No Vincent Price this time, but there’s plenty of creepiness to go around and, of course, lots and lots of wax.
Five collage friends take a shortcut on the way to a rivalry football game and end up spending the night camped out. When one of the two vehicles breaks down, the search for a fan belt leads them into the forgotten town of Ambrose, home of Trudy’s famous House of Wax. While it seems that the tiny town has modern conveniences (cue Pepsi machine for ad placement and Escalades) next to quaint reminders of the past (like gas for $1.19 a gallon). Faster than you can say, “My face is melting!” the sleepy town starts to give up its secrets, not that it will do the town’s next five victims any good.
This is the first Dark Castle film not to feature its trademark supernatural element; instead, the story of conjoined twins whose mother was a sculptor and father was a surgeon fill in for the first clues as to what’s really happening. Bits and pieces of the back story are seeded throughout the film, but it basically comes down to just a slasher horror flick with a gimmick (and everyone already knows what the gimmick is). The rest of the film is spent watching to see how and if the survivors will actually get away.
Dark Castle flicks are a guilty pleasure to begin with. Gleefully touting their R ratings like a badge of courage, House of Wax plays to the slasher genre by not only featuring an underwear-clad Paris Hitlon being stalked and chased with a traditional bladed weapon (before doing her in with something improvisational), but the story doesn’t look down upon its target audience with obvious foolishness. If there’s a clue to be found, someone finds it; if something’s left behind, it’s there when others happen upon it. House both treats and terrorizes while legitimizing itself next to other slasher classics.
With Paris getting all the attention, it’s up to Elisha Cuthbert to play the demure (yet obviously hot) girl who’ll likely survive if she can just keep her wits about her and look for every opportunity to escape. While no one is surprised to see Ms. Hilton go down (um, killed off), Elisha adds her considerable acting talents to keep audiences guessing if she’ll make it or not. Chad Michael Murray seems to be playing Justin Timberlake channeling Anaking Skywalker; when you need someone to do some killing back, the delinquents always have a leg up (or a crossbow, a bowie knife, whatever’s handy). Brian Van Holt does double duty as his own demented twin and displays enough invulnerability to get a crack at everyone.
If you look too hard through the cracks, House of Wax starts to look like a house of cards. Fortunately, keen marketing and a knowledge of what makes a slasher film work should draw in and satisfy audiences. If seeing beautiful people being knocked off and dipped in wax by insane individuals isn’t enough to draw you in, this movie probably wasn’t for you to begin with. For everyone else, here’s another guilty pleasure to add to your growing Dark Castle collection.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)