A Javelin in Paris

'House of Wax' should have quit while it was ahead

Paris Hilton and friends almost serve up a decent slasher flick with House of Wax, a by-name-only remake of the 3-D classic starring Vincent Price. For those who like their horror movies with lots of blood spurting, this one certainly delivers the goods (although not in 3-D). As for its narrative, the tale works for a while, until it gets carried away with itself.

Some young adults are on their way to a big sporting event, and they decide to take a short cut (always a horror film no-no). While camping and tossing a football in the middle of the night (you know these kids today love to throw footballs when they can't see them), a mysterious truck pulls up, and the driver eyeballs them. In addition to the creepy truck driver, the smell of death is wafting from the forest. No matter; camping always has its risks, and these kids need some shut-eye.

Come morning, a fan belt is cut in one of their cars, and they encounter a creepy hillbilly dumping carcasses in a road-kill pit. Of course, two of them hitch a ride with the hillbilly and wind up in a town that appears normal at first, but isn't by any means.

What follows is a scary-enough picture, where psycho twins make mannequins out of real people and find all kinds of disgusting ways to end their lives (a blinking, decapitated head provides one of the film's more memorable visions). The actual transformation of people into wax models is the stuff of nightmares. House of Wax is on its way to being a simple, passable horror movie--until it starts going haywire with the special effects.

The House of Wax museum is a completely implausible structure where everything, including the floors, ceilings, roof and furniture, is made of wax. The thing is huge, and we're supposed to buy the premise that a couple of screwed-up twins were able to architecturally conceive and construct this thing. It would be hard enough making a doll house purely from wax, let alone a multi-floored, complex building.

Director Jaume Serra didn't need a big museum of wax melting for his finale, because the scares that take place before it are actually well-executed. Heck, Paris Hilton takes a javelin through the head in a fashion that would make John Carpenter proud. This film is a clear case of a writer and director not knowing to quit while they were ahead.

The performances are awful in this piece, but that's usually acceptable in a horror pic if the scares are effective. Hilton is her glassy-eyed self, and she brings the right level of trash to the proceedings. Elisha Cuthbert is quite simply one of the best-looking people on the planet, so who really cares if she can't act? Most of the men in this movie deliver the truly bad performances, although Chad Michael Murray has a few capable leading-man moments.

Making for decent villains is Brian Van Holt as twin brothers Bo and Vincent. Van Holt manages a cool level of normalcy in his early moments, followed by the requisite madman traits.

House of Wax is about 45 minutes of a decent movie, with the rest of it being quite bad. Paris Hilton dies real good, a moment that is likely to bring applause at most screenings. But by the time Cuthbert and Murray are trudging through melted wax stairs, the movie has gone completely south, and House of Wax winds up on the failed horror-movie scrap heap.

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