Wax On / Wax Off
Now that House of Wax is in its third incarnation, let's take a look back at the path this tale has followed throughout cinema history...
The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). A mad museum curator uses real people to model his wax figures around.
House of Wax (1953). A mad museum curator uses real people to model his wax figures around...and it's Vincent Price in the leading role!
House of Wax (2005). A bunch of college kids get sidetracked in redneck country and run into two murderous brothers who use real people to model their wax figures around.
If the tune "One of these things is not like the other..." starts running through your head now, your Movie Radar is up and functioning.
House of Wax is the latest production from Dark Castle, a genre-based company whose more recent films Ghost Ship and Gothika were "original" stories. With House of Wax, Dark Castle returns to the re-making process it began with its first two movies, House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts. First made in 1933, House of Wax is best known as the 3-D Vincent Price starrer that came out twenty years later. Naturally, times have changed, and audiences want things shaken up a bit in terms of casting, story, and thrills, so the new House of Wax is pretty much one of those "in-name-only" remakes. Paris Hilton and the dude from "One Tree Hill" are a far cry from the gleefully over-the-top dramatics of Price, but I would've enjoyed a modern-day spin on the insane curator story rather than a wax-covered rehashing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This new House of Wax is a nice place to look at, but I wouldn't want to live there.
A handful of friends/stock slasher characters you've seen a gazillion times before are on their way to a college football game in Louisiana when trouble strikes rather quickly. While camping out, one of the gang, Nick (Chad Michael Murray), whose sister Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) is also along for the ride, incurs the wrath of a local by smashing out one of the stranger's headlights. The next day, a fan belt is mysteriously broken, and while the others head toward the game, Carly and her boyfriend (Jared Padalecki) decide to search for help in a quiet town in the woods. What they find is a mostly-deserted place, a town that seems frozen in time after the interstate took all the tourists away from its famous wax museum. Surprisingly, the House of Wax is still functioning, thanks to a pair of brothers (both played by Brian Van Holt) who abduct wayward travelers and encase them in the wax figures that populate the town. Carly and her friends are the latest targets of the twins, and it's up to them to avoid becoming the newest additions to the House of Wax.
Had I seen House of Wax before Wrong Turn, an underrated 2003 creeper about a bunch of twentysomethings being stalked in the woods by murderous mountain men, I probably would've liked it more. The same goes for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, as all three flicks involve attractive people getting terrorized by some bad mamma-jammas when they wander into places where it should be painfully obvious from one look around that these are not places to wander around. House of Wax isn't necessarily a bad movie, merely one that comes at the wrong time and, for the most, walks to the same beat as its predecessors, offering little in terms of surprises or fresh ideas to spice up the genre.
Still, the wax angle is well-utilized, combining the eerie stillness those realistic carvings convey all on their own with some especially gruesome moments of blood and gore (the bit where one of the characters tries digging his friend out of his wax figure prison and ends up scratching his skin off is especially freaky). Another highlight is the climactic sequence, where the surviving characters have a showdown with the bad guys while a fire slowly melts the entire House of Wax around them.
As well as director Jaume Collet-Serra plays his cards when it comes to the wax element of the story, he can't keep a straight face as he tries to pull off everything left over in House of Wax. He introduces a "good twin, bad twin" motif that ends with a wholly unnecessary and all-too-predictable twist. He fails to engage us with the characters, and his pacing feels like it's taking forever to get going. The actors seem stuck playing the same roles pioneered by others in '80s slasher opuses (the Screaming Heroine, the Tough Jock, the Goofy Guy, etc.) without the material to make them really memorable. Cuthbert runs around and screams, Murray tries looking tough, and heiress/"actress" Paris Hilton is unsurprisingly unspectacular in her role, although (SPOILER WARNING) she has the honor of taking part in the flick's most gruesome death scene.
House of Wax deserves credit for taking an interesting horror concept and getting more than half an hour's worth of material out of it -- as opposed to the laughable disappointments of such recent genre entries as White Noise and Alone in the Dark. However, although some creative kills and solid atmosphere help boost my rating for House of Wax, the rest of the movie is just SS, DD: Same Slasher, Different Day.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Warner Bros./Dark Castle and rated "R" for horror violence, some sexual content and language.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.