As many others with our celebrated obsession are apt to do, I successfully watched a horror film every day last month in honor of Halloween. This task of course required me to double my efforts to improve upon my one-horror-film-every-two-days agenda that I follow every other month of the year. I love this genre with an ardent fervor, but I am sorry to report that there are holes in my knowledge just like there are in anyone else's (except for Weinberg of course). For example, this project allowed for my first viewing of American Werewolf in London; freaking transcendent experience. But I am just as excited to explore the uncharted seas of schlock as I am to face down the legends.To wit, I offer you the much maligned House of Wax.
Let me start by reassuring you that I harbor no delusions that House of Wax is the greatest horror film ever made. Its flaws are visible from space. But I remember when this film hit our shelves at Blockbuster, back when I was but a counter jockey with aspirations of becoming the mechageek I am today, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. Two obstacles kept me from burning a free rental on this film: I had not seen the original with Vincent Price and the remake film starred the harbinger of all things evil known as Paris Hilton.
As it turns out, I was not the only one who felt that way. After the initial rental rush on the weekend after it was released, House of Wax sat mostly unnoticed on the new release wall and the number of copies we offered for rental quickly dwindled. Employing a self-serving bit of logic, I estimated that the film must be truly terrible if no one was renting it and I assumed it was terrible because of Paris Hilton. Having just seen the original not a week ago, I decided to tear into this inevitably painful piece of film-making. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
Turns out this is one of the better contemporary horror remakes . These days we are choked with studios grabbing whatever horror property they can get their mitts on and clumsily refashioning them into cinematic junk food for less discerning audiences. I think my favorite example is how the unbearably awful House on Sorority Row was transformed into the unbearably awful Sorority Row. It has gotten to the point where studios will purchase already lacking films and throw millions of dollars into creating a shinier, more expensive turd. But every once in a while the remakes provide, if not quality, than at least a formidable entertainment value. Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and Dawn of the Dead may not be the most competent films but they offer fair amount of style and I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy them. Such is actually the case with House of Wax.
The plot is interesting enough and the character interactions are very light on the eye roll-inducing moments. The kills are pretty spectacular in House of Wax. The deviations from the original story seemed totally within reason given the framework the story established from the word go. In other words, I am a fan of the original and this didn't feel like a total bastardization. The killer is imposing, but not super creepy. His bizarre mask and talent with corpse artistry kind of put him in the same family with Leatherface. This film is also eerily similar to a late 70's flick called Tourist Trap that I really enjoyed. In fact, and I mean this as a compliment, House of Wax feels more like a remake of Tourist Trap than it does the Vincent Price film. There is a recognizable effort made to rely more on ambiance versus cheap jump scares and I have to applaud that.
But what of Paris? She is the linchpin of my whole estimation of this film. Paris Hilton is a bad actress; shocking statement to be sure. But if you can look beyond her public persona and how much you may despise her, she is no worse than any other nameless actress appearing in any given horror film. Think about it, how terrible are the girls who constitute Jason's machete fodder in the Friday the 13th sequels? So bad sometimes that you want to enter the woods, hold their arm, and start screaming out loud to clue in Jason on their location so the hurting can stop, right? Paris is not even that bad, but because we know and hate her from her real life, her demise elicits the same elation. I never thought I would ever find myself defending Paris Hilton but the fact is that her stigma casts an unfair shadow over what is ultimately a decent horror film. So I am less defending Paris as I am imploring you not to assume the movie is terrible based solely on its inclusion of her.