I actually didn’t watch this movie until, like, two weeks ago. Not that I actively avoided it, it just never popped onto my radar—or rather, when it did, it was usually just as the movie in which Paris Hilton is killed.
In fact, I think many people either saw or avoided House of Wax for that very reason. They so disliked Hilton that they wanted to see her slashed, or they so disliked Hilton that they refused to see anything in which she starred. Personally? It’s been so long since Hilton has been relevant, even on a pop-culture level, that I was able to watch the movie and her as though she was just another actress—nothing worth hating anyway.
For the record, Hilton does a fine job. I mean, c’mon, it’s a Slasher film; no one expects great acting. What I look for and expect from actors in a Slasher film (at least those playing the protagonists) is that they call little to no attention to their performance, and Hilton did exactly that. Oh, and her death scene is pretty damn cool. There’s a certain artistry to the kill, as though, once dead, Hilton should be put on display.
That, in essence, is what the killer does in House of Wax: he kills people and then uses their corpses to populate the titular museum . . . and maybe a little more. Despite it starring several it actors of that moment, including Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, and the aforementioned Miss Hilton, House of Wax owes more to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than it does films of the second Teen Slasher Cycle like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
House of Wax features teens on their way to a football game who stumble upon a small town that appears to have seen better days. They run across a couple marginally helpful men—a roadkill scraper (played by Damon Herriman, Dewey on Justified) and a garage operator. The town’s long-faded claim to fame was its House of Wax, still up but abandoned and dressed up with wax figures of oddly anonymous people.
So we have the backwoods town, sibling killers—the more functional brother and the wacked-out, mask-wearing brother—and the use of dead bodies for an unusual purpose. The movie is also gorier than I’d expected, with some surprisingly decent kills. The killer, Vincent, is fairly creepy, with a face literally made of wax.
Unfortunately, House of Wax suffers from a wildly uneven pace. In these kind of movies, it’s best to have a few characters make a few discoveries before being killed or captured, then lead directly into the chase. House of Wax vacillates back and forth between characters wandering around, often making the exact same discoveries other characters had made just moments ago, then a few kills or scares and back again. Just as the suspense is building, things get intense, but just as the intensity climbs, the suspense starts up again, so that neither suspense nor intensity are ever allowed to reach a satisfying pitch.
Given this, the film always feels a little flat, as though the filmmakers held themselves (or were held) back. There’s a pretty wild finale that takes place in a melting building, but by then it feels like too little, too late.
Overall, House of Wax is largely forgettable but still worth the hour-and-forty-five if there’s nothing else to watch.
Note: This House of Wax has just about nothing in common with the 1953 original.
Length: 113 min