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House of Wax (2005)

Prey. Slay. Display.

Directed by:

Jaume Serra

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 113 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

Like Dark Castle Entertainment’s previous productions ‘House on Haunted Hill’ (1999) and ‘Thir13en Ghosts’ (2001), ‘House of Wax’ is more reimagining than remake. In André de Toth’s 1953 original (the first major studio film to be in 3D), Vincent Price’s sculptor transforms real human corpses into life-like wax models – and accordingly twin screenwriters Chad and Carey W. Hayes have themselves moulded this barebones premise into something altogether different, throwing in for good measure two sets of difficult twins (as a reflection, no doubt, of their own relationship). As a neat nod to the original, however, there is a pivotal character named Vincent who, like de Toth himself, is missing one eye.

Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her delinquent twin Nick (Chad Michael Murray), boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki), friend Paige (Paris Hilton) and two others have taken a short cut on their way to a big college football game, and end up camping overnight in the middle of nowhere. Menaced by the unseen driver of a utility truck, and put off by a pungent odour in the area, they are keen to move on, but Wade’s car has a problem, forcing him and Carly to head for the only town nearby, Ambrose. While they wait for the local mechanic Bo (Brian Van Holt) to return to his garage, the pair has a quick look around Trudy’s House of Wax – and as their friends are drawn back to the town, it becomes clear that someone wants them all to join the well-preserved residents of Ambrose permanently.

It is one thing to bring an older film up to date (and the new ‘House of Wax’ certainly does that, seamlessly integrating mobile phones and GPS navigation into its plotting), but here it is also possible to see the different horror trends of the intervening decades layered on top of one another. The film screening on permanent loop in Ambrose’s cinema, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), encapsulates the psychological chillers of the early sixties (while also echoing the film’s concern with sibling rivalries). There is a perverse redneck family straight out of the seventies (the film’s prologue is set in 1974, the year that saw the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The slasher sensibility, with plenty of inventively grotesque slice ‘n’ dice, is pure eighties – while the handheld camerawork and campsite video footage, unmistakably inspired by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999), evokes the horror of the late nineties. This layering of horror styles produces an odd effect, but one entirely in keeping with the film’s premise – as though ‘House of Wax’ were itself a wax model, retouched every ten or so years, with newer fashions just caked on to the old.

‘House of Wax’ compensates for its paucity of jump-out-of-your-seat frights with some genuinely macabre grand guignol. The characters who die, and even those who survive, are really made to suffer in this film, and there are scenes of body horror here that will have even the most fervent gorehounds squirming uncomfortably (unlike the victims, for whom movement is no longer an option). The script is adequately functional, and gets things moving fast enough that the viewer will barely have time to notice how many of the subplots go nowhere. As for Paris Hilton, let’s just say that she dies in this film much as she lives – with her head bent over something long and hard – and while we never get to see her wax job, there is ample silicone on display.

No doubt some viewers will only wish that it too, like the original, were in 3D…

It's Got: Wax, whacks and a certain wackiness (as well as some welcomely unpleasant deaths and near-deaths).

It Needs: Im all for gratuitous violence in horror films, but why all the gratuitous, go-nowhere character backgrounds? Is Paiges possible pregnancy, Wades aversion to the big city may be pregnant, or the question of Nicks guilt or innocence in a prior car theft, really so important? This is House of Wax, not House of Soap.

Alternatives:

Anatomie, Dead and Buried, House of Wax (1953), The Blair Witch Project, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Summary

Entertainingly nasty and silly, this reimagining manages to hold a candle to the original precisely by breaking the mould.

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