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House of Wax

House of Wax is a lot like a used, day-old candle: burnt out, misshapen and cold. The film relies on the hoariest of '80s-era horror film clichés without even attempting to give them a clever spin. It somehow manages to waste considerable screen time early on not snuffing its teens yet still fails to develop its characters or story beyond one dimension and it achieves the nearly impossible feat of sullying star Elisha Cuthbert's red-hot appeal by subjecting her to grisly and bloody--but not especially scary--torments.


Twins Carly and Nick Jones (played by Cuthbert and One Tree Hill heartthrob Chad Michael Murray)--with Carly being the pretty, goal-oriented ''good'' twin and Nick the sullen, brooding ''bad'' one-- are road tripping to catch the big college game. Along for the ride are Carly's beau Wade (Gilmore Girls' Jared Padelecki), mini-cam-obsessed Dalton (Jon Abrahams), sports fan Blake (Robert Ri'chard) and his maybe-preggers girlfriend Paige (Paris Hilton, in her first major acting role--unless you count certain portions of her infamous sex video). The requisite car trouble ultimately leads them to a requisitely isolated Iowa town where they must seek help from the requisitely creepy locals. Dominating the town is the House of Wax, a paraffin-filled museum which doesn't just feature amazing wax likenesses of people and objects: the whole place is made out of wax, walls and all. This despite being constructed over a fiery furnace used for…well, these films aren't about logic, are they? Throw in the requisite twisted, menacing, blood-lusting boogeyman--but wait! Let's have TWO bad guys! And make them twins! (Did I mention the script was written by Chad and Carey Hayes, who happen to be twin brothers?) Cut to the running and the chasing and the cinematic carnage, the corpses turned into those impossibly lifelike wax figurines, the curvy Cuthbert in a white tank top and the impossibly big, drippy finale and call it a day. This is just a messy pile of waxy build-up that'll take an extra-long Q-Tip to clean out of your brain.


Despite the jibes she gets for her 24 character's penchant for getting into laughably contrived peril, the pert and sexy Cuthbert--who fills up a movie screen even more potently than the tube and lent a genuine vulnerability and pathos to her smoldering turn in The Girl Next Door--is emerging as one of the more interesting actresses of her TV-launched generation. Despite her natural charisma, however, there's no such opportunity for a multidimensional turn in House of Wax, and for her career's sake, Cuthbert should make this film her one-stop shopping trip to Horror-dom. She's made for much better things, and the sickly sadistic and bloody punishments she endures in this film, quite frankly, can only distract her admirers from how hot she is. Murray also impresses as a film presence, though he, too, is stuck in this thankless mess as the rebel who really has nothing to rebel against. Padelecki, the film's ''Hey, let's see what's in here!'' jackass whose idiotic actions drives every shallow horror plot, should stick to his day job. And then there are the splendors of Paris: both she and the filmmakers seem to think that stripping the heiress of accessories like her tiny dog Tinkerbell and her Pepto-pink fashions is all that's necessary to believe Hilton as an entirely different character. Except none of us really want Paris to be an entirely different character. She's really only entertaining--and often equally as stiff and insipid like she is in this film--as herself, and we'd all rather see her and Nicole Richie (or Kim Stewart or whatever less attractive, less-wealthy and less-ditzy sidekick she's hanging with these days) screaming bloody murder at a real House of Waxing.


Let's hope for his sake music video director Jaume Serra didn't burn any bridges at MTV when he got called to the Hollywood ranks, because House of Wax effectively demonstrates a lack of invention as a visualist, an inability to effectively pace and develop a story--even one as shallow as this one--and an utter incapacity to create tension, suspense or any genuine fear. The only scares here are the kind of easy, unearned ''pop-up-and-say-BOO!'' variety that does little more than jolt the audience and cause their popcorn to spill. I'm tempted to give him mini-props for the nearly impressive and gooey finale, but the credit probably belongs more to the f/x team than Serra. And it's shocking to learn that the entire film was shot on location in Australia, if only because the claustrophobic town in which most of the action takes place seems as artificial and hermetically sealed as the Universal backlot.

Bottom Line

How far off the mark is a film when even the prospect of watching Paris Hilton stalked, terrorized and violently snuffed--in a red bra-and-panty set, no less--fails to viscerally deliver its audience-pleasing promise? Way off.