Ah yes, another remake. I have to confess to dragging ass into the theater for what I had a strong feeling was going to be another snoozer of a remake. After having been thoroughly dissatisfied with nearly every horror offering so far this year (particularly the recently released Amityville Horror), I bought my popcorn, entered the theater, and prepared myself for the worst.
Surprisingly, no shockingly, House of Wax turned out to be leagues better than I was expecting. I can hear you gasping from here. “Wait, Bill, you’re saying a movie with Paris Hilton in it that is a remake to the 1953 classic starring the master, Vincent Price, is not only watchable, but good?, you say. Correct, even with everything working against it. Not only is it a remake, but it’s also a blatant ripoff of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn, and Saw, among others.
But let’s get down to business. Simply put, this is a well-made film with a lot more gore than you’re expecting, a lot less humor than you’re expecting, wonderful sets, mesmerizing makeup effects, and one badass set of separated Siamese twin brothers who want to turn you into a wax figure. When I heard members of the preview audience gasping frequently at the gruesome deaths on screen, it was like an alarm going off in my head confirming that this film is doing things right.
The setup should be familiar to any horror fan. A group of teens are hitting the road in the good old back country of Louisiana (refreshingly, this story does not take place in West Virginia) to attend the “football game of the year.” Who is playing in this game is anyone’s guess, but it’s big. We have the cautious, brainy Carly (Cuthbert), her shaggy-haired boyfriend, Wade (Padalecki), the socialite, Paige (Hilton), her boy toy, Blake (Robert Ri’chard), and the tag-along juvenile delinquent twin brother of Carly, Nick ( Murray). Guess who lives?
The group decides to camp out in the woods for the night, mostly so that the two couples can have sex. During the night they are approached by an ominous truck, but it soon leaves after Nick throws a beer bottle and breaks one of its headlights. The following day Wade finds a fan belt on his vehicle to be broken, and they soon find themselves at the mercy an unsavory backwoodsman. As stupid horror characters do, Carly and Nick hitch a ride with him to the quiet and decidedly vacant town of Ambrose to get a replacement part.
Ambrose is a strange place, especially its House of Wax. The figures are so lifelike that even the most seasoned wax scholar would swear that they are real people. There’s a reason for that, and soon the entire group finds themselves trying to avoid the likes of Bo and Vincent (both played by Van Holt, guess who inspired that character name), who are bent on turning everyone who enters Ambrose into a wax trophy.
House of Wax seemingly exists solely for visceral response, and even hardened horror genre buffs will find some things to squirm about here. The process of turning a victim into a wax figure is thoroughly disturbing, and the prolonged death sequences will leave some audience members screaming for mercy. This is one of the more gruesome horror offerings in recent years, and unapologetically so. Just the way it should be.
The performances are stock stupid horror characters for the most part, but Elisha Cuthbert manages to breathe some life into her role by making Carly the perfect girl next door. And of course no discussion of House of Wax would be complete without mentioning Paris Hilton. She has no discernible acting talent whatsoever (which, lets face it, is no huge deal in a body counter like this), but her demise had the audience laughing and screaming with glee. Her presence up until that point is really more of a distraction than anything.
Director Jaume Serra, who previously directed (you guessed it), music videos, gives the film a nice ambiance. The film does not just take place in the House of Wax, but more like the town of wax. Serra clearly loves over-the-shoulder and closeup shots, and the effect is claustrophobia. Some may consider this a cheap trick, and had the film relied solely on this technique I would agree, but this is not a film that holds things back. Ultimately, however, it is the makeup team that really pushes House of Wax into above average territory. The gore effects are splendid, particularly in a sequence when one of the characters tries to peel the wax off of another.
House of Wax is early summer schlock, but so what? This is a well made film and is certainly notches above other recent horror offerings. We are in the MTV generation of horror, and it’s nice to see a film go all out and test an audience’s endurance. There’s nothing new here, just well a well done version of the old.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: R for horror violence, some sexual content and language.
Theatrical Release: May 6, 2005
Directed by: Jaume Serra
Written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes. Based upon the story by Charles Belden.
Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams