You Had Me at "Hot Wax"
I admit I wasn't expecting much, not much at all, when I purchased my ticket yesterday for the retread of the classic horror flick House of Wax. But friends, House of Wax is easily—and rightfully—one of the best horror films since Scream reinvented the genre in the mid-90s.
It might be on the strength of the film's main female star (Elisha Cuthbert) who helped The Girl Next Door transcend pure adolescent sex fantasy into heartfelt drama. Or Chad Michael Murray, who has spent months perfecting his sullen glare on the WB's One Tree Hill (although we here at TWDI more fondly remember him from Gilmore Girls as Rory's sullen-yet-rich-and-sort-of-dreamy prep school suitor). Also rifled from the Gilmore cast is Jared Padalecki, and here he looks good enough to preserve in wax and place in your living room, neat as you please.
It's true, also, that Paris Hilton makes her screen debut in this feature as well, and believe me, I wanted to hate her. But: her acting, while in the vein of all stilted & wooden horror film acting, is better than your average scream queen.
Factor in a hunky psychotic and well, you had me at HOT WAX.
Seriously, though, House of Wax is a success because it simultaneously stays true to the spirit of trashy teen horror—but it has production value. It has a filmic artistry, an attention to detail. The sets used in the film are gorgeously decrepit. And, I'm jaded enough when it comes to fright, but this film made me cringe several times, look away, and cover my eyes. That's a real achievement.
It's a gore-fest.
I believe that we are now seeing the first wave of post-9/11 horror films—and the things keeping Americans up these days have gotten a little more serious.
Like both The Matrix films and this summer's The Island, our neurotic cultural message indicates our fear that the American dream is just that—a dream—and we're all waiting for that moment when we wake up and realize we're as poor as the rest of the world. Even if it's just an ethical or spiritual poverty.
We've had a lot of zombies: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil & Resident Evil: Apocalypse, plus Shaun of the Dead, and these films make no bones about the connection between rabid, mindless consumerism and zombification.
We've had the inbred Americans of West Virginia and Ohio or other varied "deformed crazy" Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever, House of Wax, The Ring. The poor, the physically "other"...is there anything more frightening to a culture insistent on lookin' good? Or, at least, idolizing those who do look good? And plus: America, the call is coming from INSIDE YOUR HOUSE! These films represent our fear that our biggest national threats are already here.
And don't forget the things that kill us from our childhood: Darkness Falls, Boogeyman, Hide and Seek. If you are in your mid-twenties now, that scariest thing in your childhood might have been: Ronald Reagan.
And alien films, of course, epitomize our fear of immigrants. Signs, for example, is a reiteration of why we have border control policies: I mean, we can't have aliens coming in here, doing our farmwork and taking jobs away from Americans. Can we?
Over the next few years I'll think these tropes will more clearly connect themselves to ideas of national security: after all, the most important border in America is the one between the air and our skin, and the last thing any of us needs is a knife confusing that delineation.