Movie twins Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) – obvious final girl in any slasher you’d care to imagine – and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) – the bad boy brother who theoretically will turn out to be somewhat misunderstood but is introduced by kicking away a homeless man’s money cup so is still a monumental asshole in my book – and a bunch of their friends including Carly’s boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) – a pretty idiot with mildly pyromaniac tendencies and a love for criminal trespassing – and her best friend Paige (Paris Hilton) – Paris Hilton, so help us god – as well as two other guys who will soon be dead, are on their merry road-tripping way to some big American Football match, or something of that sort. Unfortunately, they decide to take a short-cut that turns into a detour which in turn becomes an impromptu camping trip in exactly the wrong place.
There’s a mysterious stalker visiting their camp in the night, a threatening
pick-up driver popping in for a visit, and a huge pit full of dead animals
stinking in the vicinity, so things will probably not turn out too well for
them. When Wade’s car breaks down, he and Carly follow a hilarious/offensive
hillbilly stereotype to the next town – the sort of place not in their GPS
system so nothing suspicious going on at all – in search for car parts, while
the others drive off to the game (but don’t worry, they’ll come back to die
rather sooner than later). Obviously, there’s creepy business in town, and not
just in the titular House of Wax - which is quite literally built out of wax.
Not many of our teenage heroes will survive the ensuing hours. Hooray.
When looking at remakes of older horror films, the dedicated fan often can’t
help but get rather grumpy with a certain tendency to turn everything into a
teen slasher. Consequently, I’ve done my time of being grumpy at Jaume
Collet-Serra’s House of Wax. However, while the film certainly hits all
the mandatory beats of the backwoods teen slasher early-00s style, it’s a
different, more complicated and more interesting beast than this suggests.
Collet-Serra is clearly not satisfied with just doing the mandatory stuff,
taking his money and riding off to greener pastures. Instead, this teen slasher
finds time and space for the grotesque, becomes just plain weird at the
slightest opportunity, and displays some macabre ideas I can’t help but think
Guillermo del Toro is a bit miffed not having come up with himself.
A house of wax literally made out of wax may sound of dubious believability,
but the film uses this for many a macabre aside, an improbable yet awesome
finale, building a mood of the strange and the macabre with verve and style
while indeed still providing everything expected of it as a teen slasher,
including embarrassing moments of sexiness, teen dialogue no teen would ever
say, and characters that are mostly unlikeable and certainly annoying.
That last part is – surprisingly enough – no too much of a complaint, though,
for even the screenplay by Chad and Carey Hayes does some rather interesting and
unexpected stuff: the initial splitting up of the characters actually makes
sense, for example, and the film even bothers to come up with something better
to solve the cellphone problem than the cellphone dead zone route. There’s also
some not completely uninteresting, if not exactly deep, thematic business about
good and bad twins (our heroes mirroring the villains here and vice versa),
which adds further elements not generally found in teen slashers in quite this
The production design is a great example of the gothic-by-byways approach,
the acting (ignoring Hilton who could have been much more annoying than she
actually is here, too) decent enough for what this is, with Brian Van Holt
making an effective villain and Cuthbert and Murray turning into a perfectly
good final girl/boy pair. Collet-Serra for his part makes much out of some icky
and genuinely bizarre set-pieces and seems to feel just as much at home at the
more straightforward suspense bits.
It all adds up to a teenage slasher cash-in film made by people who quite
obviously cared about making a good movie, going out of their way to do more
than what was strictly necessary for them to do. As such, House of Wax
is a genuinely fine horror film certainly located on the less subtle and deep
side of the road but quite satisfying nonetheless.