Driving across Louisiana on their way to a sporting event, a group of friends (Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, and Robert Ri'chard) get lost in the backwoods and decide to camp-out for the night. When car troubles prevent their departure the next morning, they make their way over to a small, forgotten neighboring town, and its centerpiece: a house containing wax figures. What they don't realize right away is that these figures were once real human beings, and a madman is stalking the town looking for new victims.
The track record for Dark Castle Entertainment is not impressive. This horror film factory (which Robert Zemeckis and Joel Sliver are partners in) has turned out some stinkers over the last few years -- most notably, "Thirteen Ghosts," "Gothika," and "Ghost Ship." While traditionally producing Halloween fare, Dark Castle has moved its dump truck to May, where it boldly takes on a remake of the treasured 3-D cinema classic, "House of Wax" (IMDb listing).
With a cast of good looking twenty-somethings and a distinctly French director in music video hack Juame Serra, this "Wax" doesn't share much in common with the 1953 original Vincent Price production (itself a remake). The new "Wax" is more junk-food quality, skipping along inside its traditional horror trappings with eagerness and a rare lack of cynicism. It's a fun piece of horror entertainment that isn't bogged down in frantic style or pace. In fact, the film takes its sweet time getting up and moving, with the opening 40 minutes passing by without anything scary or suspenseful occurring. What a strange sensation it is to see a leisurely paced horror film. Serra keeps "Wax" moving without pushing too hard, and he maintains a nice mystery in the abandoned town location.
For the majority of the film, Serra appreciates his R-rated production, keeping the murders wildly graphic and inventive. "Wax" marks a return to adult entertainment for Dark Castle, after the inexcusable, PG-13 trainwreck "Gothika," and "Wax" doesn't disappoint with its chain of foot slashings, finger cutting, and assortment of wax- and glue-related mayhem. Keeping the horror explicit and fleshy works wonders to cover some of the less desirable aspects of the production, including the cinematography by Stephen Windon, who renders the slimy, creepy world of "Wax" into one big black smear. It's hard to make out situations when the action gets hectic, and since Serra loves his close-ups like a kid loves candy, the two bungle some crucial moments of tension.
As for the million dollar question: So ... Paris Hilton, huh? Well, she's not a liability to "Wax," but she certainly doesn't help matters. Serra is wise to keep Hilton away for most of the movie, as the pop culture starlet is not an actress, and only plays her known personality in the film. She's overshadowed by the strong work from the rest of the cast, notably Chad Michael Murray and especially Elisha Cuthbert, who gives the film a strong dose of enthusiasm with her Jamie Lee Curtis-esque performance.
Unfortunately, like the other Dark Castle productions, "Wax" falls apart (at times quite literally) in its finale. The film takes on too much plot to end efficiently, and in place of a speedy, thrilling closure, we get a drawn-out capper that is a bit too poetic (in a high school creative writing class kind of way) and technically extravagant to be anything more than a complete drag. Still, "Wax" is a summer surprise that patiently enjoys the genre instead of trying to outrun it.
Filmfodder Grade: B+