Elisha Cuthbert as Carly Jones
Chad Michael Murray as Nick Jones
Brian Van Holt as Bo/Vincent
Paris Hilton as Paige Edwards
Jared Padalecki as Wade
Jon Abrahams as Dalton Chapman
Robert Ri’chard as Blake
Dragicia Debert as Trudy Sinclair
Thomas Adamson as Young Bo
Murray Smith as Dr. Sinclair
Sam Harkess as Young Vincent
Damon Herriman as Roadkill Driver
Andy Anderson as Sheriff
A creepy and chilling thrill-ride that clearly understands what made ’80s slasher flicks like Friday the 13th such guilty fun.
Five teens on a road trip to a college football game fall afoul of the natives when they come upon an eerie, seemingly abandoned town whose centerpiece, the House of Wax, is the home of two deadly brothers who kill their visitors and use their bodies as part of their elaborate wax displays.
“When all else fails, find a movie and remake it.” So is the credo in Hollywood when it comes to keeping the recent horror revival, and there’s no company who has taken that motto more to heart then Dark Castle Productions, whose history can be traced back to the ’50s B-movie films of William Castle like The House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts. After a bunch of lame original horror concepts like Gothika and feardotcom, Dark Castle has returned to what originally got them started, but not by remaking another William Castle movie, but doing an update on the classic 60s horror film House of Wax, a vehicle for the talents of everyone’s favorite horrormeister Vincent Price. Instead of trying to replicate that film’s complex plot, they’ve started from scratch, making it more of a teen slasher flick ala Friday the 13th, Scream, etc. This alone might put off anyone who prefers more cerebral or supernatural horror, but don’t be fooled by the rather simple premise, since there’s more at work in this remake then one might expect based on recent offerings like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.
Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review.
The best thing about this remake is that it’s quite evident that first-time director Jaume Collet-Serra understands what has made the slasher film so appealing to audiences for over three decades. The principal concept is always the same: stupid teens arrive, stupid teens snoop around, and stupid teens systematically get slaughtered in all sorts of bizarre and grotesque ways. In that sense, the cast of House of Wax do enough dumb things that you really start loathing them and start rooting for the bad guy to off them one by one. That’s what makes these sorts of movies work and sure enough, it doesn’t try to veer too far from that formula. Of course, there’s the floozy who has sex at the drop of the hat (of course, that’s Paris Hilton’s character), the dumb jock, and the “party animal” but there are a few twists. Paris Hilton’s Paige is the girlfriend of Robert Ri’chard’s jock Blake, an interracial relationship that displays the most liberal sensibilities in a horror film since some of Romero’s early zombie films, most of which had strong African-American leading men.
Of course, it’s always good to have strong heroes for this type of movie, and Carly and Nick Jones, as played by Elisa Cuthbert (“24”) and Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”), do a fine job filling those rolesat least they’re far better than the normal unknown who usually take these sorts of roles. Surprisingly, there’s a lot more depth to these characters and their back story than in other movies, as well. They’re non-identical twins who have had to deal with favoritism with Carly being considered the good twin and Nick being the proverbial “evil twin.” Without giving too much away, there are a few parallels between them and the two bad guys of the film.
Brian Van Holt is great as those bad guys, and you’re not likely to realize that he actually plays both brothers, the disfigured Vincent, named after Price one presumes, and the clean-cut Bo.
Although the story follows a very similar path as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even the original Friday the 13th, the premise here is far creepier (and I should note that it may be considered a spoiler if you haven’t watched the trailer). The wax figures within the seemingly deserted town have been by the brothers taking their victims and encasing them in hot wax, which allows for all sorts of gruesome fun like having someone’s face being ripped off when someone tries to pull the wax off it, as well as gore and bones popping out of the wax figures when they’re shot during a skirmish.
In what might be an unprecedented move, these heroes do not come out of the movie unscathed or with a few scratches, as one of the leads is viciously and permanently maimed by the killer. When you consider how unrealistic these movies can be with everyone getting killed except the hero, it’s a scene that takes you aback.
Another thing that differentiates this movie from other low-budget horror films is that the whole thing leads up to a climactic finale in the movie’s title location, and one has to be impressed not only with the sets but also the amount of action that takes place on them.
There are also a few great chuckles in the film like when the killer is stalking Carly through a movie theatre filled with wax figures watching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. There’s just something really amusing about the scene.
What Didn’t Work:
While Paris Hilton is by no means the acting disaster some might expect, she basically is playing herself or rather, her character Paige is a caricature of the “Paris Hilton” that has been created by the media and her overnight celebrity. Most of her scenes involve her either acting dumb, doing a striptease or going down on her boyfriend (on video of course). In fact, there always seems to be a handheld video camera around whenever she is on screen, and the gag gets old pretty fast, because it takes you completely out of the movie. Every time she’s on screen, it’s like “There’s Paris.” Then again, just the very thought that she may end up dying quite gruesomely almost makes it worth sitting through her grueling dialogue scenes. The same can probably be said for Jared Padalekci as Carly’s boyfriend Wade, who is such an arrogant assh*le for most of the movie that you really don’t feel too bad when something bad happens to him.
Besides the premise, the movie is rather predictable, and maybe that’s because it sticks so close to the slasher flick formula. You always know who is going to die and when with only a few surprises or genuine scares. When someone goes where they’re not supposed to go, they’re toast. When you start seeing the kids through the eyes of the killer, they’re history.
It also takes far too long for the movie to really get going as far as introducing the wax premise and to start with the killings. The movie spends far too much time developing the “slasher-fodder”. In the case of Elisha Cuthbert’s character it makes sense; some of the others, not so much.
The Bottom Line:
If you like slasher flicks and if you like the most sick, twisted and gruesome gore, you should get a kick with what they’ve done with this remake of a horror classic. Sure, it follows a typical stupid-teens-get-butchered formula used by everything from Friday the 13th to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but there’s enough of an original spin on the premise to make this the creepiest horror remake in quite some time.