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House of Wax
2005 - R - 105 Mins.
Director: Jaume Serra
Producer: L. Levin, Susan Levin, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis
Written By: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes
Starring: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton and Jared Padalecki
Review by: Bill King
Official Site: houseofwaxmovie.warnerbros.com/
   

Are you sure this won't wind up on the internet?
"House of Wax" follows the conventions of the slasher genre so precisely that it’s almost a waste of time to criticize it on any other level. Like a James Bond movie, or another retelling of Stevenson’s "Treasure Island," this latest slasher movie adheres to rigid guidelines implicit in its genre, but with a little tweaking to differentiate it from its predecessors. "House of Wax" turns out to be a lot better than it might at first appear, mainly due to said tweaking, a sly sense of humor, some old-fashioned movie gore and a virtuoso finale.

The movie's successes are offset by its shortcomings -- lack of intelligence, and the presence of stock characters (a blonde bimbo, a nerdy guy, a black guy, etc.). As soon as we meet the young men and women who will later be thrust into the film's nightmarish scenario, I found myself predicting right away who the survivors would eventually be. I picked three, but the number is somewhat less than that. One of them is juvenile delinquent Nick Jones (Chad Michael Murray), recently released from prison. The writers included a troubled guy because, surprise surprise, someone has to beat up the villains.

Nick, his sister Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) and a few friends are on their way to a football game in Baton Rouge. The night before, they camp out in the woods, where they experience a few ominous signs, like a strong stench from the darkness and a dirty pickup truck with a mysterious driver. The next morning, Wade finds his car's fan belt has snapped. Since he's unwilling to leave his car behind, Wade catches a ride with a filthy yokel to the nearest town to buy a new one. Carly goes with him. The rest go on to the game, though later they return because the movie needs victims.

The town shows virtually no hint of a population, save for a few people in the church attending a funeral. The only point of interest here is the House of Wax, a building that, as Wade points out, is literally made of wax. The wax statues within its walls are incredibly lifelike. There's more to the story, though, as Wade and Carly soon find out. The gas station owner, Bo (Brian Van Holt), turns out to be a demented stalker. He chases Carly around town while Wade receives the wax treatment courtesy of Bo's brother Vincent.

The other characters are on hand to supply the movie with its necessary elaborate death scenes. What's admirable about "House of Wax" is that it doesn't shy away from gory effects. Wade, Carly, Paige (Paris Hilton) and Dalton (Jon Abrahams) are mutilated in unexpected ways. Speaking of elaborate, the ending is thrilling in its execution. A fire starts in the basement of the House of Wax, and the whole building slowly melts away in a prolonged sequence that shows every detail of the house turning into liquid.

No review of this film is complete without commenting on Paris Hilton's performance. The conventions of this genre require a certain kind of character, so there's really no hint of how good she might be as an actress. Suffice it to say that it's not a bad acting job; she delivers exactly what the script demands of her, and is as good as the rest of the cast. Chad Michael Murray, previously seen as a clean-cut preppy kid opposite Hilary Duff in "A Cinderella Story," is appropriately stuck-up all the time. Elisha Cuthbert is a good screamer, in the tradition of Jamie Lee Curtis and Linnea Quigley as the virginal heroine who hides in dark places a lot.

"House of Wax" takes its time to get to the action, mainly to foreshadow what's to come, and to insert some morbid humor and false alarms. For the most part, this is a tight little movie with a good pace and some decent scares. If the writers had stepped outside the box for a moment while drafting the plot line, they might have realized that their project just had a few too many familiar elements.

Luckily, director Jaume Serra took what he had to work with and turned it into something worth watching. "House of Wax" is what "Friday the 13th" might have been like if it had a competent director.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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