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By Pete Vonder Haar | May 7, 2005

The unstoppable tide of horror movie remakes rolls on with “House of Wax,” a 21st century updating of the 1953 Vincent Price classic. The latter was itself a remake, which leads me to believe there needs to be some kind of limit on the amount of times you can make the same movie (that’d be bad news for Jane Austen fans). But back to “House of Wax,” which treats audiences to the likes of Chad Michael Murray and Paris Hilton instead of Vincent Price. Lucky us. The movie bears virtually no resemblance to the 1953 film, beyond the title and the act of coating human beings in hot wax. Faithfulness to the source material becomes less and less important the further you get from the original, and I’d say odds are that the teens Warner Bros. are hoping will buy tickets for “House of Wax” have never even heard of its namesake, much less seen it.

What’s it about? Well, a bunch of young, attractive twenty-somethings (stop me when this starts sounding familiar) find themselves stalked by twisted psychopaths in the hinterlands of Louisiana (“House of Wax” is likely to do for that state’s camping industry what “Easy Rider” did 35 years earlier). Events leading up to their arrival at this situation are unimportant, since everything is just prelude to mayhem, but I’ll give it a shot: Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her boyfriend Wade are traveling to a football game in Baton Rouge with Carly’s ex-con brother Nick (Murray), Nick’s friend/toady Dalton, token black guy Blake, and Blake’s girlfriend Paige (Hilton). The group decides to stop for the night in a field and camp. Upon waking the next morning, Wade discovers his fan belt has been mysteriously cut. While the rest of the gang goes on ahead, he and Carly hitch a ride with a creepy redneck (like there’s any other kind) into the nearest town, and soon make…a horrifying discovery.

Blah, blah, blah…former music video director…blah, blah, blah…picked off one by one…blah, blah, blah…covered in boiling wax…blah, blah, blah…the whole town?…blah, blah, blah…faces the killer in a climactic showdown. The word processing program that churned out the “House of Wax” script didn’t really exert itself too much. Though the filmmakers did right in copying one of the few successful components of the otherwise pointless Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, i.e. letting Elisha Cuthbert run around in a grimy wife beater for almost the entire film, so that’s something.

Upon reflection, the creators of “House of Wax” are pretty savvy. Nobody’s buying a ticket to bask in the sublime genius of Jared Padalecki’s (Dean from “Gilmore Girls”) acting; people are coming for the vicarious thrill of seeing Hilton, the “star” of “The Simple Life” and assorted night-vision porno clips get brutalized (at the screening I attended, the audience cheered wildly when she finally bought it). I confess, I wanted to see the Vacuous One bite the big one as much as anybody, but I couldn’t deny the way this film advances the baffling Hilton success story. It’s a credit to the skill of her handlers and the unswerving bone-headedness of the American public that this idiot is still in the public eye. And they even found a way to work in scenes of Dalton filming her at night with his video camera. Subtle.

Unsurprisingly, Hilton is a horrible actress. We’re talking Pia Zadora levels of badness, and merely appearing in the same film as Hilton is likely to earn the otherwise generic Murray accolades as a “brooding antihero” (he must be edgy, he’s got facial hair). As a thespian, she’s one hell of an heiress.

“House of Wax” works best when it sticks to some of the tenets of successful horror; namely, gore and surprise. The movie showcases some appreciably oogy moments, and – while your average chimp will be able to figure out who’s going to live and die in the first five minutes – some of the individual death scenes get high marks. What keeps it from distinguishing itself from other similarly listless genre offerings is the unremitting stupidity of the characters. Horror fans can forgive a lot, but we get tired of seeing the same crap time and time again: apparent kills are left unverified, handy firearms are left untouched, and the group splits up a record four times, ensuring most of these dolts will never see the dawn.

No big loss.

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