idols or soon to be one, but in his decision to cast Paris, he managed to create one of the most bizarre—and successful—marketing campaigns with “See Paris Die”.
For those too young to remember, House of Wax sold itself as the film where you could watch Paris Hilton die, and to its credit, it delivers on that promise with one of the greatest kills of the 2000s. While I would’ve liked to have gotten a more in-depth interview, the feature “Die My Darling” is a must-see, in which we get to hear Paris discuss the role, with some brief commentary on the “See Paris Die” campaign, to which she expresses an odd delight in the idea that so many at the time wanted to see her die. I can’t say I’d share Paris’ sentiment, but it’s fascinating to listen to her discuss her feelings on the whole thing.
Relatable—or characters you can’t wait to see die—aside, what really sets House of Wax apart is the film’s ambitiousness. Once our characters arrive at the House of Wax, everything we see in the town was constructed for the movie, with some breathtaking production design by Graham Grace Walker. The House of Wax, the auto garage, the movie theater—which contains one of my favorite sequences, because who doesn’t love a bloody showdown in a theater?—all of it was built for House of Wax, and, as we later learn, was filled with actual wax figures designed by makeup effects artist Jason Baird.
Baird’s interview, entitled “To Me, They Live and Breathe”, is probably the most interesting new addition to the disc, as Baird details the painstaking process that went into creating House of Wax’s most important—and memorable—element, the effects. Many of the kills in the film are cheer-worthy, belonging in a museum of excellence themselves, and House of Wax is loaded with grotesque imagery—Jared Padalecki getting the wax job from Hell, anyone?—but it’s the all too human-looking wax figures that give the film that injection of creepiness, made more terrifying once some are broken apart and we realize what they really are underneath. Baird goes into great detail in discussing the process, and how the sets were all covered in wax, resulting in an actual fire that set the production back by a few weeks. If you didn’t before, you’ll leave this interview with a greater appreciation for just how much work went into creating those spooky, dead-eyed wax figures.
Speaking of the accidental fire, the intentional fire which takes place during the third act is perhaps one of the best “burn it all down” moments in horror, shot with gorgeous, gothic imagery from cinematographer Stephen F. Windon. And my god, the new scan of the film makes it all crackle and pop with that much more stunning ferocity. The finale is one of the many impressive elements of House of Wax that burns bright in its ambition, and makes me think the public’s head must’ve been full of wax at the time to not give it the appreciation it deserved.
Previously released features included on the disc offer up fun interviews with the cast, a wonderful behind the scenes look at the creation of the town, and a blooper reel that’s great for a few laughs. It feels almost criminal that no new commentary is included, and the four new interviews aren’t as enlightening as you tend to hope for, but the fact that an interview with Paris is included at all is something to celebrate, and altogether this disc is dripping with features well worth dipping your hand into.
House of Wax is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Check out the special features below!
By Matt Konopka