Published May 01, 2005There was a time when horror movies were subversive, bellwethers of a guilt-ridden age whipsawing between total hedonism and a cruel moral straitjacket. That time has long since past. Now we're stuck with tripe like House of Wax that apes the children of Romero and Hooper without actually pulling off the con.
The usual array of young lovelies (led by Elisha Cuthbert and backed up by the likes of Paris Hilton) takes the stereotypical shortcut and find themselves in a ghost town where the only residents are a couple of degenerate brothers who make wax sculptures out of human bodies.
The brothers naturally have parenting issues (like Norman Bates) and misplaced family bonds (like the Leatherface clan), but what they don't have is an identity of their own. No matter how many times the film goes to the genre trough, it never really quenches our thirst for archetype, because it has no clear idea of what to do beyond mechanically repeating what has come before. Director Jaume Serra is competent but not atmospheric, reading nothing into the already underwhelming events and making sure that what you see is what you get; though it gamely tries to rhyme Cuthbert and miscreant twin Chad Michael Murray with the killers, it doesn't get much more complex than that.
Nice though it is to see Hilton get what's coming to her (a scene where the audience applauded wildly), that's no reason to sit through the scorchingly banal remainder of the movie, more wooden than wax and less house than flea market. Extra points off for randy black stereotype Robert Ri'chard, who just about finishes things off. (Warner)