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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

House of Wax Jaume Serra 2005

House of Lax

Much like Kathy Griffin when she met Hanson backstage at the Regis and Kathy Lee Show (“Don’t say pussy… don’t say pussy… don’t say pussy…”), I’m going to do my best to make it through this review without uttering the name of one porn actress/socialite/media whore whose placement in this movie – no, whose continued existence is a perfect distillation of everything that is wrong with studio horror movies, Hollywood, and the culture in general. Yes, I’m speaking of Chad Michael Murray.

House of Wax, the latest blandly entertaining William Castle remake from Dark Castle productions, is sadly more bland and less entertaining than its predecessors (I actually preferred House on Haunted Hill, if you can believe that). Marred by the stupidest and least likeable supporting cast in recent memory (we’re talking Not Another Teen Movie territory here) and an intolerably boring first hour, Wax throws a few cheap gore moments our way but doesn’t manage to be the least bit scary, suspenseful, or thrilling (although the final sequence in the house is legitimately exciting – it feels like something lifted from another movie entirely).

The movie starts out with a deliberately-vague flashback that sets up that we’re going to have either some sort of identity-switch or deformity later on, as none of the characters’ faces are shown (when the twist does arrive, it’s sadly underwhelming and pretty unnecessary). The flashback itself is actually sort of fun, in that annoying fish-eye kind of way, and lets us know that someone somewhere was into making wax masks and had a set of twins: the quiet one, and the one that got strapped into his chair and beaten like a dusty rug for being so hyper. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nelson.

Cut to Generica, USA, where 6 “teens” are driving in 2 cars to a football game – not to play in it, mind you – to watch it. Wait – did we just jump into a time machine and dial 1956? Since when do teens in 2005 take the time to do anything other than snort meth, play X-Box, and shoot each other? Already, I’m suspicious of these kids’ motives. And I’m right to be: apparently, these characters have been sent by the devil himself to torment us into walking out of the theatre before anything interesting happens. Out of the whole group, only one of the characters is even remotely likeable: Carly (Elisha Cuthbert). Sort of a “trailer trash with a heart of gold” (although I guess that anyone next to She Who Shall Not Be Named would appear both lower-class and incredibly endearing), Carly is obviously our hero, as she is saddled with the atrocious task of juggling an entire hand of worthless supporting characters, several of whom who are just plain douchebags.

Take Dalton (I challenge anyone to remember his name, as he’s only on screen about 3 times and has absolutely nothing to do other than leer and grunt), the resident dickhead, played by oft-resident-dickhead Jon Abrahams (Scary Movie, They, The Faculty, Kids). There is simply NO EXCUSE for this type of character to even exist in any film, ever again, ever. Who hangs out with people like this? What kind of person lets such human pollution skulk around and take pot-shots at them all the time? It certainly doesn’t say much for the rest of the group, who should have kicked this ass to the curb ages ago. And if Dalton weren’t bad enough, there’s also Nick (Murray as Carly’s estranged twin, whom Dalton has inexplicably invited along), who we know will turn into a hero by the end due to his proximity to Carly and to the top of the cast list, and Wade (Jared Padalecki of Gilmore Girls and New York Minute), Carly’s boyfriend, who seems decent enough aside from his rudeness, temper, and vague assholey tendencies. The Unnamable and her steed are likewise completely devoid of either character or value, and exist solely to get cameras pointed at them while they dry-hump (I’m not kidding – it happens several times).

In short, yet another ill-advised horror outing where we could not give two shits whether anyone lives or dies, except for our dear final girl, who we can be fairly sure is going to make it regardless. Tension, take a load off – we’ll let you know when (and if) we need you. Suspense? Eh… you can go home for the day. And Pace, Atmosphere, and Excitement, don’t even bother us until the final reel, when we may have something for you to do. In the meantime, we’re going to watch these morons drive around, camp, and wander in the woods.

Yes, someone eventually tries to kill them, and fortunately for us, gets away with it a few times. Trying to cop the “boyfriend is the first to go” trick that was pretty effective in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake, because you actually got the feeling that these folks really dug each other and were pretty decent kids overall. Here the real sparks are flying between Carly and Nick (disgusting as it may seem), so Wade’s exit is not at all shocking. The scene itself (Wade gets really fucking nosy while snooping around the house of the gas station attendant) is kind of interesting in terms of the way it is shot, which is a unique attempt to approximate total darkness on screen. Unfortunately, the scene cuts away just as things are getting interesting. The Parade of Dead Douchebags continues predictably, leading to the inevitable finale (um, introduce a building made of wax and you’re pretty much guaranteeing how things are gonna end).

The high points are sadly few and far-between (again, as this is a 2-hour horror movie -- something I'm now convinced is an idea on par with 30-second Shakespeare -- they are veeeeeeeeery far-between), but they are there. First, there's Elisha Cuthbert, a far more accomplished and sensitive actress than this movie deserves. She's feisty, smart, and put-upon -- a potent combination. But sadly her beef with her brother is only there for convenience and not really mined for any real dramatic potential, and she's not given all that much to do other than react in line with the run-of-the-mill plot developments. She does get run through the grinder a bit right when things kick in (she's abducted by the baddie and loses quite a bit of blood, not to mention a few ounces of flesh) and has a fantastic final-act freakout (this girl swings a bat like... um... Ty Cobb? Shit -- did he even play baseball?). Again, the whole finale is pretty exciting, and the idea of being trapped in a melting building is the stuff of the most panicked of nightmares (it's also played out quite well -- the sagging walls and gooey floors are really icky). There's also a really grody moment before the shit hits the fan when Carly takes a swan-dive into a roadkill pit, face-first (eeeeeewwwww...), which is nicely disgusting. Other than that, I can't think of a single positive thing about the script or the setting that isn't a direct ripoff of the far superior Tourist Trap, which this flick borrows from without reservation (oddly, the original House of Wax is just about the only film that this one doesn't really resemble all that much -- interesting approach).

But really, after all that needless exposition and the stretches of plodding "watch the idiots figure things out" that span between scares and bloody deaths, the ending is a little too little, a little too late. And what's more, after the big finish, we are treated to what is perhaps the stupidest and most blatant "BUT THERE COULD BE A SEQUEL!!!!" moments in the history of horror film. It's really just shameless. Had we been given a few more interesting characters to follow, maybe all of this would have been a little more tolerable (in the end, more effort is made to humanize the mass murderer than the victims -- am I the only one who thinks there's something fucked about that?). As it is, this is one of Dark Castle's weaker efforts. Think about that for a minute, and then head to your video store.

Rating (out of 5):