Sure, any movie that subjects Paris Hilton to a spectacularly gruesome death can’t be all bad. (Call me old-fashioned, but I think “celebrity” status ought to be built on more than having a lot of money and a knack for drawing attention to yourself — mostly in the horizontal position.) All the same, House of Wax comes pretty darn close to being all bad.
The problem’s not that this movie is a remake of a supposed classic — especially when the “classic” 1953 House of Wax was a camped-up, cleaned-up and gimmicked-out (3-D) remake of a far superior 1933 film, Mystery of the Wax Museum.
Anyway, I have no strong objections to remakes in general — they don’t replace the originals, and, in fact, may draw attention to them. And this movie is just barely a remake, since all that’s left of either earlier film are wax-coated corpses and a homicidal maniac sculptor with a wax mask for a face.
For that matter, I kind of liked — in a mindless way — the remakes of House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, films that were made by the same production team behind the new House of Wax. This time, however, they’ve misfired in the most painful manner imaginable, and on nearly every level.
Let’s start with the bloated, 116-minute running time. Mystery of the Wax Museum and the first House of Wax told a much more complicated story in 77 and 88 minutes, respectively. And what is all this excess screen time spent on? Well, the movie wastes a good 40 minutes trying to invest its meat-on-the-hoof cast with something resembling personalities.
Not only is this attempt doomed to failure, but it represents a complete misunderstanding of the kind of film this is. This isn’t a deep examination of college-student angst, and no one cares about these people — we just want to see them dispatched in suitably gruesome ways. Who cares about setup and characterization here? Apparently, twin screenwriters Chad and Carey W. Hayes do; too bad they lack the requisite talent to do anything about it.
A good basic writing course wouldn’t hurt, but first they might want to consider a little therapy to explain just why they cooked up a screenplay with twin psychopaths (both played by Brian Van Holt, S.W.A.T.) and a creepily incestuous set of twins (Chad Michael Murray and Elisha Cuthbert) as hero and heroine.
Are they trying to tell us something? Is this a cry for help? If so, I can only hope the cry is, “Stop us before we write again!”
It doesn’t help matters that video director Jaume Serra has no sense of pacing and seems to think it’s really cool — in a Blair Witch kind of way — to eat up time with lousy video footage shot on the comic relief’s (Jon Abraham) camcorder.
Once the actual plot (which is mostly ideas lifted from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Basket Case and House of 1000 Corpses) gets underway, the movie starts veering in the so-bad-it’s-funny direction — and occasionally even gets there. I admit that there’s a certain amusement value when a psycho invites a couple of characters up to the house where he keeps his “15-inchers” (fan belts, that is).
Then there’s the endlessly stupid ways in which the characters put themselves in harm’s way — not to mention the obligatory leave-the-killer-for-dead-without-checking scene. And the very idea of a wax museum where the building itself – the doors, floors, walls, staircases, etc. — is made of wax is so … insane that it has a certain loopy charm. However it makes one wonder, among other considerations, how someone who can’t craft a wax figure without a corpse within the wax, can possibly build an elaborate, Frank Lloyd Wright-ish, two-story building.
That said, the burning/melting wax museum does provide the film with a pretty impressive and almost nightmarish climax, even if you don’t believe it for a moment. There’s also an effective scene involving the wax-coating process and a creepy bit set in a movie theater where What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is always on the bill.
But even when combined with the demise of La Hilton, these qualities aren’t enough to make the film worth sitting through. Bottom line: The 1933 and 1953 versions are available on a single DVD for slightly less than the price of two evening movie tickets (and for even less as a rental). Am I making myself clear? Rated R for horror violence, some sexual content and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke