You give a candle-making kit to some kids and they go a little crazy.
When the curator of a small-town wax museum dies, her twisted twin sons, Bo and Vincent, take the craft to a new level by murdering the locals—as well as strangers desperate for directions, gasoline or a Starbucks—and encasing the corpses in wax. Those macabre creations then take up permanent residence in the local church, movie theater or the House of Wax itself, giving new meaning to the term “tourist trap.”
During a road trip to a college football game, a group of friends camps out overnight and ticks off an anonymous trucker. Bad move. The next morning they find one of their cars sabotaged, forcing Carly and her boyfriend Wade to track down the nearest service station. Soon Carly’s brother and his pal come looking for them, leaving lovers Blake and Paige to fool around before they, too, are drawn into the psychopathic Sinclaire brothers’ web of terror. This isn’t a remake of the 1953 House of Wax starring Vincent Price. That 3-D creep show was like a Twilight Zone episode compared to this gory slasher flick, which leaves itself wide open to become a horror franchise.
At odds early in the film, the overachieving Carly and her delinquent brother, Nick, come to one another’s rescue when the heat is on. In two separate cases it’s implied that psychological damage occurs when parents urge a “bad” child to be more like a cooperative sibling. In Nick’s case, earning that negative label became a self-fulfilling prophecy, consistently landing him in trouble with the law. Nick willingly took the rap for a friend’s crime in order to protect the boy’s clean record. Carly confronts her brother about always blaming others for his trials. A man alludes to the danger of desensitization (“You can get used to anything if you’re around it long enough”).
Carly and Wade expect to find help in a church. Bo tells Vincent (who was disfigured when the conjoined twins were separated as babies), “[Mom] always said your talent would make up for what God took away from you.”
A sculptor works on a life-sized female form, perfecting its bare breasts in wax. Blake and Paige talk matter-of-factly about their sexual exploits (she thinks she might be pregnant). She strips to her underwear and dances seductively for him, and later flees from the killer half-dressed. Teens kiss passionately. Outfits show cleavage. A creepy stranger ogles Carly in a brassiere as she changes her shirt. While camping out, boyfriends and girlfriends share tents, and intimacy is implied. Jokers feign shock when someone says Elton John is gay. From their vantage point, Paige’s friends think they’ve caught her performing oral sex on her boyfriend (she’s not).
Lots of gruesome, bloody violence with, as they say in the trade, “wet sounds.” A sadist snips off a girl’s fingertip with wire cutters. A young man has his Achilles tendon cut, then gets stabbed before being “prepped” for waxing in a machine that sprays him alive. His friend finds him and, while attempting to remove the wax, peels off flesh as well. After being shot with arrows, a wounded man pulls one straight through his arm. Shotgun blasts blow off chunks of the waxed corpses’ heads. When the House of Wax (a building made entirely of wax) goes up in flames, the figures inside melt, revealing their human remains. A young woman gets punched in the face and has her lips superglued together.
Hotel heiress Paris Hilton has talked a lot publicly about having the coolest death scene in the movie. The hype has even inspired a line of “See Paris Die” T-shirts. The fatality in question involves a rod being hurled through a window and finding its mark in her forehead before eventually leaving a nasty exit wound. Other graphic deaths include a decapitation and a young man being stabbed in the neck. People get stabbed and slashed. Victims fend off their attackers. At one point Carly viciously beats a man to a pulp with a baseball bat. A woman slaps her uncontrollable child after he scratches her. A character describes a suicide that occurred years earlier. Two bodies are consumed in a rising tide of wax.
Crude or Profane Language
The more than 40 profanities and obscenities include a half-dozen f-words, and a handful of s-words and uses of “a--hole." God's name is turned into an exclamation.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Young people smoke cigarettes and drink beer. A woman also uses tobacco. A syringe full of an unspecified drug is used on a victim before he gets waxed.
Other Negative Elements
Carly slides into a rotting, putrid pile of dead animals. A man vomits. Two guys are shown urinating in the woods. Nick harasses someone who’s down on his luck, and is praised by his buddies for defiantly breaking a truck’s headlight with a thrown beer bottle.
Lately, horror movies, like most other Hollywood genres, have learned how to tinker with explicitness just enough secure a PG-13. The Ring and The Ring Two. Boogeyman. The Forgotten. White Noise. Darkness. It has become chic to leave a little something to the imagination in the interest of a more accessible rating. But there will always be hardcore fans of blood and guts hungry for graphic butchery with a side of sexual titillation. They are the target of House of Wax, a repulsive slasher film destined to be defined by Paris Hilton’s lousy acting and a thoroughly illogical climax.
“We really pushed the envelope in terms of working with the wax medium,” says director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose experience behind the camera to this point has been limited to commercials and music videos. “Blood and wax make a great combination of sexy and scary, and we did things with wax that have never been done on film before, from creating an entire town filled with wax figures to engulfing our cast and the House of Wax in flames in our spectacular finale.”
Yeah, about that finale. Who in the deep South builds an entire multilevel structure, foundation to ceiling, out of wax? All it takes is one hot, humid summer and that thing would be leaning like the Tower of Pisa. Meanwhile, when the place starts melting out from underneath Murray and Cuthbert, they never flinch despite clawing through hot wax. Apparently Collet-Serra has never been to a Christmas Eve candlelight service and had a renegade stream of paraffin trickle through the paper shield during “Silent Night.” Yeeeouch! Yet the heroes practically wade through the stuff unscathed.
Of course, the biggest problem with House of Wax isn’t either of those things. It’s the fact that Collet-Serra, like countless slasher directors before him, displays sadistic behavior and gory payoffs like a proud Madame Tussaud crossed with the Marquis de Sade.