Re-Defining Horror in a Post- Scream World

So, I’m sure by the end of this post, I’ll already want to take back everything I’ve said in this first paragraph, but here goes. Every so often a horror film comes along that defies conventions. I mean, it’s still filled with gore and implausibilities, but everything that we’ve known about horror films is turned on its head. While House of Wax isn’t necessarily a genre re-defining movie, there’s a certain level of consciousness that saves the movie from its own mediocrity.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the characters are still stupid as hell and should figure out something’s up before they’re being chased down the hall by a knife-wielding maniac, but that’s a problem for another day. What I mean is that the horror genre lives in two stages if you ask me. I hate to give Craven this much credit with all the garbage that he’s turned out, but there is a very clear pre-Scream type of horror film and a post-Scream horror film. The difference between the two are the rules laid out in the first Scream. Most horror films after that couldn’t ignore that the rules of horror had been done to death (Okay… pun intended).

This is where movie’s like House of Wax come in. Is it forgettable? Oh yeah. Is it poorly acted? Oh hell yeah. There’s nothing about it that doesn’t scream out bad horror flick. Well, nothing except for the situations that the characters get themselves into. I mean, there’s still the whole cliche “Hello? Is anyone there?” moments, but it’s the turn of events that define the movie.

For instance, there’s still the genre standard of the final girl. But, for those who have seen the movie, it’s a very different pairing in the film’s end. In most cases, either the girl is left alive and alone or it’s her and her boyfriend. With House of Wax one of the first victims is the final girl’s boyfriend. It’s not terribly inventive, but it certainly makes one question if all the “rules” of the genre are going to apply to this movie. In what’s become more and more common in horror films, the bond of siblings has replaced the whole love interest. House of Wax is one of the earlier movies to do so, at least in this revival of the horror genre that we’ve seen in the 2000s, although the reboot of Friday the 13th quickly followed suit.

Another thing that’s interesting is the level of awareness of the audience and how film makers play with that. Paris Hilton’s casting in this movie may be one of the most blatant cases of stunt casting or maybe the director was dimwitted enough to think she was right for the role. Either way, the film plays off of her notoriety in several cases. One of the most obvious is when she’s in the car fooling around with a guy and their friends film her in night vision… like her sex tape, get it? I mean, it’s pretty obvious, but still, this idea of celebrity in the horror film has usually been used to guarantee who will stay alive. High profile folks rarely get killed off. However, this was subverted with Drew Barrymore in Scream so this film takes a different route. It’s the use of notorious celebrity to guarantee the demise of her character. T-shirts were even sold glorifying the fact that paris Hilton would die in this film. The studio gave audiences what they wanted and killed off her character, but what was most surprising is how long it took. Paris Hilton is one of the last deaths of the film, which was pretty shocking. They defied conventions by keeping her alive for so long (after all, she would be the promiscuous girl who gets killed before the opening credits in any other horror movie) but still gave audiences what they wanted by killing her.

House of Wax is full of instances that defy even the horror genre in a post-Scream age. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t a hit with most folks. or maybe it’s just that it isn’t very good? I can’t really say one way or another, but it does remain one of the most interesting examples of horror cinema in the 2000s even if it falls short as a movie.

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