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House Of Wax (2005)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

review by Paul Higson

Ah, so this is what they mean by a re-imagining! But a re-imagining of what... a re-imagining of a remake? - because Michael Curtiz's 1932 The Mystery Of The Wax Museum was the forerunner and Andre de Toth's The House Of Wax the original retelling (sic!). What you couldn't say is that this is a remake as every clear aspect has been either warped or avoided. Having said that you reach the end of the film and realise that, yes, the original premise is there, taken down to the thinnest of lines.

The draw for me to the cinema was that though the press were not meriting it enough stars to equate it good the words accompanying in the same critics' reviews offered something outside their prejudice. Mention of Southern swamps and art deco design were a dual lure to me, as was the fact that unfolding was an identifiable series in Dark Castle Entertainments ongoing roster of 're-imaginations' of cult horror classics. For central to each, William Malone's The House On Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, and this new House Of Wax, were architecturally fantastical and fascinating edifices. In the disappointing Thir13en Ghosts only the clockwork, glass construction inside which the small cast were pursued came through. Now we were being informed that the new House Of Wax was made of wax. That very afternoon I was at the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition flabbergasted by Stuart McCaffer's mixed media 'Harry Takes A Holiday', a cell constructed of 'brick' made of polystyrene and a 'metal door' tricked out of hardboard, un tromp de styrofoam et oeil. This day of mine clearly had a theme.

There was worry on entering as a youth in the queue was overheard saying to his girl, "Let's go see House Of Wax" again with a big, dirty grin on his mush. I didn't even notice the 15-certificate otherwise I might have been put off going to see it. In retrospect, I question how a 15 certificate was granted, as the film is nasty and refuses to pull on its punches. A big studio clearly has its ways of getting the 15-year-old audience (which clearly includes those who might pass for 15), but I would be worried that some of the vilest, smallest stunts in the near two-hour running time might be copied by some of the little bastards who casually pop in from the inner cities (prejudice confessed, if the crime statistics are down in Greater Manchester it is only because they were previously so high, and now it is difficult to commit crimes in what is a huge building site readying itself for a wealthier class).

The first half hour of the film is a real worry too, that I have made a huge mistake and should be considering slipping out of this theatre and wandering in onto another film. The camerawork is in jitter-mode, my Lord, the characters are bland, dear God, there is no detail in the surroundings or dress, the image is murky, the colours muted and there is a rich useless celebrity in the cast. On the soundtrack are bursts of overly familiar rock from the likes of The Deftones and Marilyn Manson, only a few seconds of each, enough to secure that second soundtrack LP for the stupid rock kids to spend their pittances on.

The drabness of the first half hour is deliberate and we hang in there only because the pre-credit sequence is a quencher for something else that might yet re-emerge. Half an hour in we see the town for the first time and the film is suddenly vivid, grotesque, quick, strange and wonderful. There is no need to give too much away, though the truly fantastic spectacle of the finale is undoubtedly going to be lost on the small screen and it should be experienced, for it is more than mere witness, in a cinema. The wax exhibits are macabre and all the more disturbing because, as quickly observed by the teenagers in the film, they don't represent famous people, come uncluttered with a historical essay or distracting celebrity gossip, are simply the inert, ordinary victims of years of abductions by the maniacs at large.

Whatever corrupt means were employed to secure that 15 rating, let them have it on this occasion, allow the studio to get away with murder, deforestation, and the eradication of great chunks of the Antarctic if they want to because this is a great chunk of fantastically silly and gruesome horror in the way Wrong Turn was a couple of years back, hearkening to the imagination and thrill factor ten of the horror flicks from the outset of the 1980s, like Gary Sherman's Dead And Buried. Its offences are forgivable.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum had two-colour Technicolor processing, the 1953 House Of Wax had 3D, and neither of those were William Castle films, but there is no need for any gimmick this time. The set pieces are gruellingly imaginative and all of the deaths are visceral, up close, painful and horrific. Absurd as it may get the details are great, the final destruction of the House of Wax magical and surreal. There are sight gags, though few that point to the past films; they generally belong to this cracked storyline. If a dull first half hour sounds like a little too much of a film to wade through for what might remain, there is another three thirds to go, as the overall running time is 117 minutes long. It could still have done with that first half hour becoming reduced to 15 minutes, and I might on DVD watch the pre-credits then jump forward a few scenes. I would appreciate a shorter version being released for me. There have been claims for the ultimate melt movie before... time that was revised, methinks.
House Of Wax (2005)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

review by Jonathan McCalmont
Spoiler Alert!
To someone born this side of the Vietnam War the concept of a B-movie is slightly weird. In the old days you'd buy a cinema ticket not to an individual film but to a programme. Essentially you'd have the main movie and then you'd have smaller cheaper films made with actors and production staff that were kept on salaries rather than paid by the film. They'd be shot on studio backlots and sent out with the main films in order to justify higher ticket prices and because... well... those actors, writers and production staff were being paid for their time anyway so you might as well put them to work. This is a remake of a 1950s' 3D B-movie and if you think that's the sound of the bottom of the barrel being dug through you'd be right.

Paris Hilton, Elisha Cuthbert (Kim from 24) and a number of nameless and faceless MTAs (model-turned-actor) are driving across country in their cars until they stumble into a town that turns out to be made of wax and peopled with people made into wax statues by a family of psychopaths. Models and actresses get cut into bits and turned into wax statues until bad guys die and the House of Wax (which actually is made out of wax) melts. The end.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... The film starts with one of several jokes about Paris Hilton being filmed having sex... like in the omnipresent sex tapes... hur hur hur. They're making a joke about this in order to appear transgressive whereas in fact the only reason Hilton got the role in the first place is because of the PR the sex tapes generated and she's being handsomely paid for her time. There's a clear difference between making fun of a celebrity and paying that celebrity to show that they have a sense of humour about themselves by showing that they're 'in' on the joke. One side of the distinction gives you satire. The other side gives you the likes of Shrek 2 and Graham Norton, these don't so much lampoon celebrities as fawn and grovel at their feet like some kind of piss drinking submissive.

The first 45 minutes of the film is utterly awful. It's like a Calvin Klein-model road trip filmed by MTV. People drive 'pimped' out cars, talk to each other on cutting edge mobile phones and listen to nu-metal. A character puts on a pair of rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses and another character describes him as being "like Elton John, only more gay." It's 45 minutes of hollow-headed pandering to trendiness. Trends and celebrity jokes are made as if being ticked off a checklist. Scientists recently discovered that chimps are willing to forego food in order to look at pictures of naked females and higher status males and you can't help but imagine that it's this aspect of human nature that the makers of the film are appealing to. Show Paris Hilton in her underwear and, like Pavlov's dogs, the multiplex proles grin and gurgle. Show them Kim from 24 talking into the new Nokia phone and, like the zombies they are, the target demographics will go and upgrade. The film is so cold-blooded and cynical the production meetings must have been like the Wannsee conference. It is utterly craven but, happily, the film improves once they get into trouble with some of the locals.
House of Wax - exterior
 The House may be CGI
 but the actors are fake.

Well I say 'improves' but that's got more to do with how frightful the first 45 minutes are rather than the quality of the rest of the film. The set pieces are a series of lazily deployed clichés and cheap tricks. There's the slightly freaky redneck, the man with the mask, the sculpted human flesh and things lurching out at the screen from the darkness. However, while a decently atmospheric score, a bit of gore and some nice jumps have saved many a second rate horror movie, director Jaume Collett-Serra manages to badly use all three elements. The gore is so frequent and gratuitous that it's not so much horrifying as comical (most of the gore scenes generated laughs during the screening I attended) and the film has a continuous score that combines with the lacklustre direction in such a way as to make every single scare entirely predictable. It's possible to predict almost to the second when something will jump out at the camera and a number of discoveries that are supposed to be surprises are undermined by the scattershot use of 'scary music'.

The writing is endlessly lazy and seems to have infected the entire production. The scary situations are engineered by having the characters do stupid things and the design is human body parts and grime, like every other recent film in this genre. The film is also full of magically disappearing and reappearing wounds and at one point a huge factory full of cars appears in the middle of the woods right next to a campsite but of course it wasn't noticed until the plot needed it to be.

The only nice part of this film is the climax where the two survivors battle the murderer in the house of wax as it melts around them. This is a nice visual set piece even if it has been pointed out that it looks a lot like the work of Robert Zemeckis who was also an executive producer (in fact this film counts no less than 11 producers). But it's also this section that ultimately damns House Of Wax. If the ending had been dreadful the film would doubtless have slotted into the 'so bad it's good' rating and would have had some camp value. But the fact that the ending section is actually relatively impressive and innovative simply makes you wonder why the rest of the film was so utterly artless and cowardly. Why would a director capable of devising and directing a chase sequence through a melting house of wax be content with recycling clich�s for the rest of the film? The final section pegs this film not as a camp train-wreck like Showgirls but a film that could have been a lot better had it not been lazy and far too busy selling stuff and begging to have Paris Hilton walk up and down its back in a pair of stiletto heels.

Ultimately this film is boring and predictable. There's nothing in this film that you haven't seen done better elsewhere and with a good deal more humour and intelligence. The only thing scary about it is the first 45 minutes that bear witness to the kind of soulless materialism and vacuous celeb fetishism that actually make me wonder whether the whole thing wasn't some kind of expensively shot training video used to motivate potential suicide bombers by showing them the empty decadence of western culture.
House of Wax - poster artwork

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Elisha Cuthbert gets dirty in House of Wax





















Paris Hilton fully dressed for House of Wax

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