House of Wax (2005)



Main Cast: Chad Michael Murray, Paris Hilton

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Hello all of my lovely fans sitting out there in the dark.  I apologize for leaving you without an update from my exciting and glamorous life for the last few weeks, but I had rather a nasty fall at Condo Maine when I tripped over a carelessly placed electric cable.  Not only did I succeed in knocking VickiTube, my streaming service, off the air for nearly a week until someone remembered to plug it back in but I also managed to fall off my six inch stiletto tap shoes and badly injure both Achilles tendons.

This of course has kept me out of circulation while I’ve healed up and I’ve more or less been spending time in my boudoir, supervising my media and fashion empire via email and text, and looking through the scripts that have simply been pouring in looking for my next major project.  With this corvid thing improving here in Los Angeles at least, film and stage production is gearing back up and I’m certain to find something that will be a showcase for my glittering talents and star persona.

I think not.

A revival tour of A Flea in Her Ear slated for Grange Halls in Nebraska and Iowa in November went into the discard pile as they were offering me the part of the flea and while I can dance well on two legs, I might have trouble on six.  I also discarded an appearance on some new television show called Ted Lasso as I make it a cardinal rule never to do a Western.  I broke it once to play a dance hall hostess on a very special episode of Bonanza at the insistence of my then representation who thought that the exposure would be good for my career and I thought I’d never get the dust out of various skin crevices.  Besides, Lorne Greene made the most impertinent remarks to me off camera and I would have given him a vicious slap had I not been such a consummate professional.

I also nixed the upcoming Annie Live television special because, at age 39, I am obviously far too young for Miss Hannigan.  Madame Mimi, my vocal coach, who was over helping me develop my coloratura with a few runs at Die Holle Rache, suggested I shave my head and submit for Daddy Warbucks.  After throwing a pair of tap shoes at her, I coldly reminded her that I never submit for anything.  I am, as they say in the biz, offer only.

I was in a bit of a temper when I hobbled out of the rehearsal studio and into the kitchen where I mixed up a very large batch of watermelon margaritas with the aid of my handy dandy Jimmy Buffet margarita machine and then carried the pitcher into the home theater in order to restore my peace of mind with a film.  It’s the spooky season so I decided a horror film of some sort so, in flipping through streaming services, I ran across the 2005 remake of House of Wax and I decided that psychotic killers and cauldrons of flaming liquid just might help restore me to equanimity.  When I was a slip of a thing, I was a day player on the set of the 1953 original as a can-can girl, and I was the one that told star Vincent Price to use his image from the film to reinvent himself as a fiendish villain type.  He always credited me with starting him on the career trajectory that brought him worldwide fame and I used to get a ham from him every Christmas as a thank you.

In the late 1990s, Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver formed a production company, Dark Castle entertainment, which set about to produce modern versions of mid-century horror titles, especially the films made by William Castle.  They began with The House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts and then branched out into non-remake territory with Ghost Ship and Gothika

House of Wax brought them back to their original types of source material but, as with their other films, all they really kept was the title and a few basic concepts.  The original film was a period piece taking place in Edwardian New York.  This remake is a typical teen slasher flick that is, I think, supposed to be taking place in rural Louisiana but the mountainous terrain looks more like West Virginia (it was filmed in Australia).

We open on a group of six young people who are all headed off to the big football game in Baton Rouge.  They include Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray).  Also, along for the road trip are Carly’s friend Paige (Paris Hilton) and her boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri’chard), Nick’s friend Dalton (Jon Abrahams) and Carly’s boyfriend Wade (Jared Padelecki).  The six head off into the unknown and make the usual dumb mistake ever present in such films by trying to take a shortcut which puts them out in the middle of nowhere, so they decide to camp for the night. 

In the dark, a mysterious truck lurks around, scaring them and, when they wake up, one of their two vehicles has been disabled by having the fan belt cut.  They then make the second dumb mistake by splitting up.  Carly and Wade decide to skip the football game and head for the nearest town for a replacement fanbelt while the other four press on.  When heavy traffic forestalls their game plans, Paige and Blake go back to the campsite to wait while Nick and Dalton head to town to find the other two. 

The local town, Ambrose, pointed out by a hillbilly who goes around collecting roadkill who comes across our heroes, is peculiar.  While seemingly inhabited, it has minimal townsfolk moving around and some rather peculiar architecture that’s a throwback to other films.  The church resembles The House on Haunted Hill.  The movie theater, which is playing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? seems to be stuck in Mayberry.  Dominating the whole town, is a wax museum, helpfully signed ‘House of Wax’.  And it’s literally a house of wax.  Not only does it have the usual exhibits of wax figures, peculiar as they seem to be everyday folk in domestic scenes, but the entire house from foundations and pediments to gables and corbels is made of wax.  How it could remain standing given the climate of Louisiana and the oppressive and long lasting heat of its summers is not explained. 

Soon we meet Bo (Brian Van Holt) who runs the service station and seems nice enough, but as our young people are about to learn, appearances can be deceiving. We then enter the usual realm of teen slasher flicks with various impalements, narrow escapes, and a convoluted plot involving separated Siamese twins while we learn the dark secrets of Ambrose, the House of Wax, and just where all those wax figures came from.

House of Wax isn’t bad.  In fact, it’s rather competently made despite its reliance on tropes that were old when the teen slasher genre was launched by Hallowe’en and Friday the 13th in the late 1970s.  There are some clever nods to the found footage subgenre, some interesting set design, and one very good piece of Grand Guignol staging involving a naked Jared Padelecki and the contraption used to create waxworks. It’s also got a rather good score by John Ottman. 

What keeps it from transcending its genre is a not very good script (Chad and Carey Hayes) that gives us almost nothing in regards to character.  The six leads might as well be wax from the start of the film for all of the layered nuance and psychological insight they’re given.  It isn’t helped by the fact that the film was cast for attractive faces and bodies rather than for any particular acting talent.  Only Chad Michael Murray as the bad boy of the group really creates a human being for whom the audience has the least bit of empathy.  Other than that, we’re just waiting for them to be picked off one by one in various nasty ways.

I can’t recommend House of Wax , but then again, it’s not a bad way to spent ninety minutes on a chilly night when you want something that reflects the season.  It has a couple of frisson moments.  One or two minor jump scares, but no real feeling of horror.  If you want that try something like the original Dutch version of The Vanishing instead.

Charnel pit. Twin highchairs. Nosy old lady. Gratuitous Waffle House. Scissors to ankle. Arrows to chest. Stake to head. Melting staircase. Chopped finger. Gratuitous Bette Davis.  Out of date medical instruments. Interrupted funeral. Failed last minute twist.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction.

Image by jijin from Pixabay

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