Sunday, May 08, 2005

The House of Wax - Why do I do these things to myself...

This past week I went to yet another Thursday night midnight screening at the ARCRLIGHT cinemas, to see The House of Wax.

I know, I know, shame on me, but I just can’t help myself. There’s something so purely enjoyable and in my small minded world cinematically badass about going to see a horror movie on opening night at midnight.

Well unlike the ruckus crowd for Amityville Horror, the throngs for House of Wax was pretty scarce. There were maybe twenty or thirty of us in the theatre. There was a jovial sort of vibe that bounced off the black velvety walls; and it felt as though almost everyone was there was thinking to themselves “can you believe we’re actually here to see this thing?” which we conveyed with each other with the sarcastic smirks on our faces.

The House of Wax was another horror film remake in the recent slew of horror film remakes. There seems to be no end to this trend in sight, and a high percentage of the horror films released in the past few years have been remakes of originals or foreign versions. The Ring, The Ring 2, The Grudge, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead, Dark Water (which will be released in August), Thirteen Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, -the list goes on and on.

The original House of Wax was released in 1953 in glorious Technicolor and starred Vincent Price as the villain. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the movie also holds the peculiar honor of being the first film to be in 3-D, color, and have a stereophonic soundtrack. I actually have never seen the original film in completion, only clips of it here and there. Nevertheless, the fact that the film was in 3-D increases the gimmick factor tenfold, and it seems likely that this was probably one of Price’s less subtle works.

That being said, it was difficult for me to expect any sort of profound cinematic ingenuity or marked intelligence in a remake of a 3-D horror film starring Paris Hilton. Still I thought I would be in for some good laughs and a few good scares. Overall, I would say the film just barely met these hopes, and which each day that passes I grow to think the film was worse and worse.

The first fifteen to twenty minutes were absolutely, undoubtedly awful. Filled with dialogue that would make a child yearn for the cleverness of a Sesame Street sketch, the forced chemistry between the actors, and poor scene setting was almost unbearable. Within the first five minutes, the teens find themselves alone and in the woods at night laughing and drinking merrily, while one of them records footage with his video camera.(On a brief aside, I am so OVER the whole “cut to the grainy video camera footage” particularly in the context of cheap teenage films.) A mind numbing slapdash soundtrack of the latest hard rock that Warner Brothers Records must be trying to promote, was playing through out most of this portion of the movie. It’s difficult to blame the actors because they weren’t really given much to work with, and most of my attention, (as was much of the audience’s) was focused on Paris Hilton, who was extremely giggle worthy. Somehow even the way Hilton delivered her straight dialogue evoked another genre of low budget film making.

It seemed as though the poor screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes were terrified by the idea of managing all of the characters in the town of the House of Wax at once, and used clunky and complicated exposition to excuse them out of maneuvering no more than two of the characters in the House of Wax, at the same time.

The first half of the movie really dragged, and not in a “let’s build up the tensions slowly kind of way”, it was just truly devoid of good material that really serviced the plot or story. About forty minutes into the movie things start to get a little more interesting. Two of the teens are forced to go into this deserted town to locate a spare part for their car, and stumble upon the House of Wax. Houses of Wax are unarguably creepy, and the designs for many of the figures in the house were disturbing and unsettling. Once the horrid hard fast paced rock music shut off, and the characters stopped babbling incomprehensively, the director and cinematographer were able to successfully create some tense and atmospheric moments, that even inspired a little nail biting. Elisha Cuthbert in the role of Carly Jones, looking a little dowdier than usual, did a fine job of playing the typical female horror heroine. Things continue to get interesting when Carly and her boyfriend Wade being to explore the town and meet Bo, a charming townsperson, who becomes a little too eager to help them out of their predicament.

The first “kill” in the movie was pretty terrifying, and the film maker milked the moment for every moment that it was worth. The tension remains high from here out and as in any other horror or thriller, we know more people are going to die, we are just unsure as to who, how, or when. The writers tried to create a mythology for the town and the the House of Wax which has a cute parallel to a couple of the doomed teens.

Chad Michael Murray, who played the role of Nick Jones, Elisha Cuthbert’s/Carly Jones brother was pushing the bad boy angle a little too hard, but was decent enough. The other three men in the cast Jared Paldecki who played Wade, Jon Abrams who played Dalton, and Robert Richard who played Blake were nothing special, and felt like they were picked off of the supporting cast of a WB show.

And then of course there was Paris Hilton. I did indeed need to reserve a paragraph to comment on her performance. Trying to separate as much as I can what I know about her personal life, on a purely artistic level her performance in the film was pretty weak overall. In fact in retrospect it seems as though her entire role could have been inserted into the film in post production. Granted the storyline of her character was about as thought out as a fried egg, but it looked like she was reading her lines of a monitor, and her efforts to express any other notion besides jaded amusement were remiss. In particular, I was disturbed by what I assume was meant to be a seductive scene where she danced for her boyfriend. The vacuous look in her eyes and the robotic body movements felt more like an impression of sexuality rather than an expression of one. But it was the bemused half smile she kept on her face the whole time that felt the most inappropriate during the love scene, and really sold her as a trained seal looking for her reward of diamond crusted fish to be tossed at her at any moment. To her credit I do think her performance improved in the more suspenseful scenes where she wasn’t making a conscious effort to read as a sex kitten on screen. I won’t give away what happens to her character in the film, only that I was left with a sense of some personal vindication in the end.

Though the films villains were a little too douffy and dorky to instill true terror, there were a few good scares, and effective, if not trite set-ups. It was also gorier that a lot of the recent horror flix, definitely pushing it into the Slasher Horror film genre, - one which I’m not too wild about. The studio went with a hard R rating on this one, instead of the more teen friendly PG-13.

The film fluctuated in and out of being able to “sell” the audience on a consistent atmosphere and unique world. There was a neat looking FX sequence towards the end of the film, and the original score, while overtly howling at some times, added some necessary dramatic points at others.

In closing, would I recommend that others see The House of Wax? I think the answer to that is, only if you have very, very, low expectations for it. That’s the mentality I had when going into it, and this mental context allowed me to enjoy portions of the film. If nothing else, the film is somewhat entertaining. While the first fifteen minutes of the movie teeter on the edge of being unwatchable, the rest of it is one of those bad movies that you enjoy in spite of yourself. It’s the kind of movie that’s fun to go to with a friend who will share a conspiratorial laugh with you as you guffaw at an obvious plot hole or titter at the end of a scary scene. But its also the kind of movie that you’ll have an equal experience with if you just wait for it to come out on video. Just make sure you force some pals to watch it with you.

4 Comments:

Blogger Patrick A. Reed said...

I tend to long for the cleverness of a Sesame Street sketch in most everything that I see... And there's very rarely ANYTHING that rises to that level. Perhaps you should try setting the bar a bit lower, you're kinda setting yourself up for disappointment. I cite THIS as evidence. Sheer brilliance. For real.

(Or you could use something with actual bad dialogue for comparison next time. Such as other kids shows. Those with big purple dinosaurs, for example.)


-PAR

8:15 PM  
Blogger Elliot said...

I proud of you.
Proud you went.
Proud you admitted to going to see it.

11:00 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Wow. That Sesame Street clip is pretty ingenius. I gotta give you credit PAR, that's no small Gem.

11:04 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Aw gee thanks, good to hear some support after multiple friends berating me.

11:04 PM  

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