The second installment in our month of bad horror remakes is the 2005 Paris Hilton/Elisha Cuthbert vehicle “House of Wax.” Like last week’s disaster “The Wicker Man,” “House of Wax” commits the cardinal sin of a bad horror movies: It takes itself painfully, painfully seriously.
Music video director Jaume, who’s other major movie was 2009’s “Orphan,” helms “House of Wax” with the kind of gritty self-seriousness that would serve a better movie well, but with a story this boilerplate the main draw becomes waiting for Paris Hilton to be killed. Incidentally, I root for the same thing in every movie starring Paris Hilton and some she’s not even a part of.
Cuthbert and Hilton are joined by Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padaleki, and Robert Ri’chard as five unsuspecting teenagers who are out on a Friday looking for a good time. Cuthbert is the girl next door, Padaleki is the boy next door, Murray is the broody one, Hilton is the sex bomb, and Ri’chard is the jock. The good-time gang is on their way to what is likely a slammin’ party when a detour leads them into the woods. Of course, they could have skipped the party or gone back to town, but it’s a horror movie and a very standard one at that, so not only do they set up their tents, they bait an ominous stranger.
The next morning, Padaleki’s car breaks down and so he and Cuthbert head into the nearest town, where underused character actor Brian Van Holt helps them get on the fan belt they need and then things get weird.
The whole town is seemingly devoid of people, save Van Holt and a few funeral attendees that Padaleki and Cuthbert barge in on. Naturally, and again, because it’s a boilerplate horror movie, the couple go snooping around town, stopping at the old House of Wax wherein they find various wax sculptures posed in everyday situations.
Jaume does this much right with his characters: He brutally, brutally hurts them. An early scene finds Cuthbert, the movie’s star, in a situation where her finger is cut off and her mouth is superglued shut, forcing her to tear away at her lips until she can manage a scream. Jaume’s willingness to hurt his cast makes “House of Wax” much more uneasy, as it successfully communicates that no one is safe, adding some much needed predictability to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, the movie that follows is very predictable. Van Holt turns out to be one of the movie’s two villains, his character being the deranged murderer and his character’s brother being the deranged murderer who embalms people in wax while they’re still alive.
While Van Holt is hunting Cuthbert and Murray in town, Hilton and Ri’chard are being dealt with in the country. This next clip is extremely grisly. Not for the faint of heart. But it’s totally worth it to see Paris Hilton catch a spike with her face.
As satisfying as that clip is, it’s also a good indication of how Jaume deals with violence in “House of Wax,” that is to say, liberally, which, like his willingness to hurt the characters, is necessary to keep the movie remotely engaging.
Jaume’s other artistic flourish in “House of Wax” doesn’t work as well. In what is possibly the most literal movie title since “Throw Momma From The Train,” the house of wax in the movie is made entirely out of wax. Let’s hold on that idea for a second. This would mean that Vincent, the wax-obsessed brother (also played by Van Holt) spent years faithfully recreating an entire building, plus all of its furniture, appliances, everything out of what would have to be thousands and thousands of gallons of wax. What’s more, the building itself is in the sun all day, which begs the dual questions, “Why doesn’t it melt?” and “Where did all of this wax come from?”
I guess it’s kind of hypocritical to call a movie unoriginal and then slam one of its few original ideas, but that’s just stupid. In theory. In practice. Though, it does make for an interesting final confrontation. Enjoy the terrible song that comes with this video.
Unlike “The Wicker Man,” which builds to something so bad its beautiful, “House of Wax” doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself for better or worse. What’s left is a movie with some impressive sets, one brutal and memorable murder, and nothing else. It even teases a sequel in a final act of desperation.