Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring||Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams|
|Producer||Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Levin|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Pictures|
Prey. Slay. Display.
I wasn’t expecting much from this film. A cast ranging from Chad Michael Murray (Hilary Duff’s romantic interest in “A Cinderella Story”) to Paris Hilton. A theme and plot which, based on the advance publicity, was pure exploitation. Fairly easy to infer that this would be a violent, gross-out fest. And so it was.
In the grabber opener, set in 1974, two young boys are in high-chairs. Their faces are never seen; but one keeps quiet and eats his cereal, while the parents have to strap the other one down. He pulls so hard on his restraints that he draws blood from his own wrists. And when he scratches his mother, she slaps him hard across the face. Okay, so we’re borrowing a page from “Psycho”…parental abuse.
Cut to present day. A characterization scene in which someone is working on a life-size, human female wax figure, in particular sculpting the breasts (this is the only explicit nudity in the film). Then, on to the main story. Six young 20s kids (two couples and two excess males), caravaning in two vehicles, are on their way to a college football game. There’s some interaction between them, in order to give us minimal character development. Nick (Murray) is the brother of Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), and he and his buddy are the odd men out, along for the ride because he just got out of the slammer, and his sister is being nice to him. He has a hard edge, and no one else likes him very much. But his character sticks out in the viewer’s mind, while most of the others are forgettable.
When the kids decide to pull over and camp for the night, they sometimes smell an awful stench from the woods. And there’s a creepy truck that pulls up in front of them, but backs away when Nick throws a bottle and breaks one of the headlights. In the morning, the two girls can’t resist finding the source of the stench (yeah, right). It turns out to be a dumping ground for roadkill. There seems to be a human hand sticking up from the pile, but the weasely guy who does the carcase-dumping shows them that it’s just a mannequin. Everyone is relieved, sort of. There’s more trickery, building and diffusing of tension several times, as we wait for the story to kick into high gear.
Since the fan belt on one of the cars broke overnight, some of the kids try to drive on to the game while others remain behind. And so it begins. The six victim characters are split up into pairs, and then into singles, to be picked off one by one. Forty-five minutes into the film, the first couple actually enters the House of Wax (which is literally built all of wax). From there, it’s a nonstop roller-coaster.
Sex/Nudity: This category is surprisingly light. There are jokes and sight-gags about gayness, oral sex etc., but nothing very graphic. Both of the couples are shown sleeping together, in a literal sense, but there’s no nudity or simulated sex. Paige (Hilton) is shown necking with her boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri’chard) a number of times. And there’s a sequence where they think they’re alone at the campground, and they begin preliminary moves; he takes off his shirt, and she strips to skimpy bright-red underwear. In the midst of kissing him, she tries to interrupt things to tell him she might be pregnant. But there’s another, external interruption as well… someone outside the tent turns off the sensual music on the CD player. Blake gets up to investigate, and that’s the last time the couple sees each other alive. (That’s known as sex-related violence.)
Profanity: Perhaps fifty occurrences of harsh language, including cursing and a half-dozen or so uses of f*. Bad attitudes behind much of the language.
Violence: Heavy to Extreme, since this is the primary audience appeal. Jump scenes. Cat-and-mouse sequences. Creative ways of killing and wounding people, some of which have never been filmed before. Cutting the Achilles’ Tendon, so the victim can’t run away. Decapitation with a pair of knives that have handgrasps in the shape of the head and tail of a dragon. Shooting with crossbow bolts at point-blank range. Turning a person’s face into mush with a baseball bat. And, in case anyone missed it on the publicity, the reason the wax figures look so real is because they’re real people sprayed with a wax coating. When the entire House of Wax catches fire, it melts in on itself as some victims try to escape.
Positive Content: This is a hard one. But there’s a certain amount of heroism and bravery shown by some of the would-be victims. Particularly, the brother-sister couple help and protect each other.
Genre Symbolism: There are repeated nods to “Psycho,” including the woman at the window. And material which (in my opinion) mirrored other films, from “Jeepers Creepers” (2001) to films as obscure as “The Black Room” (1935) in which Boris Karloff played a set of good-and-evil twins.
Production Values: The sets, including the wax figures and the entire wax house, were elaborate. Some creative symbolic work, such as when a knife slashes through a wax wall and cuts into the wax figures of a pair of siamese-twin babies, separating them. Not surprisingly, the character development was minimal and the acting was uneven. In the sequence where the six intended victims wake up from camping, the vehicle on which the fan belt was cut has smoke rolling out from under the hood, but no one notices. This was probably a last-minute script change, with use of existing footage to avoid a retake.
To be honest, Paris Hilton’s acting is noticeably bad. But she’s been promoting this film with the claim that she has the “coolest” death scene in it. Even that is debatable. Nevertheless, there’s a line of “See Paris Die” T-shirts, sold at places like Kitson.
Spiritual Content: There’s a church with a funeral going on forever; the “deceased” (the bad guys’ mother), the minister and the attendees are all wax figures. Very creepy. When the “evil” twin is killed, one of the victim characters appeals to the other twin that he’s really not such a bad guy, he was always under the spell of his brother and now he can stop what he’s doing and be his own person. But… the appeal doesn’t work. This was the only point in the film when I felt a momentary attachment. I wished someone were there who could make a stronger appeal to the manipulated twin, telling him that if he yielded his life to Jesus, the hurt and guilt of the past could be wiped out. And that he’d respond positively to that message. But of course, that isn’t a part of this genre’s formula. All the bad guys have to “get theirs,” except when someone is left alive in order to set up a sequel.
Overall, the film was trashy and sensationalistic. Due to strong publicity and the high demand for horror these days, it may well open at number one. But it’s basically pointless, no message in the story, just a roller-coaster ride. Don’t expect it to be anything more than what it is. And don’t take the kids.
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate