OF WAX (2005)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Lately, it seems like Hollywood has been running out of ideas. Everything is based on a true story or seems like it's just reprocessed material from another movie. As such, I'm not exactly surprised when a remake goes into production. Remakes are twelve for ten cents nowadays, but when Dark Castle Entertainment announced its intentions to remake a certain horror classic, I was intrigued. Dark Castle, a company founded by Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilbert Adair to make horror movies for Warner Brothers, is no stranger to the idea of remaking classic horror movies. After all, their first two movies were remakes of William Castle's House On Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts. But the reason I was so intrigued by their third remake is the fact that the source material is a remake itself. Any horror fan worth their salt has heard of the 1953 horror House of Wax, starring the legendary Vincent Price. The movie's one of the highest grossing 3-D movies ever made, but I don't know how many of you readers know that it was a remake too. Yep, the original House of Wax is a remake of the relatively obscure 1933 movie The Mystery of the Wax Museum, which itself was based on a play written by Charles Belden. So what we've got with Dark Castle's House of Wax is a remake of a remake of movie based on a play. Got that? Good.
The movie follows a group of friends on a road trip from Florida to Louisiana for a huge college football game. We've got good girl Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her criminally-inclined twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki), her best friend Paige (Paris Hilton), Paige's boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri'chard), and camcorder-carrying dork Dalton (Jon Abrahams). They have a confrontation with a trucker while camping, and when they awaken the next morning, they discover that the engine of Wade's car may or may not have been tampered with.
To avoid being stranded, they accept a ride into the secluded ghost town of Ambrose so they can hunt for a new fan belt for the car. Once they arrive in Ambrose, they find themselves drawn to the House of Wax, a museum filled with remarkably lifelike wax figures. However, they soon discover that the House of Wax and the rest of the town has been populated by the wax-coated corpses of unlucky visitors. The five friends must find a way to avoid murderous twin brothers Bo and Vincent (Brian Van Holt in a duel role) and escape Ambrose before they too become permanent exhibits in the House of Wax.
Apparently Dark Castle Entertainment adopted the same idea of remaking a film that the producers of the Dawn of the Dead remake had: to take a famous horror movie and the barest skeleton of its plot, and go in a far different direction than its predecessor. House of Wax bears little resemblance to its source material, with the titular wax museum serving as the only link between them. Dark Castle labeled it a "re-imagining" instead of a "remake," which is essentially their way of saying "we just took the name and basic plot, and made a totally different movie." The movie also seems to borrow bits and pieces from What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, which they even reference by name in the movie itself. House of Wax owes much more to recent movies like Wrong Turn and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake than to Vincent Price's classic, right down to Elisha Cuthbert wearing an outfit similar to the ones worn by Eliza Dushku and Jessica Biel in said films. The movie is simply your typical backwoods slasher movie, only without cannibal rednecks, the antagonists are demented twins that like to make wax figures with their victims.
The movie, written by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, is absolutely chock full of genre clichés. Let's take the characters, for example. There's Final Girl, the boyfriend, the token black guy, the angst-y one, the dork nobody really likes, and the slut. How many times have we seen those characters in a horror movie? There's also instances of the characters breaking some of the cardinal rules of horror by splitting up, snooping around strange places, and running up the stairs when the front door is easily accessable. You also never really get a chance to know the characters, or even like them. The handful of brief attempts at making these lame characters seem real are just weak, and the dialogue is stilted and disposable. There's also have a subplot that the Paige character might be pregnant, but it's both badly written and barely even mentioned at all. The script also left me asking how a building made of wax could survive in the very muggy south. And is it even possible to make a building made entirely of wax in the first place?
Moving on, the cast is kind of a mixed bag as well. I liked Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, and Brian Van Holt, but the rest of the cast did nothing to make them stand out. Honestly, the movie could have easily been made without Robert Ri'chard or Jon Abrahams, and neither of them would have been missed. And how about Paris Hilton? Casting her got a lot of heat from critics, who argued that filmmakers really shouldn't be casting someone whose only discernable claim to fame is being an insanely rich floozy who videotaped herself having sex with Shannon Doherty's ex-husband. While I agree that she got famous for doing absolutely nothing, I applaud her for trying to do something with her fame. But the thing is, I've seen more believable acting from brick walls. It seems like she downed a handful of Valium before each take. I know the movie isn't supposed to be Shakespeare, but she could have at least tried harder. But in her favor, at least she can run and scream like a champ.
However, where the movie succeeds is its direction and special effects. Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra makes his motion picture debut with House of Wax, and his experience directing music videos shows. The movie is slick and stylish, with some very inventive camera angles and great jump-scares. He also manages to make quite a few sly references to One Night In Paris, though I don't know if they were intentional or not. If they were, it makes sense. Why not play to what we know Paris is good at? Anyway, the makeup effects are also great, another brilliant job by KNB EFX Group. Thanks to KNB's work, the movie has its fair share of disturbing moments. From knives to Achilles' tendons and throats, to fingers getting chopped off and lips getting superglued together, what the movie lacks in characterization is made up for in violent savagery. The wax creations themselves also look absolutely outstanding, and those who worked to put them together get a big thumbs-up from me. We also have an exciting score composed by John Ottman, which made the movie that much more fun to watch.
I know I complained about it a lot, but House of Wax was actually pretty entertaining at times. Unfortunately, the movie seems like there's a "been there, done that" feeling. The lyrics may be different, but the song still sounded the same. I liked Wrong Turn, and I liked the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Did I like House of Wax? I didn't love it, but I certainly didn't hate it either. I'm going to give it two and a half stars, which sounds about right to me.
Final Rating: **½