Contains spoilers for House of Wax.
You really don’t need me to inform you that House of Wax is a pile of unmitigated old flap, and ordinarily I wouldn’t even bother commenting on it (the fact that the movie was cast around
Paris Hilton – who didn’t even have to audition for her role – should tell you everything you need to know about it. That, and the involvement of Joel Silver, hardly your benchmark of quality). The point is that in terms of screenwriting mechanics and structure, the thing is so completely out of control as to tip it into the realms of the quite interesting – not that this is entirely what the writers were aiming at, I’m sure, which still makes it a pile of unmitigated old flap.
I’ve lost count of the number of horror films that stick slavishly to a three act structure, which usually means that nothing really happens in the first half hour as the narrative treads water waiting for that all-important first ‘turning point’. However, with House of Wax, nothing happens for 46 minutes, which is either a clever way of confounding expectations, or a massively misjudged wrong turn (I’m voting for the latter). Much of this time is taken up with a hugely pointless drive through the middle of nowhere as two of the six hapless teenagers being lined up for a little slice ‘n’ dice take off in search of a fanbelt; again, maybe this is meant to be unsettling – we’re so far into things now that surely something has to happen. Trouble is, it doesn’t – the creepy driver disappears until the very end of the film (where his re-appearance is almost wholly meaningless). Then, of course, everything goes bonkers for the next hour.
Surely one abiding convention of a horror film such as this is to keep the focus of the action tight. Look at The Thing – 12 men in the middle of nowhere get picked off by a weird, steamy alien – and by the middle of nowhere, I mean a single location. House of Wax has an intriguing location (a deserted town in the middle of nowhere populated by waxworks and two psychotic ex-Siamese twins) – problem is, only four of the six teenage dunderheads end up there, and even then they arrive in two waves. The first 46 minutes of the film seem intent on separating the larger group from each other, probably for the purpose of stringing things out to a respectable feature length. There’s even a completely pointless trip by four of the group to see a football game, but they get stuck in traffic and have to return to where they started from. The whole film is stuffed with bizarre narrative dead ends such as this – so much so that you start thinking it must be deliberate.
Perhaps House of Wax is some wildly intellectual anti-narrative experiment. Here’s David Boje on the subject:
Antenarrative is the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and pre-narrative speculation, a bet. To traditional narrative methods, antenarrative is an improper storytelling, a wager that a proper narrative can be constituted.
Then you realise Paris Hilton is in it, and you’re forced to give yourself a good slap for being a pretentious arse. The problem with House of Wax is that its script is in dire need of least three more drafts and a good kicking - nothing more.