House of Wax

houseofwax

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Bearing almost no resemblance to the 1953 Vincent Price film that inspired it, the new “House of Wax” should please genre fans looking for elaborate makeup effects that capitalize on a multitude of macabre and sadistic depictions of mayhem and bloodletting. Sticking close to the formula in which a maniac cuts a group of mostly moronic teens down to the last one or two standing, “House of Wax” has just enough ghoulish humor to keep it from melting. First-time helmer Jaume Collet-Serra deserves credit for keeping things fairly interesting, and even manages to stage a few genuinely memorable set-pieces along the way to a predictable conclusion. Rest assured, “House of Wax” is strictly for folks who get a kick out of titles like “Wrong Turn,” “Cabin Fever,” and the recent remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Everybody else should stay far, far away.

A half-dozen kids take a detour on the way to a sporting event and end up near Ambrose, Louisiana, a cobwebby backwater that seems to have missed the memo about the 21st century. The movie theatre loops “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and a filling station and a church appear to host the only signs of life in town. Of the remaining buildings, an imposing Art Deco museum (with signage matching the film’s title) serves as a reminder of the hamlet’s better days. Production designer Graham “Grace” Walker and wax body supervisor Jason Baird deserve mention for their impressive work, which rises above the usual slasher flick fare.

The six youngsters include twins Carly and Nick (played by Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray), Carly’s boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki), Nick’s buddy Dalton (Jon Abrahams), and libidinous couple Blake (Robert Ri’chard) and Paige (Paris Hilton). Certainly the appearance of overexposed celebrity Hilton will draw a few curiosity seekers, but one of the movie’s biggest surprises is that the heiress isn’t completely abominable as an actor. Hilton’s presence also merits a handful of jokes at her own expense, including a wink and a nod to her sex tape scandal.

Thematically, “House of Wax” trots out a twins motif, pitting Carly and Nick against psycho siblings Bo and Vincent (both played by Brian Van Holt). Screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes, also twins, hopefully draw lightly on their own experiences, as Bo and Vincent are a gruesome twosome. While sadistic Bo sticks with snipping off a victim’s finger and super-gluing someone’s mouth shut, Vincent’s methods are more mechanically involved. Like a deadly spider, he drenches his still breathing prey in hot wax, ultimately sculpting them into eerie, hair-raising imitations of life. The effects are often disgustingly remarkable, and the museum’s parlor, filled with unmoving figures, will inspire unpleasant dreams for some.

At times, “House of Wax” teeters precariously on the edge of overcompensating for its formula-bound genre customs (whenever convenient, we learn more than we really need to about Vincent and Bo). The clumsy exposition, however, doesn’t compare with the inexplicable choices made by the characters: harassing the locals by smashing out a headlight, discovering a huge pit of rotting roadkill, splitting up, breaking into ominous buildings, accepting rides from strangers, etc. – which play like a laundry list of things to avoid when in peril. Needless to say, these are the very things that make slasher movies tick, and the target demographic for “House of Wax” is not likely to complain.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/9/05.

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