House of Wax (2005) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for graphic violence, gore, sexual content, and language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri'chard
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Release date May 14, 2005

House of Wax is a very loose remake of the 1953 classic chiller of the same name starring Vincent Price, which itself was a remake of a 1933 film, Mystery of the Wax Museum.  Don't look for classic horror here, though.  2005's version takes the ideas of its predecessors and churns them into the same "watch the teens get picked off one by one" formula you've seen countless times over the last two decades or so. 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this update is there isn't one single death represented for the first half of the film.  Normally, such restraint might be commendable, as most major Hollywood slasher flicks have little in the way of set-up or character development, so once the characters get dispatched, we feel practically nothing for them.  However, despite following the modest cast for about an hour, there is still little sense of them as anything more than horny college kids who live for nothing more than beer, sex, and sports.  There's really little need for the padding, as the plot is practically outlined in less than a minute of explanation during the film, so why does it take so long to get going?  Beats the hell out of me...

The plot, what little there is, concerns a group of six friends on a road trip to watch the big college football game. After a night of carousing and camping out, they wake up to discover that one of their vehicles needs a fan belt, and there is seemingly no gas stations anywhere in the vicinity.  With the assistance of a local yokel, a couple of the youngsters break off from the rest in order to get help from a backwater town known as Ambrose, only to find it all but deserted, save for the local priest and gas station owner, Bo.  While waiting for the fix, the couple enter the House of Wax next door, only to be creeped out by the eerie nature of the displays, and soon they discover that what's in the house isn't the only art in town.  There's a reason for the realism of the wax figures -- they are made using real people.  With their impatient friends on the way to get them, will they be able to escape alive, or will they be entombed as art forever?

There are a few clever moments on occasion during House of Wax, particularly as the film reaches its climax, but outside of this, the redundancy factor just about erases any forward momentum the film has going for it.  Stylishly presented by music video and TV commercial director Jaume Serra, House of Wax has a sharp modern look, and yet, despite all of the gore and sensationalistic killings, there is hardly a scary moment to be found anywhere.  Longtime television screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes deliver a workable script, but with little in the way of surprises, you'll spend your time seeing if your prediction as to who survives and in what order the rest will die assumption is correct (I nailed it before the first killing, thank you very much). 

Much of the publicity of the movie comes from the casting of Paris Hilton ("The Simple Life", 1 Night in Paris), who does little except strip down to her underwear and act provocatively, which seems to be her one true talent.  Elisha Cuthbert (The Girl Next Door, "24") gets to wear a wifebeater throughout, which shows off her figure, while hunky Chad Michael Murray (Freaky Friday, A Cinderella Story) somehow finds a way to go shirtless as much as possible.  Yes, the titillation button is pushed whenever there is a lack of original ideas, and that means the button is pushed early and often.

House of Wax is a fairly ugly movie, probably only of appeal to those who are entertained by schlock and gore.  It's made with little in the way of taste, and even less sense, so only the truly hardcore horror junkies need apply to this boring and repulsive excursion into poor filmmaking.  Like the wax figures that are on display throughout the film, it looks like it could be a realistic creep-fest, but upon closer inspection, it's easy to see that there is no life or spirit to be found anywhere in this glossy imitation.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo