Chad Michael Murray
Brian Van Holt
Horror teen remake
Trivia Paris Hilton did not have to audition - she was the director's only choice for her role. The rest of the cast was built around her. Warner Brothers even granted her permission to sell t-shirts that read, "On May 6th, Watch Paris Die" in order to promote the film before its release.
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House of Wax (2005)
8th Jun 05
A new imagining of the 1953 chiller (filmed in 3-D) in which Vincent Price opens a sinister wax museum where the exhibits are made from real human bodies
Review House Of Wax is the latest in a long line of horror films aimed squarely at the teen market courtesy of Dark Castle, the production company behind such dubious pleasures as Gothika, Ghost Ship and Thirteen Ghosts. This new version follows six college students as they’re driving across country to attend a football game. In a typical teenagers-in-peril scenario they encounter a diversion and are forced to set up camp for the night, where they soon fall foul of an unseen trucker when quick-tempered Nick (Murray) smashes his headlight. The following morning the kids discover that the brake line of the car belonging to Wade (Padalecki) has been tampered with, so reluctantly he decides to stay behind with girlfriend (and Nick’s sister) Carly (Cuthbert) in order to get it fixed. The two of them end up in a small town – whose main attraction appears to be a House of Wax – where they meet local garage owner Vincent (Van Holt) who coincidentally owns a truck with a smashed headlight…
The standard premise of House Of Wax offers nothing new to viewers but should appeal to its target audience who have already lapped up the likes of Boogeyman and the recent remake of The Amityville Horror. The first half of the film moves at a sluggish pace as it introduces the characters to us and we’re asked to watch them interact with each other with the intention of feeling an emotional bond to them by the time they’re placed in danger. Sadly they’re not given a dynamic enough script to work with, so whilst you do warm to the relationship between Carly and Wade, brother Nick just comes across as an arrogant asshole and the other three are little more than one dimensional figures.
Things begin to get more interesting once Carly and Wade become isolated from the rest of the group and start to explore the town, and the film finally cranks up a bit of tension as we enter the House of Wax for the first time. After such a slow build up it comes as a welcome relief when the villain is revealed and the killings can begin in earnest. Thankfully the other teens soon return to help their friends, so there’s plenty of choice for our evil killer who loves nothing better than to turn his victims into wax exhibits.
For a 15 certificate film this is quite a gory picture, with stabbings and body parts being removed willy-nilly, plus a head-smashing scene which isn’t that far removed from the ones that caused so much fuss in Fight Club and Irreversible. First time director Collet-Serra takes gleeful delight in the manner in which the characters are despatched, and the much talked-about scene in which Paige (Hilton) is killed is probably the pick of the bunch. He also throws the audience a few curveballs and at least one major character suffers a rather unpleasant fate that you’re just not expecting, which is always a welcome twist in this type of film.
Yet for all the pleasure in the amount of blood spilt there are plenty of other issues to nitpick at. Whilst we’re given some kind of background story to Vincent and his brother Bo (notably in a pre-credits sequence), there’s nothing provided in the way of motivation for him and the whole recurring theme of the “good twin” versus “evil twin” is made redundant by having both twins complicit in the murders. The screenwriters also try to relate this underlying theme to the characters of Carly and Nick (in an early scene Carly makes reference to Nick being her “evil twin”) but it just feels awkward and out of place.
The House of Wax itself is impressive but one has to ask the question how exactly does someone construct a huge building made entirely of wax? And of even greater concern, surely if said building is set alight and the characters have to squelch and claw their way through the dripping wax, isn’t that going to be scalding hot and burn a little? As if these inconsistencies aren’t bad enough any vague attention to reality is lost all together when all manner of recently maimed characters keep running around as if they’ve suffered nothing more than a paper cut! I know it’s only a horror film, but even so… oh, I don’t know, maybe I just question things too much?
The acting in House Of Wax is as mediocre as you’d expect in a film like this, aside from Elisha Cuthbert who carries her role quite convincingly. Then again, she has had plenty of practice in running around in a low-cut top from her work on the first two series of 24. Paris Hilton was cast especially for the role of Paige and she certainly looks great, particularly when called to perform a striptease dressed only in her red skimpies. Her acting abilities have improved somewhat and go some way to erasing the bad memory of Nine Lives (released on Region 2 DVD this week) but inevitably most of the viewers’ pleasure comes from the none-too-subtle digs at her celebrity notoriety (in a scene where she’s being filmed giving a blow-job in a moving car) and of course her horrifying demise.
Collet-Serra handles the action scenes competently enough but relies far too much on the “walking into shot” method for his shocks. He does manage to create some suspense during the build up and there’s a great moment in the film when Carly discovers that the congregation in the town’s church are in fact all waxworks. The wax exhibits look convincing and there’s some good use of make-up, especially when Carly picks away at a wax face to reveal the flesh beneath. I’ve one final whinge however; why do we always have to suffer endless heavy rock music for no apparent reason other than to flog the obvious soundtrack cash-in CD?
Overall then House Of Wax is a mixed viewing experience benefiting with some enjoyable death scenes but suffering from a slow start and a multitude of plot inconsistencies. If you're fifteen years old then you're going to love this movie - for everyone else, if you're prepared to leave your brain in neutral then you should have some fun with it.