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HOUSE OF WAX (R) (2005)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Official Site

Director: Jaume Serra

Producers: Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, L. Levin, Susan Levin

Written by: Chad and Carey Hayes, based on a story by Charles Belden

Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard


Strike one: It’s a remake of a classic horror film. Strike two: It’s a remake of a remake of a classic horror film. Strike three: It puts all its star-power eggs in the as-yet-unproven Elisha Cuthbert basket. Strike four: First-time director. Strikes five and six: Paris Hilton. Strike seven: Its producers partnered with MTV to create a five-episode reality mini-series/advertising gimmick to chronicle the making of the film, which reveals the rather callow demographic at which they’re taking dead aim. Given this unnerving batch of omens, and the knowledge that if it were a convicted felon, it would’ve been locked up for a quarter-century four strikes ago, exactly how eye-gougingly unwatchable is Warner Bros. House of Wax?

Oddly enough, not very. (About the eye-gouging, though—hold that thought.)

A garishly gore-ish re-imagining of the like-named 3-D classic starring the immortal Vincent Price, House Of Wax is the fifth film by Dark Castle Entertainment, a horror-only production house dedicated to recreating the films and spirit of the late William Castle. Formed in 1999 by industry juggernauts Joel Silver (producer–Predator, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard franchises) and Robert Zemeckis (director–Back To The Futures, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), Dark Castle has in recent years churned out a handful of CGI-laden remakes of Castle-produced and Castle-esque fare from the 1950s and ’60s, including House On Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, and Ghost Ship, as well as the passable 2003 thriller Gothika. (On deck for ’06—a Hilary Swank vehicle called The Reaping. Whatever.) While the last House Of Wax—released in ’53 and based on the 1933 hit Mystery Of The Wax Museum (starring King Kong’s Fay Wray, to grant some perspective)—was not produced by Castle, it did, like the original House On Haunted Hill, star Price, in a role that marked the beginning of his reign as master of the macabre for generations of filmgoers. And though Dark Castle’s latest update may not do the same for diminutive Canadienne Cuthbert, it probably won’t sink her, either. For one thing, House Of Wax is not dumber than her last outing, the mildly vapid Porn-derella fable The Girl Next Door. For another, viewed for what it is intended to be—that is, a deliberately theme-lite, boo-scare surfeit of splatter—it’s actually pretty entertaining.

Six college-aged, serendipitously attractive friends are mid-road-trip when one of their cars breaks down; they subsequently do enough “splitting-up-to-investigate,” “making-out-in-public-places,” and “inexplicably-brash-nosing-around” to ensure that, at reel’s end, 67% of them are decapitated, perforated, or otherwise freakishly dispatched. Really, that’s about it. And yes, it is fairly obvious (fairly early, too) precisely which third, following a stunning end sequence, will end up riding away amid the flashing lights, looking at each other with, “I can’t believe what we just lived through” spackled onto their strategically dingied pretty-young-actor faces. But spare me the snobbery, eh? Steinbeck this ain’t, but that can’t be a surprise. What this is is a tepid narrative setup, a brief character acquaintance, and then a 40-minute payoff of chasing and slashing. It’s a visceral, semi-stylish and proud throwback to the heyday of gleeful virtuoso gore-fests like Friday The 13th and Co., where the objective is (1) make the audience jump, and, failing that, (2) make the audience puke. And the disturbingly inventive House Of Wax has got a few tricks up its sleeve, at least as far as the second is concerned. It’s the sort of film where you go because your doe-eyed sweetheart will get scared and sidle up next to you all close-like (and if you’re lucky, periodically disinter her/his fingernails from your upper arm.) Essentially: a good “popcorn flick,” if you can manage to keep down the popcorn.

Ah, the acting. Well, it’s like they say: “She ain’t pretty, but she gets the job done.” “Pretty,” unfortunately, is all some of these players give—but then, that’s really all that’s asked of them. Cuthbert, presumably the audience’s point of identification, doesn’t get to stretch much, but doesn’t much try, either. She overdoes it in places, is convincingly upset when called for, is a bit on the bitchy side. There is a bland sufficiency to her performance that may be attributed in ambiguous portions to actor and screenwriter; ultimately, she is not distractingly bad, just sort of boring. The heiress Hilton, though it irks me a bit to say so, is disappointingly un-terrible. She is given little to do, does it safely, and goes on her way. She plays what one can only assume is herself—a detached, rich-ish party girl, but doesn’t force anything, as some of her pals do. Maddeningly, her lines are delivered so absently that she at times succeeds—via extreme minimalism—at being more convincing than Cuthbert herself. She even gets an indirect laugh—a clever visual jab at the sex-tape “scandal.” It is roughly the same with the remainder of the cast—nothing fancy, generally adequate. Murray is a good-enough “tough-but-tender-guy.” Padalecki is an appropriately boring “nice guy.” Ri’chard blows some lines, but his part is small. The only extremes of note are semi-familiar face Abrahams (Scary Movie, Meet the Parents, “Boston Public”), a small bright spot, and Van Holt, who seems out of place, or miscast. Unfortunately, Abrahams plays the marginal “funny guy,” and Van Holt is the villain(s). More specifically, Van Holt plays brothers, and is ineffective as one, perfectly fine as the other. Explanation? Ah, but that would spoil things, which I wish not to do.

Because, believe it or not, I would recommend House Of Wax. True, what Price’s 1953 House had visually, Cuthbert’s lacks narratively. That is to say, this House Of Wax is a one-dimensional film—two, tops. (Zing!) But really, who cares? That dimension, for what it is, is stretched to last, and it lasts well. If you’re looking for meaning, look elsewhere. If your collective cup of tea includes a good gross-out every once and a while, as well as (oh, all right—here’s a spoiler) the vicarious thrill some would associate with the grisly demise of young Paris, saddle up.

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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