Although they're pure kitsch and have all but disappeared from our culture, I still have a soft spot for wax museums. I'm not talking about the ultra slick Madame Tussaud's and its ilk, but rather the small town variety that are antiquated, musty and sometimes a bit creepy. That's especially true when you're a kid with a big imagination and suspicion that the figures are -- or perhaps once were -- real people. And those that featured moving figures -- however creaky they appeared -- took the cake.
Thus, I naturally give films dealing with such material some slack -- just like the run-down, real-life attractions -- but there really haven't been that many of them. The most notable, of course, was "House of Wax" from 1953.
Starring Hollywood horror icon Vincent Price, Carolyn "Morticia Adams" Jones and Charles "The Last Name will be Bronson" Buchinsky, the film was also kitschy fun and had the bonus feature of being presented in 3-D. And it was a remake of the 1933 horror flick "Mystery of the Wax Museum" (with Fay Wray who also appeared in "King Kong" that year) that had its own added attraction of being presented in early, two-color Technicolor (a rarity in those days).
Thus, when I heard they were remaking 'House of Wax" as a contemporary offering, I wondered what the filmmakers -- first-time director Jaume Collet-Serra (who cut his fangs on TV commercials) and TV writers turned screenwriters Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (making their feature debut) -- would offer as its bonus feature. Perhaps it would be a smart script, good acting or maybe even an actually scary experience, something solely missing in today's corporate world of churning out horror flicks just to make big bucks at the expense of any such related artistry.
Unfortunately, all it offers is a slow-to-develop gore fest, filled with the sort of dim or otherwise boring characters you hope will meet their grisly demise as quickly as possible so that the film will run out of potential victims and thus have to end. Alas, despite a low number of such persons, the film nearly runs two long and excruciatingly mundane hours, time that could have been used, well, to wax one's legs or mono-brow.
Only loosely using the basic plot idea from the earlier version, the film follows the standard slasher flick type formula that reigned in the early horror film renaissance heyday of the 1970s and '80s. A prologue shows a past event -- in this case, a kid who's so bad he has to be tied down in his highchair before getting a parental smack down -- that obviously molded the contemporary villain. A bunch of rowdy and randy young people stumble into his lair -- or in this case, waxen home town -- and one by one they become permanent, if unwilling, members of the community.
Since we don't care about any of the characters -- and conversely want some of them to kick the horror bucket due to their stupid or, in one particular case, famous nature (and you know who I'm talking about) -- there's next to no suspense beyond guessing the order of their deaths. Of course, some might make a game of guessing what gruesome method will be used with each subsequent victim, but even that's not very much fun (in a "Final Destination," guilty pleasure sort of way).
Even so, the clippers after the extended finger scene, the pole through the head moment, and the new meaning of getting a facial will no doubt have some viewers squirming in their seats. While such material can sometimes be entertaining in a black comedy fashion, it crosses the border between that and good taste too many times for its own good here.
The biggest problem -- among many -- is that the story takes forever to develop, and it's not exactly as if the filmmakers were spending the time creating complex, interesting or sympathetic characters. Instead, the story plods along, slowly moving the characters toward the titular structure.
Otherwise instantly forgettable, they're played by really only two notable performers: Elisha Cuthbert ("The Girl Next Door," TV's "24") and Paris "How long is 15 minutes?" Hilton who proves she can stink up the screen with the best -- or is that worst -- horror screamers of all time. Alas, she doesn't die in the first few minutes like those appearing in the cameos in the "Scream" films.
While there is a smattering of clever touches -- one of the villains is named Vincent, the local theater is still playing "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and most everything in the town turns out to be made of wax (although it's never explained how the structures survive the summer sun and heat) -- for the most part this is a flat, boring and decidedly low-budget affair that makes the likes of other recent horror film remakes look like high art. "House of Wax" melts down and makes a mess of itself long before the candle behind the projector flickers out.