Written by Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Draft: December 11, 2003
Spoilers: Consider yourself warned.
PLEASE NOTE: Since this review was written, Warner Bros. announced it would not be shot in 3-D. What a shame.
Revisiting remake territory after the “originals” Ghost Ship and Gothika, Dark Castle’s next genre outing, House of Wax, isn’t so much a re-imagining of Andre de Toth’s Vincent Price-starring 1953 classic as it is yet just another arrowhead dipped in 1970s moral depravity aimed to shock audiences previously struck by similarly toned backwoods fright fare. Early Internet reports painted Wax‘s plot – the scant details that have been reported – as an unwelcome hitchhiker riding the coattails of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original and remake alike), that portrayal isn’t wrong. Sadistic edge and wicked ways to elevate the body count aside, this new Wax is far from fresh when you place it in the shadows of its forefathers: The Hills Have Eyes, Tourist Trap, and to cite something more modern, Wrong Turn. Here, gotham by gaslight atmosphere is replaced by Iowa backcountry, downtown desolation, and candlelit underground tunnels. Unquestionably it’s a locale one would come to expect from a film similar to the aforementioned titles, but a House of Wax remake? Um, no. So why is it even given that title? Let’s allow the plot to clarify things.
Carly Foster is an eager, early-20s gal with the potential of big city success looming in her future working for Cosmopolitan magazine. Her boyfriend Wade, her younger brother Nick Foster, his pal Dalton, and fellow couple Blake and Paige are all accompanying her to a big Iowa/Nebraska football game taking place far enough from their home town that they decide to make a road trip/camping experience out of the excursion. There’s some existing sibling static between Carly and Nick since he and Dalton are forced to ride with her and Wade due to the fact that the Foster parents are away on their own trip and Nick can’t be left at home alone after an alluded to “incident.” While Carly and Wade’s privacy are infringed upon, love is blossoming into something much more serious between Paige and Blake – who are driving separately in the latter’s fully equipped company truck. In essence, these are all characters with fairly common things on their minds.
On the eve of the game, these travelers take a detour onto a worn two-lane blacktop and decide to call it quits for the night. Off this new route they discover a tucked away ideal camping spot that’s not really public grounds at all but private property. They don’t know this, of course, because they drove over a sign that said so, but we know better. That night, as they drink and party it up, they’re spooked by a wheezy and obscured driver of truck that has approached their camp. It moves on after Nick and Dalton welcome a confrontation with the driver – who never leaves his cab – but the subsequent morning brings a few eerie revelations. Wade finds that the fan belt to his ’68 GTO has snapped. Elsewhere, Paige and Carly are introduced to Lester, a grubby native who takes pride in two things: his knives and his job gathering up the area’s roadkill.
With one car immobilized decisions have to be made. Paige, Blake, Nick and Dalton decide to venture on ahead to the game to minimize the risk of losing good seats while Carly and Wade accept Lester’s offer to take them into town for a new fan belt. Naturally, Lester has a few creepy personality quirks of his own and when his passengers see that the “road into town” appears to be a washed-out weeded over path-to-doom Carly and Wade voice their preference to walk to their destination. Turns out, Lester wasn’t guiding them to certain death after all. The scraggly road actually leads to a quaint Main Street USA lined with a church, a sporting goods store, a movie house, gas station (ah, fan belts!) and Trudy’s House of Wax. This neglected, once popular tourist attraction isn’t a home to the usual theatrical wax displays you may be accustomed to. Trudy’s is a literal house made of wax. You get that? A house made of wax, including everything within…like strange reptile sculptures with human faces.
Once in town Wade and Carly find that the residents are in church attending a funeral. They intrude on the seemingly normal sorrowful gathering and meet Bo, the gas station owner. He eventually helps the couple in obtaining a fan belt, however, that involves heading up to his house which looks in no better shape than the road Wade and Cary traversed into town.
Cue up the carnage ’cause this is where it begins.
Carly soon finds herself in a fight for survival in this bizarre town where the locals don’t lift a finger to help (let alone step out of their houses and show their faces) as she and her friends face off against a pair of killers: one who appears to be your normal everyday fella, and Vincent, Dark Castle’s answer to Leatherface whose visage, in the vein of Vincent Price in de Toth’s original film, is made of wax. Their motivations are simple: capture, kill, and envelope their prey in wax. But there are more secrets and twists behind Trudy’s house than Carly was in for…
What’s disheartening about Chad and Carey Hayes’ script is how pedestrian it is. Alright, so this House of Wax isn’t going to be a tale about the repercussion of greed and obsession set against the backdrop of a spooky house inhabited by wax figures. That’s just something we’ll have to come to grips with. Eyeing the plot we’re given now, it’s amazing to see that Dark Castle has managed to find a pair of writers to pen a ’70s-style stalk n’ kill scenario that’s about as formulaic as they come when, if you truly want to tap that tone, it should be an assault of unpredictable and unimaginable mayhem. At its core, and I’m sure its no coincidence, Wax shares a similar structure to 2003’s Wrong Turn and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Cold open scare (first five or ten minutes). Character setup. Freaky situation. Introduction to a setting and it’s killers. Death ensues. Final fight plays out between the last survivors and the main baddie…
Ding dong the witch is dead, roll credits.
On the other hand, Wax‘s scribes did squeeze a few notable razor blades into this rotting apple. There’s a number nasty moments to make the women squirm and the gorehounds chitter with ecstasy. For example, Carly gets her lips super-glued shut, another character suffers a wax bath, and there’s even a solid pitchfork death. This brings me to the 3-D element of the script, seeing as Dark Castle intends to present the film theatrically this way. Have the Hayes’ laid an effective visual blueprint that’ll lend itself to the process? Like everything else about this script, it has its moments. Whether the 3-D will be milked for all its worth is up to the director, Jaume Serra, who, until this project, was a commercial director. In 1953 Andre de Toth wowed audiences with his masterfully compositioned sequences. We’ll just have to cross our fingers in hope that Serra fully utilizes the settings Chad and Carey have placed their massacre. There’s a lot of opportunity.
Since the beginning, when William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill opened at number one in 1999, Dark Castle has made good on their coda to deliver Halloween party movies that offer gory good times and “Boo!” scares. Accompanied with 3-D technology, House of Wax will prompt some cringing and a few jumps, but it’ll carry with it the same old baggage that has crippled Castle’s prior efforts: Forgettable characters, too many unconvincing answers to pressing questions, and some of the usual genre trappings that are about as cracked and brittle as this House of Wax.
2 out of 5
Discuss the House of Wax remake in our forums!