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House of Wax Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

I can tolerate a certain level of dumbness in movie characters, especially horror film characters who often need to be a little dim for the movie's plot to work. But the people in House of Wax are ridiculous. Picture this: a gaggle of teenagers are camping out in the woods, when the evening wind brings in a horrible stench. One of the kids recognizes it-the unmistakable smell of death. So, naturally, two of them decide to investigate the smell in case, I dunno, it's a dead human body...lying in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe it's Jimmy Hoffa. Or maybe, if you want to get really poetic about it, it's the stench of this movie's coherency and common sense rotting in the sun. It could even be a pile of road kill and animal entrails, but that's unlikely. Now, if I were a horror movie killer, and I saw a few kids stumbling in the brush looking for the stench of death, I wouldn't even bother slaughtering them. Because, personally, I'd prefer a challenge.

That's the problem with House of Wax. These kids are so mind-numbingly stupid that you don't care if they live or die. In fact, after a while, you start to hope the killer slays them-ultimately, he'd be doing them and us a favor. So it's hard for us to get scared when the kids are square in the killer's crosshairs, since we aren't really watching humans in mortal peril, but slabs of meat waiting to be quartered. Watching the stars of House of Wax die is like watching a dog being put to sleep. It's not really frightening; it's just sad and, in a way, quite pathetic.

But here's something! I've come this far in my review without making fun of this movie's premise. House of Wax is actually a pseudo-remake, in that it borrows the title from a 1964 film starring the delectably dark Vincent Price and little else. Here's the plot: six teenagers-Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki), her brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), Nick's little sidekick Dalton (John Abrahams), Nick's friend Blake (Robert Ri'chard), and Blake's girlfriend Paige (Paris Hilton...uh huh)-are on their way to a college football game when they decide to pull over and camp out in the woods for the night (Horror Cliches-1, Common Sense-0). Just before turning in, a pick up truck rolls up to the campsite, brights flashing. The kids ask the driver what he wants, and then they decide to throw a beer bottle at him (Just Plain Stupid Moves-1, Common Sense-Still 0). In the morning Wade finds his car has broken down, so he and Carly head into a remote town for help. There they find an old wax museum where the sculpted figures are quite lifelike. Soon after, they meet Bo (Brian Van Holt), a friendly auto mechanic. But as night falls, it becomes apparent that all is not well in this town. Is it just me, or do all the buildings seem a tad lifeless? And wait-are those bottle shards on Bo's front bumper?

I won't go into what happens next in the eerie halls of the wax museum, but rest assured, a killer comes to the rescue to save us from these idiots. This particular murderer is very skilled and very thorough in his methods of disposal, so when he starts picking off teenagers, he doesn't take long to finish. However, because director Jaume Serra is so clueless as to the art of pacing, House of Wax's bloodbath doesn't start until the movie is half over. Serra spends the first half subjecting us to terrible performances, scare-less nights, and drama staler than your theater popcorn, until we pine for the knives to start flying.

And when they do fly, the deaths are satisfying. Everyone dies ruthless, horrible deaths in House of Wax, ranging from nasty impalements, to an occasional good-ol-fashion throat slitting, to the house special-death by wax. I'm glad these gory deaths made it into the film, because they halt some really horrendous acting. I'll first give credit where it's due. Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray aren't bad. They carry their scenes with a sincerity missing from the rest of this ridiculous movie. But Jared Padalecki, Brian Van Holt (what a ham) and Jon Abrahams turn in painful work. Padalecki's the worst. His character does things so beyond-words dumb that if I ever meet Padalecki, I'll probably have an overwhelming urge to slap him right across the mouth.

We arrive at Paris Hilton. I will say only this-nice try, but she displays more talent in the infamous sex tape than in House of Wax. Plus, in that movie, she never looked like she was faking it.

I walked out of House of Wax hating it, but I contained within me a certain note of glee. It was fun to watch such a fearlessly violent movie for a change. I squirmed at the gory stuff, but hey, at least it elicited a reaction. And let's face it: we all have a twisted, dark corner of our minds, past our fantasies, desires and secrets, where a part of us really, really, really wants to see Paris Hilton's head skewered like a kebob on an iron pole.

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