There are many iconic structures in the neighborhood of horror: Norman Bates’ crooked Psycho structure, the Amityville Horror home’s eye-windows, and of course, the House of Wax. All of these movies have been remade, but audiences have yet to tour the hallowed halls of the spooky museum where some of the displays are all too real.
Going from Vincent Price to Paris Hilton as the stars, horror fans can expect a lot of changes in the new film — and they’re not for the better in my opinion. The remakes of Psycho and Amityville Horror both retained the integrity of the spooky structures we’ve come to know and love, but House of Wax does nothing to delight us with unsettling, creepy wax figure displays similar to the perennial Price classic — here, the wax displays are just regular people, sitting or standing around. (The 1953 3-D film was about a madman who turned murdered corpses into wax statues and posed them to celebrate terrible figures in criminal history — for example, Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper — and was itself a remake of a 1933 two-strip Technicolor movie, The Mystery of the Wax Museum.)
A remake in name only, this House of Wax starts off with a group of friends hopping into a car and going on road trip (horror movie cliché No.1) to one of the biggest college football games of the year. Things take a turn for the worse for Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and Paige (Paris Hilton) when the group decides to camp out for the night before heading to the game. A confrontation with a mysterious trucker at the camp site (horror movie cliché No. 2) leaves everyone spooked, and Carly has her hands full trying to keep the peace between her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) and her hot-headed brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), neither of whom can stand the other (horror movie cliché No. 3).
They wake up the next morning to find that their car might have been deliberately tampered with (horror movie cliché No. 4). At the risk of being left stranded, they accept a creepy, toothless local’s invitation for a ride (horror movie cliché No. 5) into Ambrose, the only town for miles. Once there, they are drawn to Ambrose's main attraction: Trudy’s House of Wax, which is filled with remarkably life-like sculptures.
But as they soon discover, there is a shocking reason the exhibits look so real (horror movie cliché No. 6). These characters are real drips; they decide to split up and explore (horror movie cliché No. 7), and when they find there’s a killer on the loose (horror movie cliché No. 8), they either run and hide upstairs (horror movie cliché No. 9) or down in dark basements (horror movie cliché No. 10).
So, you've gathered the movie has every horror movie cliché in the book? Yep, you’d be right, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun movie. Fun, that is, if the first half hour of the film has not either put you to sleep or made you get up and sneak into another movie.
There is a small “hook” in the very beginning that’s supposed to leave you hanging and wanting more, but the teaser scenario is not clear enough to pique your interest and once the movie goes into its slow build introducing the characters and setting up their situation, you’re about ready to sign off. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind a slow build at all (The Shining is a good case in point), but the operative word is build. For the first half hour, House of Wax just sits there like an unlit candle. Since a commercial and video director (Jaume Serra) was hired to helm this film, one would expect a lot snappier, punchier action, even during the waxy buildup when nothing is actually happening.
Once the movie ignites its flame — assuming you haven’t signed off yet — it’s a decent teen slasher-style flick that does indeed burn the candle at both ends. Although a lot of it harkens back to the old school 80s days and its formulas, there is a definite feel of Tobe Hooper’s the 1973 classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to the film. The ghost of TCM is felt in the crazy-killer family, their creepy slaughterhouse of a home, and in the chase-down-slash-and-kill murders. Those parts are well done, and I do admit to genuinely cringing during the dismemberments.
Ultimately, I was disappointed. The filmmakers can say it’s a “reimagining” and “a remake in name only” all they like, but they have some responsibility for a moviegoer being let down when they call their movie House of Wax. Why not just call it Waxwork 2005? (Heck, even Waxwork, which was not a remake, has a lot more of the best elements of the original House of Wax than this one does.) I won’t even go into picking apart the incongruities of the story (if Trudy’s House of Wax is in the South, why doesn’t it melt in the summertime? And how’d they get enough wax to build an entire town, anyway?) because I don’t think the movie is meant to be taken seriously anyway.
If you’re okay with standard slasher flicks and you enjoy grandiose special effects, then House of Wax might be worth a trip to the theater for you. If not, wait for the DVD.
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
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Read cast interviews: Elisa Cuthbert - Paris Hilton - Jared Padalecki - Chad Michael Murray