If something scared an audience the first time, it should work again, right? And the third, fourth, and fifth times, yes? Well, House of Wax (Warner; Movie •½, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras ••) steals its title from a Vincent Price vehicle, but it's little more than an amateurish excuse to slice and dice attractive teens. Broken-down car, abandoned town, mysterious wax museum - you know what's coming next.
Warner had the great idea to assign veteran director Paul Schrader to helm a prequel to The Exorcist. But the studio wasn't happy with his reliance on theology over scares, so it hired professional hack Renny Harlin to reshoot it. His film, Exorcist: The Beginning, has already come out on DVD, and now Warner hopes to recoup a few bucks on Schrader's version with its own DVD release, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (Warner; Movie •••, Picture/Sound •••½, Extras ••). The result does give insight into Father Merrin's backstory, if anyone still cares.
For the latest in a franchise that truly keeps the scares coming, check out George Romero's Land of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut (Universal; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras •••½). Humanity is reduced to small bands of survivors, with the wealthy holing up in skyscrapers while the masses starve in the streets beneath. It's a fast-paced, gut-chomping ride that still manages to sneak in some social commentary.
The images in Wax and Dead are strong on shadow detail, with a gorgeous palette of blues and grays. Dominion's picture draws out the brighter colors of the sun-scorched desert. All three DVDs have 5.1-channel soundtracks doing what horror soundtracks should: creepy effects bustle through the surround channels, and powerful crescendos drive home the scares. Commentaries are by the cast on Wax, the directors on the other two. There are deleted scenes on all three, and Wax and Dead also offer multiple featurettes.
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