House of Wax falls within that little genre we call “horror.”
Therefore, expectations are automatically low. We expect some basic components, however, within those lowered expectations — violence, gore, wild partying youth, gratuitous nudity and a bad soundtrack.
House of Wax contains most of these elements, including a self-described “hot” scene featuring Paris Hilton, followed by quite the satisfying death scene (which has been soundly applauded at advanced screenings). Everything that’s expected of a horror movie is there; it’s nothing more or nothing less than it should be. So if they’re all basically the same, what is it that keeps people coming back again and again?
I had an opportunity to ask the cast at the House of Wax press junket in Los Angeles for the television show Talking Pictures. “It’s like a roller coaster ride,” said Jared Padalecki, who plays Elisha Cuthbert’s boyfriend in the movie and was paired with Paris Hilton for the interview. “There’s ups and there’s downs. You know what you’re going to get with a roller coaster ride, and people go on them again and again. But it’s still a thrill.”
Not surprisingly, Paris had very little to say about anything, except that her favorite scene (also not surprisingly) was a suggestive scene involving herself, “Because it was hot.”
This she said with a snide little heiress smirk, which made me simultaneously wonder who allowed her to be interviewed, and where she got the idea that it was OK to dip a lollipop into a cup of coffee while being interviewed on camera. In spite of her self-congratulatory comments on the scene, it wasn’t something that stood out in my mind, and in fact, I’d forgotten about it until she brought it up.
What does stand out about House of Wax, though not prominently enough to make the entire movie stand out, are some cool wax-melting effects and the unique and highly creepy backdrop of wax figures.
These figures aren’t simply fixtures of a museum called the House of Wax. The museum is there, and it’s a big part of the movie. But the film should probably have been called City of Wax, because, as the title characters find out, a creepy dude and his obsessed brother have inhabited an entire city — a church, some homes, stores, etc. — with lifelike wax figures. It gives the remote little town an aura of legitimacy and comfort.
It draws them in.
As Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padelecki) wander into the dusty town to find a part for their mysteriously broken down car, they find Trudy’s House of Wax. They check that out, and shaken by what they find, leave the building and mill about the rest of the quiet neighborhood trying to find somebody who can help them with their car.
Not until it’s nearly too late do they discover that the congregation they walked in on during a funeral and the cranky woman they saw behind curtains were all wax, rigged to appear as if moving, accompanied by various sounds and lights to create a reality.
Hope lies with the rest of the group, including Carly’s brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and friends Dalton (Jon Abrahams), Blake (Robert Richard), and Paige (Hilton), if they can just get there in time to help the imperiled Wade and Carly.
So who dies and who lives? Who actually makes it to the House of Wax to see the freak show and who arrives at the House of Wax already dead and ready to join the freak show? Well, thanks to a little tipoff from Paris, and the subsequent guerilla marketing campaign (“See Paris Die”), we know she dies.
But that’s part of the suspense and delight of this type of movie. Beyond Paris, you don’t know who’s going to live and who’s going to die; you have to stick it out to find out who’s the ultimate survivor, or survivors.
And I have to give a nod to writers Chad and Carey Hayes for giving their heroine Carly a real problem — a brother with whom she doesn’t get along, rather than the staple romantic interest to tussle with in the midst of all the horror.
There is also a mystery to discover — why in heaven’s name two guys in a remote town would be murderously intent on continuing to add to their world of wax.
This pushes the envelope on gore, even for a horror movie, joining the ranks of some of the goriest movies of recent memory, including Blade 2: Bloodhunt and the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
It also provides some of the jumpiest jumps of recent horror- movie memory. And gosh, I have to admit it: it’s more enjoyable than I thought to watch Paris snivel, whine, halfheartedly run, and perfunctorily die on demand.
Rated R, for horror violence, some sexual content and language.
Running time: 105 minutes