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Paul Greenwood

Published May 27th, 2005 | by Paul Greenwood

House of Wax Review

Classification: 15 Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Rating: 2/5

The breathtaking stupidity of characters in horror films is a never ending source of amazement to me. When will people realise that a bad guy is never dead until he’s been chopped up into a hundred pieces or well and truly decapitated. Now, I’m not Quincy, but giving a prone body a little nudge with one toe and declaring him out the game is probably not the recognised method for issuing a death certificate. Which brings us nicely to House of Wax.

The initial setup involves six twenty-somethings driving around the parts of the American Deep South where you should never go. There’s some half hearted nonsense about trying to get to a big football match the next day, which really just serves as an excuse to get a bunch of idiots camping out in the middle of nowhere. After the usual antics where they’re terrorised by an unseen menace in a pick-up truck, car trouble leads to them splitting up, with Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) taking an ill-advised lift from a local yokel to the nearest town, while the rest of the gang, including Carly’s wayward brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray) head off for the game.

A few leaps in logic later and Carly and Wade are in trouble in the eerily quiet town, which sports as its main attraction a museum whose contents, not to mention walls and floors, are made entirely of wax. Soon, as the others come to help and the bodies start piling up, we slowly learn the secrets of the House of Wax.

The law of diminishing returns for Dark Castle productions has seen them go from the bearable (House on Haunted Hill) to the barely watchable (Ghost Ship) to the downright risible (Gothika), but House of Wax may well rank as their weakest effort so far, presenting us not only with a formulaic genre pic, but a thoroughly unappealing bunch that we actually look forward to seeing getting butchered. At least if it were short and snappy and had more of a sense of humour there may have been some fun to be had, but House of Wax has the nerve to trundle on for an outrageous 113 minutes.

There’s one thing a horror movie should never be, and that’s dull. Scene after pointless scene that advance the story not one iota leave the audience with no option but to play the age old game of guessing in which order the characters are going to die. It’s actually a fairly straightforward formula, especially with Cuthbert being the only remotely well known actor in the piece making it pretty obvious that she’ll be one of the very few still breathing come the climax (although I must admit I did get number 1 and number 2 the wrong way round, but technically speaking number 1 wasn’t quite dead yet when number 2 got his).

Which brings us to another problem – with such a small cast and so much screen time to fill, the quality of the kills has to make up for the lack of quantity. And yet at least two of the slaughterings take place off screen, leaving only one – admittedly rather good – impaling for gore hounds to get their teeth into. It’s telling that in a film with not one but two scenes of someone getting their heel slashed, neither are as effective or as gruesome as the one Pet Sematary managed sixteen years ago, although a gleefully sadistic finger chopping does go some way to making amends for that.

Horror has regressed rather than advanced in recent years, with the scariest aspect of American horror cinema now no longer being the films themselves, but the advent of the PG-13 frightfest, with recent atrocities such as Boogeyman, Cursed and Ring 2 attesting to this fact. Granted, House of Wax was R-rated in the States, but it’s still resolutely a teen flick, and all the poorer for it.


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