Horror review: House of Wax

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, MAY 12, 2005

By Steve Newton

I didn’t have high hopes for House of Wax, an extremely loose adaptation of the 1953 Vincent Price horror classic. For starters, Paris Hilton is in it. Then there’s the fact that it’s a product of Dark Castle Entertainment, the company behind crappy “reimaginings” of other dusty fright flicks such as House on Haunted Hill and Thir13en Ghosts.

But as far as gory, twisted, sharp-stick-through-the-fuckin’-head slasher flicks go, the new House of Wax ain’t too shabby.

Although prominently featured in the HOW trailers, Hilton has a secondary role, actually, as Paige, one of six American college kids on a road trip to a school football game. Along for the ride to hell is Carly (24‘s Elisha Cuthbert), her boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki of Gilmore Girls), her sullen delinquent brother, Nick (One Tree Hill pinup boy Chad Michael Murray), his outsider sidekick, Dalton (Jon Abrahams), and Paige’s predictably randy boyfriend, Blake (Robert Richard).

After Blake’s faulty directions get the group lost in the backwoods, they wake from a forced camp-out to find that the fan belt on Wade’s vehicle has been cut, prime suspect being the pickup-driving weirdo who interrupted their beer-fuelled party the night before. After Carly falls down a nearby hill and barely avoids being submerged in a stinking pit of animal carcasses, she and Wade catch a ride with a Deliverance-style hillbilly who winds up dropping them off on the outskirts of a tiny, isolated town, where they hope to score the required strip of rubber.

That’s when the Australia-shot movie’s sick thrills start to kick in. In a dual role as deranged twin brothers Bo and Vincent, Black Hawk Down‘s Brian Van Holt puts slasher icons like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to shame with his over-the-top sadism. After capturing Carly and binding her in a basement, Bo Krazy-Glues her lips together; when the muted damsel desperately tries to get attention by signalling through a grate, he casually takes a hand tool and…

But that’s nothing compared to the cruelties that mask-wearing Vincent visits on the other unfortunates, especially the poor sap he turns into one of his wax-covered figures.

First-time director Jaume Collet-Sera brings a feverish tone to the mayhem, and the makeup FX team–though not credited either in the media kit or on the Web site–gets a dismembered thumbs-up for grisly realism. Screenwriters and twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes keep the nasty action well-paced, and Aussie production designer Graham “Grace” Walker-who won an Australian Film Institute award for The Road Warrior-did some amazing work on the wax-museum set. After all the demented shit that goes on before, there’s a strange, otherwordly beauty in how the titular structure melts away.

You don’t get much of that in Hollywood body-count flicks.

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