On April 25 1953, Warner Bros Studios released House of Wax. It was the first Hollywood color film to use 3-D technology. Additionally, it marked Vincent Price’s first foray into the horror genre. What followed was a legendary career for the horror icon. Its story of a brilliant wax sculptor, driven mad by betrayal and disfigurement, who uses real human bodies to create his wax figures horrified audiences in the 1950’s.
Sixty-five years later, critics still still embrace House of Wax as a classic. is still embraced by critics and older horror fans as an atmospheric classic of its era. For this edition of Re-Animated I take a look at the original horror classic and the inevitable remake that followed 52 years later.
House of Wax Still Terrifies
A box office hit for Warner Bros Studios, House of Wax marked an interesting transition for horror. By the 1950’s, alien invaders and atomic monsters had replaced Universal Studios’ Gothic Monsters. With its 1890’s New York setting and winding, shadowy streets, House of Wax embraced Gothic horror. Yet its deformed, tragic killer anticipated the human monsters that Psycho would later popularize.
With its 1890’s New York setting and winding, shadowy streets, House of Wax embraced Gothic horror. Yet its deformed, tragic killer anticipated the human monsters that Psycho would later popularize.
Director Andre DeToth created a taunt, atmospheric horror movie. He makes full use of its Gothic setting and haunting wax figures. The disfigured Jarrod’s pursuit of Phyllis Kirk’s Sue Allen through dimly lit New York streets still elicits suspense. DeToth’s choice to reveal the killer’s scarred face so early reduces some the shock of the climatic final reveal, but it still delivers a dramatic punch. As the first colorized Hollywood film to employ 3-D technology, DeToth’s integration of the technique is still surprisingly good. Whether it’s a street performer launching a paddle ball at the audience or a killer’s shadow running out of the screen, the 3-D in House of Wax feels fun and innovative.
House of Wax Gifted Us Vincent Price
One of the most significant aspects of House of Wax was its introduction of Vincent Price to the horror genre. Prior to the release of House of Wax, Price’s Hollywood career was in decline. Despite finding early success with supporting roles, Price had yet to find a breakout starring role. Following the success of House of Wax, Price would go on to enjoy a long, successful career in horror films including The House on Haunted Hill and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Today, critics and fans alike consider him a horror icon.
House of Wax Remake Promises A Different Attraction
First, Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax is not really a remake of the Vincent Price classic. Yes, the remake keeps the title and its wax figurine-making killer. Nevertheless, Collet-Serra’s House of Wax feels more like a spiritual remake of obscure 1979 film Tourist Trap. Psychopathic twin brothers replace Price’s disfigured, tortured artist. And their targets – unsuspecting lost travelers stumbling into their abandoned rural town. Slasher movie ethics and a little ‘hillbilly’ horror displaces Gothic haunts.
Slasher movie ethics and little ‘hillbilly horror’ displaces Gothic haunts.
While critics were unimpressed by the 2005 House of Horror , it’s actually not a terrible film. In fact, Collet-Serra’s distancing the remake by adopting slasher film tropes was probably a smart decision. Even in 2018, Price’s original movie holds up quite well. Certainly, it deserves its status as a classic. Adopting a different approach while trading on name recognition wasn’t a bad idea. Collet-Serra also has an eye for staging effective thrillers with a filmography that includes The Shallows and Orphan.
House of Wax Remake Ditches the Gothic for Slasher Tropes
Like most remakes, a House of Wax do-over was unnecessary. But Collet-Serra commits and goes all in with the concept. Slasher film fans will get exactly what they expect. It’s a slickly made horror film with a few good jumps and some surprisingly effective death scenes. Watching a character trying to peel wax off of an encased, still-living victim, is particularly gruesome. In addition, the killers’ “creation” of their living wax figure also deliver on the creepy factor. In fact, the set designs in the abandoned town far exceed expectations for this type of film.
Watching a character trying to peel wax off of an encased, still-living victim, is particularly gruesome.
To be clear, the House of Wax remake falls squarely in the “guilty pleasure” category. It’s pretty much a ‘cookie cutter’ slasher movie from plot points to the casting of “young”, “attractive”, and “it” actors from the time period. Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, and Jared Padalecki are all fine in their roles. Each delivers a performance that is better than what you would normally find in this type of movie. Even Paris Hilton is better than expected. Perhaps the biggest complaint about the House of Wax remake is its length. The film clocks in at just under two hours. Nothing about the remake justifies that length.
The Original House of Wax is Still Worth the Price of Admission
Younger horror fans will probably gravitate towards the remake, which is unfortunate. The original House of Wax is still worth the price of admission. It’s a tightly paced, genuinely suspense movie with a fun premise. That being said, the 2005 remake is far from a terrible film. While it doesn’t offer much new to the slasher formula, it executes all the usual tropes with some flair. Bottom line – the 2005 remake has all the hallmarks of a “guilty pleasure”.
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