Review: House of Wax

Nothing here is very fleshed-out, but it really does seem as if Jaume Collet-Serra had a lot of fun making this thing.

House of Wax
Photo: Warner Bros.

Besides the vats of molten wax, the only thing that links 1953’s House of Wax with Jaume Collet-Serra’s remake is a character named Vincent, who runs Trudy’s House of Wax with his brother in the abandoned town of Ambrose. There’s a book to be written about why the lower classes have become the boogeymen du jours of horror movies, because here we are again: A bunch of teenagers on their way to some vaguely specified event wind up in Hicksville and must fend for their lives against a family of rednecks.

Just as Marcus Nispel reworked Tobe Hopper’s legendary Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the MTV generation, Collet-Serra tricks out André de Toth’s classic, except this new House of Wax more accurately brings to mind David Schmoeller’s underrated Tourist Trap, in which a bunch of teens stumble upon a mannequin museum operated by two brothers, one a mysteriously masked freakazoid. Of course, Tourist Trap itself owed plenty to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of Wax, and what with all the inbreeding that ostensibly goes on in them thar hills, it’s almost fitting that all of these films share so much storytelling DNA.

Though not as exciting as Rob Schmidt’s unapologetically vapid Wrong Turn, House of Wax isn’t without strong visual ideas. Collet-Serra’s camera often lingers on his characters’ greasy faces in claustrophobic close-up, summoning a creepy contrast between the real and waxen bodies of the film. And inside a movie house that plays Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the filmmakers encourage audiences to critique their roles as passive spectators.

Nothing is particularly fleshed-out, but it’s clear that Collet-Serra had a lot of fun making his House of Wax, from the ridiculous justification for the story’s horrors to the gorgeous spectacle of melting wax that closes the film, evoking a reverse entry into a mother’s womb. And as one sporto’s plastic blonde girlfriend, Paris Hilton is never cast in wax, but she does get impaled, and when she does, audiences may reply with a resounding “that’s hot.”

 Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard, Dragicia Debert, Damon Herriman, Andy Anderson  Director: Jaume Collet-Serra  Screenwriter: Chad Hayes  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 99 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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