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So another Halloween is nearly here and you’re all going to head to the video store or other, favourite such establishment to pick up a couple of horror films off the rack where you will certainly find several dozen copies of Warner Home Video and Dark Castle’s newest offering, House of Wax. So do check out with this flick as part of your scarefest, or do you go with one of the more traditional, tried and true favourites in the genre instead?

House of Wax
House of Wax finds a group of college students taking a road trip to the big football game, only to be sidelined in parts unknown along the way. After being forced to take a detour from their route, they decide to camp for the evening and in the morning find that one of their two vehicles has broken a fan belt. Forced with the decision of leaving the vehicle or heading up the road to the small town of Ambrose for help, Wade (Jared Padalecki) and girlfriend Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) soon find themselves upon the sleepy little town and its tourist trap, Trudy’s House of Wax. While waiting for the local gas station attendant (Brian Van Holt) to return with the part they need, the two occupy their time by exploring the wax museum. As the sun goes down, the couple becomes trapped in the town, leaving it up to Carly's twin brother, Nick (Chad Michael Murray), and friends to go searching the town for the missing twosome.

Many of you are aware that the film takes its name from the 1953 Vincent Price film, but the movie actually owes more to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and, to an even greater extent, 1979’s forgotten gem Tourist Trap than it does either of the two previous films to carry the House of Wax torch (including 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum). While the basic hook is the same in all three films, this latest movie veers so wildly from the older films that any other resemblance is solely accidental. Gone is Vincent Price’s sympathetic villain, and in his place is a set of twins wreaking havoc on the hapless co-eds and instead of an inner city museum, the film delivers a backwoods locale that has remained hidden away for years, even from the local law enforcement. For all intents and purposes the filmmakers have made a completely original movie, albeit taken from the spare parts of more modern and violent fare than the aforementioned originals, and for the most part this new concoction works quite well on the level it intends to.

In fact, House of Wax works so well as a fun, popcorn, horror flick that the only real drawback is the film’s script and its dependency on giving the six protagonists a total IQ of fifty while exercising several of the more standard slasher film clichés to ensnare each victim. For instance, everyone knows that you don’t hitch a ride from the toothless wonder that hauls road kill into a pit for a living and that you never, ever split up while going in to or searching through a decrepit old house, especially when there’s another greasy looking hick inviting you in. There is a nice build up in the film as Padalecki and Cuthbert ramble through the town before the real violence begins, but you have to wonder just how long it would have taken any normal human being to figure out that they need to get the hell out of Dodge before they lose any major body parts. The first sign for me that I’ve stepped into one of those really ghoulish episodes of The Twilight Zone would have been seeing gas prices below $1.20, but that’s just me.

House of Wax
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting out of House of Wax, but given all the recent horror offerings in a year that I have found to be extremely disappointing for the genre I wasn’t expecting much. But all moronic characters aside, I found that House of Wax isn’t a bad horror flick at all and in a lot of ways it was a great deal of fun. The film doesn’t try to offer any of the deeper, philosophical meanings on the human condition or the state of the world that bogged down George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead to a degree and it doesn’t attempt too much trickery and twists like last Halloween’s Saw. It is what it is—a fairly straight forward slasher flick that offers up a few good scares with one or two queasy moments, some gruesome effects, adequate acting, and a couple of scenes that you just can’t help but role your eyes toward. The set design is also quite impressive, with the centrepiece being the titular house that inevitably melts away with our heroes still inside.  

So, should you check out House of Wax, another one of the several newly released for Halloween DVDs, or stick to films you know like A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Exorcist, or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre for your annual scary night of movie watching goodness? My answer to that question is that as long as you don’t expect anything outstanding or overly clever and just want some decent gore, a few scares, and an attractive cast then House of Wax shouldn’t disappoint you if you are in the mood for something you haven’t seen ten times already. The film is easily the best to come out of Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis’ Dark Castle Entertainment production house since it began with 1999’s House On Haunted Hill, which depending on how well you enjoyed their previous efforts is either a sign of good things or a dubious honour at best, and should at least make for a good appetizer before the main course of better, more classic Halloween favourites.

House of Wax

Video


Warner Home Video presents House of Wax on DVD with an anamorphic video transfer at the film’s theatrically exhibited aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the result is a very mixed bag. The transfer is average at best and does everything right that it should in that with this being a new film there is nothing wrong with the transfer as far as any positive or negative artefacts resulting from debris on the source print goes. The transfer also handles the colour palette of the film nicely and for the most part the image is clear and sharp. The problems with the transfer begin and end though with a lot of grain and uneven black levels throughout the entire film, which in turn make many of the finer details in the video seem a bit soft in the darker areas of the film. For a movie that primarily takes place at night and contains many a dark place and shadow to hide in, this presents a real problem and tends to get fairly distracting when it becomes more prevalent. One only has to look at New Line Cinema’s release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre last year for a movie just as dark and a DVD that features near perfect video for an example of how House of Wax should have looked here.

Audio


House of Wax has been presented with DVD with a selection of Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks in English, French, and Spanish along with optional subtitles for each of the three languages as well. While the audio fares better than the video on the disc in that it doesn’t contain any technical deficiencies, it’s still a pretty average effort and isn’t outstanding by any means. There are some nice surround effects and all of the available audio channels are put to good use, but on the whole the audio seems to be toned down when compared to other recent movies in the genre. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as the less aggressive audio mix lends itself to the film quite well and better showcases John Ottman’s excellent, eerie score. Overall, the English audio track presented here is a fine example of what good a Dolby Digital track should sound like on your home theatre system.

House of Wax

Extras


Warner Home Video has housed a number of extras along with the movie on this single disc that are worth checking out if you are at all interested in the making of the picture.

First up, there's a twenty-six minute featurette, entitled ‘B-Roll and Bloopers Video Cast Commentary’, which finds cast members Jared Padalecki, Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, and Chad Michael Murray sitting on a living room couch while watching several outtakes and clips of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film. The featurette employees a split-screen technique that places the cast at the top of the screen and the footage underneath, thus allowing them to freely comment on the material as seen by the viewer. While the featurette is actually pretty good, it isn’t a suitable substitute for a feature length commentary during the actual film, which by misreading the packaging is exactly what I understood it would be.

Next up is the seven minute featurette ‘Wax On’ which details the work that went into the excellent set design of the film. Several of the film’s behind-the-scenes personnel, such as producer Joel Silver and director Jaume Collet-Serra, chime in on their involvement with the process of making the town and building of Ambrose, making this a worthwhile addition to the disc. Another similarly themed and equally informative featurette, the ten minute ‘The House Built on Wax’, takes a look at the film’s visual effects and just how certain sequences, including the movie’s climax, came to be.

The special features are rounded out by a short, gag promo for the film with producer Joel Silver, entitled ‘From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax’, that is very much in the spirit of the late William Castle, a three minute gag reel, an alternate opening that, even though it has seemingly nothing to do with the finished picture, should be viewed for the shock value alone, and the film’s theatrical trailer. Overall, you get some nice features bundled with the movie that give just enough about the making of it, but I lament the exclusion of an audio commentary, a feature that I would have easily traded everything included here in for and would on most other DVDs as well.

House of Wax

Overall


House of Wax isn’t going to win any awards for creativity by any means, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a straight forward slasher flick that follows in the footsteps of movies like Friday the 13th and countless others that feature idiotic characters stumbling into places or situations they’d be better off leaving well enough alone, and every once in while that type of movie isn’t a bad thing. On the promise of some good scares and nice effects, the film delivers well enough to quench this reviewer’s blood thirst for some disposable entertainment and I’m pretty sure it will satisfy most others out there hankering for just this kind of movie too. Warner Home Video’s DVD presentation of the film is, when taking into consideration the standards set by some of their other recent offerings, a very average package overall with a ho-hum video transfer, pretty solid audio and some nice, but not great, extras included. Overall, while I liked the film for what it is, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a purchase of the title as a rental will do most just fine.


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