House of Wax
House of Wax
A remake in name only, House of Wax owes less to Vincent Price's 1953 thriller than more recent horrors set in rural isolation. Instead of Price's quaint wax museum in 1902 New York, the modern movie shifts to hicks and sticks. There's a signpost up ahead, and it points to the violent country madness of Psycho, Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Heedlessly invading Louisiana's backwoods (Australia stood in for the shoot), carousing collegians stumble on an isolated town. There, an Art Deco wax museum looms over silent streets. When our snoop troupe starts sticking noses where they don't belong, the youths start joining most townfolk: as dead figures sealed in wax, staring blankly from windows or church pews.
Going more deeply into the town's icky innards, Wax shows off gruesome set designs that often evoke Robert A. Burns' classic Chainsaw work. Oozing waxy goo and bulging with body parts, this twisted tableau is the best thing about the film, whose plot stalls and whose characters show less life than their wax counterparts..
Although a character named Vincent pays slight homage to Price, Wax never repays a bigger debt it owes to little-seen 1979 film Tourist Trap. Starring Chuck Connors, it, too, had road-trip kids come across a rural wax museum, forgotten since bypassed by a new highway. And it, too, had unholy brothers bent on preserving the past at any cost.
But the PG-rated Tourist Trap used creative creepiness more than mere gore, and gave its horror meaning with pitiable tragedy. Within the same framework, Wax is just a dark adventure splattered with R-rated extremes. A cat-and-mouse game sparked by sudden savagery, it's really a house of whacks.
This gut-grabbing approach also drove recent remakes of House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, which, like Wax, came from Dark Castle Entertainment. The idea is to tap name value while turning yesterday's hoary horrors into today's edgy frights.
Yet for a so-called exploitation film, Wax is slow to exploit. Its leisurely setup is a fright-challenged snooze, and at nearly two hours it's bloated for a slasher flick.
Who cares that a typecast Paris Hilton plays a preening party girl, taking comic stabs at her disreputable persona? Hilton's feeble acting could be called "the simple life," and most castmates are no less banal.
Exceptions are Elisha Cuthbert of TV's 24 and Chad Michael Murray of One Tree Hill, who earnestly play love-hate siblings. But even with two sets of twins (one on the dark side), character dynamics are feeble.
That leaves the brilliantly bizarre sets and predictably grim jolts, which build to a spectacular finish. But until then Wax wanes, lurching down a rutted road of cannon-fodder kids and cheap sensations.
IN Movie reviews