I am going to upset someone by saying this: The utterly unnecessary House Of Wax remake from 2005 is better than most (all?) of the Friday The 13th films (although, of course, it’s not a competition), simply as a case-in-point, and if this were an obscure offering from the mid-to-late 80s, it would almost certainly be regarded as an “Essential Slasher” film.
I have to admit, to my embarrassment, that I have avoided nearly every Jaume Collet-Serra film when they have come to theaters because, frankly, they always look, from a distance, like standard kitsch-thriller fare.
But they are not. Holy dang. Each time I’ve pushed past my initial disinterest and given one of his films a shot, I’ve been floored at how remarkably well he wields the usual tropes of the genre to craft something absolutely scintillating, of which House Of Wax may be the prime example.
In this respect, it’s helpful to compare House Of Wax with another much-lauded slasher reboot: The Strangers: Prey At Night.
Both films hearken back to a simpler era. Both films are relentlessly violent in short bursts. Both films are visually distinctive. And, perhaps most notably, both films pride themselves on being *maddeningly patient* in marching towards their eruptive final acts.
But they are not the same, and beyond the superficial similarities, there is no real family resemblance. Because a film like Prey At Night is, essentially, a conceit – it’s a handful of striking images propped up by empty space, an entire motion picture reverse-engineered around a memorable set-piece involving a light-up swimming pool and a handful of clever nihilistic slogans (a la “Because you were home!” “Because why shouldn’t anybody kill anybody?” “Because why is anything?” “Because what matters?” “Because what and who and why is anyone?”)
But ideas don’t make films interesting in themselves. They barely even make them watchable.
What can be said, then, about House Of Wax is that it’s sturdy. It stands on its own, regardless of the strength of it subtext. It is not an elegantly-decorated host body for the filmmakers’ masturbatory ideological musings. Some wax sculptors chase some teenagers and it’s scary as all get-out. Specifically, the sort of *scary* that will likely stand the test of time while trendy-psycho-drama-horror-fests like Prey At Night – engineered, it seems, to stir up discussion among unemployed philosophy Ph.Ds freelancing for Paste magazine, et al – have disappeared into the ether.