Opinion varies wildly on House of Wax but it is one of my favorite – possibly my absolute favorite – horror movie of its kind. If slasher movies are not your thing, I understand. Personally, I can handle the gore (OK, I love it), the violence (again, bring it on!), the disturbing images, and the attempts to scare me (usually failures) and startle me (usually successes). What I don’t care for is the body count. You meet these characters, sometimes you grow to care for them, but you know from the start that most of them are going to die without any character or relationship growth. It always feels like such a waste of time. People watch horror films to be scared, and I don’t really get scared from them, so horror is not generally my genre.
But sometimes it’s done right.
And House of Wax did it right, at least for me. But the front-and-center brother and sister relationship certainly helped with my opinion.
By ‘did it right’, I don’t mean that I was scared, although I have to admit that I was looking over my shoulder more than usual when I let the cat in, but what I really mean is that I enjoyed the film, whereas I normally want my two hours back.
So, if you don’t like horror movies and know that you’ll never see this movie, then I won’t encourage you to see it. But if you are indifferent to horror movies, or if you like them, then let me take this time to recommend the film to you, and let me encourage you to see it before you read the rest of this entry. Half of what I’ve got to say totally gives away the most important part of the ending (which is to say, who lives), and I don’t want to spoil it for you, because I was on the edge of my seat. I was screaming, yelling, swearing, cringing, closing my eyes – the whole bit. Because when I decide to care about a character, I care about them!
Just so you know that I’m less crazy than I normally am, I’ll inform you that I decided to watch this movie after searching “incest vibe” on Google. OK, that bit makes me sound crazier than normal, so let me continue with my point: clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was picking up on something “extra” between these twins. Usually I know I’m seeing stuff that isn’t there, or I’m squeezing every last drop out of what is there, but this time, someone else out there in this world did something better than ship bro/sis incest – they saw it! I don’t know who that person was, but I want to send out my sincere thanks to them, because I wouldn’t have seen this movie if it weren’t for them. And now maybe you’ll see this movie because of me. =) And then maybe you’ll hate it and curse me and want your two hours back. But maybe you’ll like it.
Carly (female) is our protagonist. She and her boyfriend Wade are accompanying their friends Blake and Paige (also a couple) from Gainesville, Florida to Baton Rouge in order to see a big football game. This is a journey of somewhere around 8 hours, I would estimate (thanks, Google!), and they’ve got about 2.5 hours left when the movie begins. Also along for the ride is their friend Dalton. Blake has also invited Nick, Carly’s twin, to come as well (after bailing him out of jail), although Nick seems to be better friends with Dalton than Blake, and I don’t think he says a single word to Paige the entire movie. These six are our main characters. I don’t think it’s ever directly stated, but one would assume that they are all college-age or recent-graduate-from-college-age.
Carly is moving from small-town Gainesville (If I’ve heard of it then it’s probably not that small) to New York because she has an internship at InStyle magazine (sounds like Degrassi Takes Manhattan, eh?) Wade has not yet decided whether or not to accompany her. Carly teases him for liking small towns (even though Gainesville is not really a small town), and Nick makes fun of him about it behind his back. So this is the major point of tension between Carly and Wade.
The most important relationship (woo hoo) is between Carly and Nick. Wade is very displeased that Nick is coming along, and it’s easy to understand why. Nick is “the evil twin”, he’s in and out of jail, and has been thrown out of his parents’ house. He lost a football scholarship due to his delinquent behavior. He’s also just generally discontented, and he makes fun of Wade in just about every way possible and calls him an asshole behind his back. To sum it up: he’s a dick. But as we learn, it’s more complicated than that.
The group camps out when it gets dark with a few hours of the trip still left ahead and plans to get an early start. After a freaky encounter with a truck and a bad smell, we know that something’s not quite right in this place. Carly hears something in the night, but Wade is quick to dismiss it. Well, that comes back to bite him in the ass the next morning because someone had been out there cutting his fan belt! He doesn’t want to abandon his car, so Carly stays with him and they get a ride into the very genuinely small town of Ambrose by a creepy passer-by who cleans up road kill.
The “early start” plan ends in failure as they don’t even wake up until 2:30!!! Did no one set an alarm?! Blake, Paige, Dalton, and Nick run into traffic, and end up abandoning the game altogether and returning to their old camp site. It’s winter, so it gets dark early.
In Ambrose there is a house of wax. Which is to say, a wax museum that looks like a house.
Plot introduction concluded!
Carly is played by Elisha Cuthbert. It’s been years since I watched 24, and I only watched the first two seasons, but she struck me as familiar, and that’s probably because she played Kim Bauer on 24, the daughter. I had a lot of trouble finding a picture of her, most of what came up at first was sexy wallpapers of her in white bikinis. Well, good for her, I guess. I like her a lot as a brunette, like in House of Wax. She’s a great scream queen because she looks wonderful all bloody.
Wade is played by Jared Padalecki, of Supernatural fame, of course. This movie came out before Supernatural premiered, but only by a matter of months. Wade isn’t so different from Sam (his Supernatural character). Makes one wish there was a Dean around.
Paige is played by Paris Hilton. I think Paris is a down girl for being in this movie, and for making an appearance in an episode of Supernatural called “Fallen Idol” as a bloodthirsty shapeshifter. Her final scenes in that episode actually take place in a wax museum, so that’s a fun nod. (She was also on Veronica Mars and it was great.)
Blake is played by Robert Ri’chard. He doesn’t have anything too big in his past, but he was in four episodes of Veronica Mars as someone named Mason. Sorry, Robert, I don’t remember Mason, but you have got gorgeous eyes. It’s hard to believe I would have forgotten them. Too bad you weren’t in the same ep as Paris because that would have been great.
Chad Michael Murray plays Nick. Chad is most well known, of course, for One Tree Hill. I never watched this show. But maybe someday! I think I saw an episode at least six years ago. There was a car crash and a wedding. I didn’t take much away with me, because as far as I know, Chad Michael Murray played a guy named One Tree. (It’s like Dawson’s Creek, but it’s a hill not a creek. Get it?)
But someone out there liked that show, because that show was alive for a long time.
I just read a review by someone who was critical of Chad’s gravitas as a bad boy, but I thought it was fine. Having seen A Cinderella Story and Freaky Friday, I’m probably more familiar with family-friendly Chad than that person was, and yet I bought it. The script was perhaps a little over the top, but I think Chad delivered just fine.
While I have to say that I didn’t recognize him in the movie (maybe it was the black hair, maybe it was my impatience to get back to the twins), Mr. Van Holt has played characters in two of my favorite military movies: he was Struecker in Black Hawk Down and Dunbar in Basic. If you’ve seen those two movies as many times as I have, those names will mean something to you even if his face doesn’t.
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So, I’m not going to spend much time on House of Wax’s greatness as a horror movie. I thought it was pretty good, and even though it’s not my genre, I have seen a fair number. I’ll just say that I think they really score with the creepiness. The scenes in the church and the movie theater were pretty awesome. And then the magnum opus: the melting of the house of wax. It was all very fun and visually I think it achieves a lot.
House of Wax plays on a number of creepy clichés: Louisiana is creepy, small towns are creepy, wax figures are creepy, conjoined twins are creepy, black and white movies are creepy, organisms kept in glass jars are creepy, people missing half of their face are creepy, incest is creepy (OK, maybe that last one, maybe not that last one), but it works every time. All of those things are just as creepy as they’re supposed to be in this sort of context.
Obviously Nick and Carly are the characters of interest to me. More twins! That makes the last three entries (including this one) about twins. I used to draw the line at twins. Wow, that was a long time ago. Of course, even though twins were in the womb together, fraternal twins are no more closely related genetically than any given sibling pair so it never really made sense to make that kind of distinction.
I already said I would spoil you about House of Wax but I’m actually going to spoil you about Doom too because I think there’s an important comparison to be made here. Both movies have an estranged brother/sister twins relationship at the center, both are horror movies with lots of gore, in both movies the sister have a love interest/almost love interest who gets done away with, and in both movies all of the characters die except for the brother and sister, who come out of it alive and closer than ever. As the body count grows, it’s just the two of them fighting until they make their escape at the very end. I like Nick and Carly a lot but John and Samantha from Doom are one of my favorite ships ever. (ETA: My entry on Doom is here.)
I also want to make a comparison with Bethany and Tom Pearson of Aliens in the Attic. We’ve got an annoying brother (from Bethany’s point of view) who is openly hostile toward sis’ boyfriend. In the end, the boyfriend is put on a bus and brother and sister have grown closer while saving the day. That’ll sound pretty familiar if you’ve seen House of Wax.
Poor Wade is killed about midway through the movie, but he’s a goner fairly early into the killing part of the movie. I always take those kinds of outcomes as an implicit expression of their meant-to-be-togetherness (you know, when it suits me). That’s certainly how I took it with Aliens in the Attic and Doom. And it was similar in Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie. If you take the movie on its own, and disregard the show.
And as if that wasn’t enough, not only does the sister’s love interest go bye-bye, but everyone else does too.
Nick and Carly have great tension at the beginning. Carly is annoyed with him for his bad attitude, but Nick’s behavior toward Carly is a lot more complicated. He’s never really rude to her directly. He’s recently released from jail after having gotten caught boosting a car, and he accuses Carly of being partly responsible for his incarceration. She spoke to the police, and “might have covered” for him. Well, I don’t see any fault on her part, especially since it wasn’t the first time he had done something like this. But you can see from his point of view how he might be hurt.
Nick seems to communicate with Carly in a secret way, with his eyes. I don’t know what he’s saying, but I choose to believe it’s sexual in nature. Anyway, I’m pretty sure these looks are what put out the “incest vibe” that at least one person picked up on. I guess Chad’s been doing so many lovey-dovey eyes in his career, he doesn’t know how to look at someone who’s supposed to be his sister. Well, that’s our win. Chad majorly fails at portraying the idea that he feels betrayed by Carly. It seems more like he’s teasing her with something bad in her past that he looks upon more fondly than she does.
Is Nick pulling a Fiona Coyne? Is his attitude toward Wade indicative of jealousy? Well, it’s possible. When Dalton is waxing crushy on Carly, Nick tells him straight out that even if Carly were into Dalton, Nick wouldn’t permit it. “It’s nothing personal”, he says. Well, Dalton is his best friend, so it looks like Nick doesn’t want Carly with anybody…(but himself, I add).
That all sounds pretty good for our cause, but then we get this:
Dalton says, “You like me better than Wade, right?” And then Nick says, “Wade’s not so bad,” even though he’s been treating Wade like shit. And then in probably one of the funniest lines, Dalton does a 180 and admits he rather likes Wade. Well, yeah, Wade’s not so bad, I agree. It’s just common sense; he’s a nice guy. I think this scene was important to show that Nick is actually a reasonable guy under his rough exterior. No, Wade is not so bad. Nick can admit that.
But, as we soon learn, Nick went to jail because he was covering for Dalton, who was actually the one who stole the car. Are we not in love with him now? Nick doesn’t ever treat Dalton that well (while he’s alive), but apparently that’s just the way he is with friends, because you don’t go to jail for someone you feel lukewarm about. Plus, Nick is so sweet when he finds poor Dalton’s body. He is really, really moved. Dalton is also quite the sweetie himself, underneath his unrefined outer coating. His was definitely the death that I mourned most. Even Carly, who seems to hate being filmed by Dalton, mourns him harder than Wade, it almost seems.
So, I posit the theory that even though Nick doesn’t really like Wade, and doesn’t really want Carly with Wade, he’s able to recognize that if Carly is going to be with somebody, it should be a nice guy like Wade. You know, someone who comes close to deserving her. Not someone like Dalton who can’t even steal a car right.
Well, too bad. Wade gets waxed. And then he gets covered in wax. And then his face gets pulled off. And then he gets melted and burned and crushed and I’m pretty sure he was dead at that point, but if not then he definitely suffocated. Bye, Wade! We won’t really miss you but you weren’t so bad.
I like Wade because he likes small towns. He thinks wax museums are cool. And he’s concerned with being kind to others. These are all excellent attributes, especially in a guy with JP’s frame and musculature.
But the man has no respect for privacy. He enters the wax museum and the town garage even though they were clearly closed just because the doors were open. And then he goes snooping around in the Sinclair (Brian Van Holt’s character’s) house. Talk about no manners! Maybe the small town that he was raised in was a wolf cave. Hmm?
I won’t waste any time ripping Wade and Carly’s relationship apart because him dying was all of the confirmation we needed that they weren’t meant to be together and won’t/shouldn’t be endgame. It’s like Fiona says: “Boyfriends are temporary. Brothers are forever.” But let me just say that I totally could do it, much better than I could rip apart Declan and Holly J. (Sorry for all the references to my Degrassi post.) I mean, Wade isn’t even sure if he’s willing to go to New York with her, and him liking Gainesville and her wanting to live somewhere like New York is such a fundamental difference.
This is why I was so tense during the movie: all of my hopes would have been for naught if either Carly or Nick had died. I was pretty sure that Carly would live, because that’s horror movie tradition. I was much less sure about Nick. Even though I thought it likely after we learned that he took the fall for Dalton, and I thought it even more likely once it came down to just the two of them, I wanted it so badly that I didn’t dare commit myself to actually thinking that that’s what would happen. It was so great, like reliving the first time I watched Doom, which held the same suspense for me.
There’s also this almost subconscious idea set up that only Nick is worthy of Carly (and not Wade) because only Nick is able to protect her and survive. Of course, Carly carries her own weight and it’s definitely a team effort, but I think that image still establishes itself. It’s part of what reinforces the whole they’re-meant-to-be-because-only-they-live thing. (Not that I think that about real life. But fiction stories don’t work like real life.)
The final fight with Vincent takes place on a bed…that could mean something. Nick is supine, with Vincent above him trying to stab him. Carly comes up, pulls a knife out of Nick’s leg (ouch) and then stabs Vincent with it.
There’s also this possible twin parallel. Bear with me now: there are two sets of twins in this film. That’s a lot! There’s Carly and Nick, of course. But our villains are both twins: Bo Sinclair (Brian Van Holt’s character) and Vincent Sinclair were conjoined twins when they were born. Their father did a risky operation to separate them, which resulted in Vincent being horribly disfigured. There’s a lot of play with their togetherness and their separation: there is a wax representation of them as conjoined babies, but Vincent, as he’s trying to get into the room, cuts them apart with a knife that he sticks through the wall. Then, as the house of wax is melting, Vincent who is on the second floor, falls through the floor and lands dead on top of Bo’s body in the same position as when they were connected. Like they were being returned to the way they were supposed to be, or something. It was probably just a cool visual (of which there are many in this movie), but like I said, bear with me. So, there’s also this idea of Bo being the bad twin and Vincent being the good one, just like Nick and Carly. (Their mother even says as much, in the flashback at the beginning.)
Well, the way I see it, one set of twins used to be conjoined, and one set will be! (ba dum tsss)
At one point, Carly ends up getting all dirty. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s icky, and it’s related to the bad smell. Either she didn’t bring any extra clothes (her PJs being essentially her underwear would seem to indicate this) or she was simply too impatient to make it back to the camp as she was, because Nick gives his sister the shirt off his back and she accepts it. Well, the wife beater off his back. What a gentleman. She takes it and puts it on. She changes right there in front of everyone (including the creepy road-kill guy and her own brother)! Nick might be gentleman, but Carly is certainly not a lady!
I know she felt gross, but seriously, I think it could have waited for cover of forest. There were trees not five feet behind her.
So, basically, she spends the rest of the movie wearing his shirt. Awww… I wish I could say that Nick spends the rest of the movie shirtless, but he’s got other apparel lying around somewhere. I wish that had been stolen like Dalton’s video camera, or slashed up like Wade’s engine belt.
Carly goes through a lot of hell before she reconnects with Nick, but once she does they’re pretty much together for the rest of the movie. Lots of crying and hugs – just the way I like it.
She calls him stubborn, and he gets a pretty good kick out of the fact that he then calls her stubborn later on. It’s a very cute moment even though I will call it out for being a little bit forced/contrived. He’s trying to get her to go, but even a tiny little baby would be smart enough to realize that they should shouldn’t split up.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t care because he was leaning over her in such a sexy way! That was definitely the hottest moment between them.
He does it again only a scene or two later. She’s against the car. He puts one hand on the car on one side of her, and the other on the open door, enclosing her. He’s a lot taller, so maybe that’s just what comes natural, but it’s a very possessive stance. It’s usually a seductive position – one sees it done a lot in high school movies/TV shows as the girl is at her locker. Right? You know what I mean.
At the end, she asks if he’s OK (he was stabbed in the leg). He takes her hand, squeezes it, and says, “We’re OK.” That’s couple talk!
Then she settles in against his chest.
I think that’s a pretty clear if indirect indication that they’re now a romantic couple.
What? You disagree?
OK, fine. “Clear” might be a strong word.
But it’s good enough for me. I’ll make do with what I can get.
My recommendations of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and especially Degrassi Takes Manhattan as something to watch were a little reserved (though I love the ships, of course), but I recommend House of Wax wholeheartedly, with the only qualification being that it is a horror movie in every sense.