The makers of House of Wax display momentary flashes of imagination, but the film is mostly a routine slasher flick aimed at the youth market. Its title leads you to anticipate a remake of the 1953 Andre de Toth 3-D horror classic about corpses turned into wax figures, which was itself a remake of Michael Curtiz's neglected 1933 two-strip Technicolor masterwork, The Mystery of the Wax Museum. However, writers Chad and Carey W. Hayes and debuting feature director Jaume Collet-Serra toss out this source material in favor of a story more akin to an extended Twilight Zone episode, where college kids with a poor sense of self-preservation stumble upon a forgotten ghost town in the backwoods of Louisiana.
Filmed at the Warner Roadshow Studios in Queensland, Australia, and delayed from its 2004 release, the film should do brisk though brief business in markets catering to young people and college students. "Wax" has the added marquee "bonus" of Paris Hilton playing one of the careless youths.
The story is pure formula: Six young people hit the road for a weekend getaway to a big college football game only to get stranded in a forest at nightfall. Tensions already inflict the group: Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) is distressed that her twin brother, Nick Chad Michael Murray), a punk with an urge for trouble, came along as is her boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki). Paige (Hilton) and boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri'chard) mostly want to sneak away for sexual interludes, while Nick's sad sack buddy Dalton (Jon Abrahams) annoys everyone by shooting all activities with his video camera.
A late-night confrontation with a mysterious trucker, followed by the apparent tampering with one of their vehicles, causes the group to split up. Everyone heads for the game except Carly and Wade, who hitch a ride to a nearby town in search of a fan belt with a clearly unstable character right out of Deliverance.
When they get to this town that isn't on any map, despite all the warning signs, the couple poke and pry where they shouldn't. Especially intriguing to them is a House of Wax where the figures are so "lifelike." Hmmm. Actually, this House of Wax takes its name literally -- everything including the house itself is made of wax. You don't ask how in the world this building was constructed.
Through unconvincing contrivances, the six young people try half-heartedly to regroup, only to keep winding up in pairs or alone so they make easy targets for introduction into the House of Wax. It soon becomes clear that all the town's people are made of wax save for demented twin brothers who run the whole show.
Everything comes down to a battle between the bad twins, Bo and Vincent (both played by Brian Van Holt), and good, Carly and Nick. What on Earth are the writers, who are twins too, trying to say about twins?
If a horror film contains any sequence that combines the grotesque with the surreal, then the film has done its job. House of Wax has two such sequences. The first graphically details the process of embalming a still-living body in wax -- the knife wounds and repairs, the trussing and securing of the body and the spraying of hot wax on an incapacitated person unable to scream. The second comes when a well-meaning friend discovers his buddy's waxed body and understandably tries to claw away the wax coating. Only by doing so, he is actually removing epidermis to expose blood, tissues and muscle.
Otherwise, characters are rote and unremarkable, plot devices predictable and the camera cheats by sticking close to actors so a viewer cannot see from where the next shock will come.
Acting is similarly routine with the glorious exception of Hilton, who is so bad she steals the show. Indeed, the best moment in the film occurs when the filmmakers make it clear that the true horror experienced by Hilton's character is when she finds herself without a working cell phone.
HOUSE OF WAX
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures presents in association with Village Roadshow Pictures
a Dark Castle Entertainment production
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriters: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Based on a story by: Charles Belden
Producers: Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Levin
Executive producers: Herbert W. Gains, Steve Richards, Bruce Berman
Director of photography: Stephen Windon
Production designer: Graham Grace Walker
Music: John Ottman
Co-producer: Richard Mirisch
Costumes: Alex Alvarez, Graham Purcell
Editor: Joel Negron. Cast: Carly: Elisha Cuthbert
Nick: Chad Michael Murray
Bo/Vincent: Brian Van Holt
Paige: Paris Hilton
Wade: Jared Padalecki
Dalton: Jon Abrahams
Blake: Robert Ri'chard
MPAA rating -- R
Running time -- 116 minutes
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