House of Wax
Grade: C-
Year: 2005
Director: Jaume Serra
Writers: Charles Belden & Chad Hayes
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
By Scott Spicciati

COMPLETELY WAXED

The horror genre is still going through a tough time in Hollywood. Studio executives are driven by a profit-friendly PG-13 rating which often results in horror fans leaving the theater unsatisfied. The other problem is the absence of good stories to tell. No established director wants to embark on a doomed project, so alas we get a film like "House of Wax" that has been directed by yet another rookie whose experience is limited to music videos and television commercials.

To be sure, "House of Wax" only suffers from the latter of the two issues, and with what little substance newcomer Jaume Serra has to work with, it's hard to place the blame on his shoulders. Before I get into the crux of the movie's details and explain why it's so faulted, bloodhounds and fangoria aficionados can go ahead and lick their chops being told that "House of Wax" is one of the most brutally graphic movies ever released into mainstream cinema, stretching its R-rated freedoms to the limit.

Keep in mind that this is coming from a critic who thought Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was relatively tame and has a hard time staying awake through even the most notorious European giallo. If there's one (and there's only one) good thing about Dark Castle it's that it goes for the R-rating every time and for some reason doesn't worry about the underage crowd; perhaps the only demographic that could possibly appreciate the movies Dark Castle pumps out.

The film's story, if one even exists, centers around a group of six youngsters on a road trip to…let's see here (thumbing through the Big Book of rudimentary plot ideas); okay here we go, a football game…"the biggest game of the season."

What we knew from the opening prologue set in 1974 is that two young toddlers were raised by a wax sculptor and a medieval doctor; routinely abused and often strapped into harnessing highchairs when they cried or did anything toddlers tend to normally do. From there we can imagine how dysfunctional the brothers would later become and how they wouldn't be ideal hosts when our six travelers showed up in their town thirty years later.

They are: Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), the attractive career-driven woman who's looking to take an internship in New York at a popular fashion magazine against the wishes of her southern boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki) who is being dragged along for the ride. Carly's best friend Paige (Paris Hilton) is the sexually driven one in the group, and her boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri'chard) doesn't seem to mind. The wildcard in the pack is Nick (Chad Michael Murry), Carly's brother who may or may not fit his devious label and rebellious persona. He was just released from jail by his pal Dalton (Jon Abrahams) and the two decided to invite themselves for the ride.

Because C-grade scripts require such conflict, Nick and Wade don't get along because…let's see here (thumbing though the Big Book of rudimentary plot ideas); okay here we go, Nick is misunderstood and has reason to blame his sister's boyfriend for all of his failures.

While driving to the game a detour sends them down an unfamiliar road that not even GPS Tracking understands, and as a result they decide to camp out for the night because the game takes place the following day and they're making excellent time. They pull out some tents (from where?) and give the audience one last opportunity to really hate these people before they become shish kebobs.

The male characters, all four of them, can be perfectly described with one word. Whether it's the jock, funny guy, boyfriend or one with angst, we don't look forward to any of them becoming the hero. Paige is interesting in that she shows the most skin, and unless Hilton didn't read the screenplay very carefully - she appears to be in no hurry to put her role from that other "film" she was in behind her, as her character happens to be the perfect tribute to party-girl Paris. Either that or the fact that she's being videotaped in night vision while making out with her boyfriend is a complete coincidence.

The acting is downright dreadful as no performer passes convincing muster, but the worst of the lot is -- believe it or not -- Elisha Cuthbert. In fact, I'll be the first to nominate her for a 2005 Razzie; for being able to say two minutes after having her lips glued shut and index finger ripped off: "This place is a freak show." So if in two weeks when this film is released people are haranguing Paris Hilton for her laughable performance - I'm crying foul.

When the gang awakens the next morning they find the fan belt in one of the cars slashed to pieces, and head into an abandoned town found on no map other than the electric company's, and seek out an auto repair shop. What they find is an old church and a House of Wax that just looks too irresistible to pass by.

At closer observation, the town is completely deserted and everything (except for the crossbow, conveniently) is made out of wax, or as Elisha Cuthbert's Carly actually puts it: "It's wax…like, literally." That bit of dialogue is perhaps only bested by a character who reacts to his friend trying on wax glasses with: "Like Elton John, but more gay." And the best contribution from Paris Hilton's Paige is the not too farfetched possibility of being pregnant but unsure: "I've been late before."

But their fates are sealed with the breaking of the cardinal rule of horror: "I'll go this way, you go that way." And so the slaughtering begins as the characters climb stairs and traverse catacombs, with each gruesome killing more graphic than the previous. At one point I got the idea that the writers were so vitriolic toward their own characters that they created them just to kill them off; allowing the camera to slowly pan over their mangled corpses.

As a horror fan this is something I don't necessarily have a problem with, but the formula dependability does: shallow characters, weak screenplay, implausible plot, and the obligatory moment when the main character pauses from all the mayhem to discover the stash of ominous photos and newspaper clippings that the villains kept for all those years. Because, of course, they occasionally need to be reminded as to why they're evil.

The cliffhanger at the end is more confusing and detrimental to the plot than it is mysterious, and the masked villain who goes all out at the climax is as scary as a wrestling character from the WWE. It's no surprise that "House of Wax" fails at every level with the lone exception of the gory delivery.

Here's a look at this year's current horror film breakdown:

1. The Ring Two C+
2. The Amityville Horror C
3.Hide and Seek C-
4. House of Wax C-
5. White Noise C-
6. Cursed D
7.Alone in the Dark D-
8. Boogeyman F

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