- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

The makers of the new “House of Wax” appease their inner cineaste by naming a character Vincent in homage to Vincent Price, the star of the original 1953 shocker.

They needn’t have bothered. It’s doubtful a horror master such as Mr. Price would have been amused, let alone flattered, by the shout-out.

If all the bloodshed in this hack-and-slice remake wouldn’t be enough to curdle his enthusiasm, there’s always the notion that it could jump-start Paris Hilton’s film career.

Insert scream here.

Say what you will about the recent horror remakes “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Amityville Horror.” Each packed premium production values into its bloody genre self, while “House” looks little different from any other fright fest greenlighted during the slasher-friendly 1980s.

The new “House” forces an unlikable group of teens upon us, including the ubiquitous Miss Hilton, and coaxes them into a road trip to see the big college game. Along the way, we hear their mumbled dialogue and witness a tacky spoof of Miss Hilton’s sex video, the first and last time the film displays a sense of humor.

The pals split up when one of their cars blows a fan belt, and two of them (including “24’s” Elisha Cuthbert, who proves she would be a fine scream queen in a better movie) kill time by investigating the titular house.

Soon, but not soon enough, the pals begin disappearing, and we’re disappointed to find a horror menace that doesn’t belong in the same league as Freddy, Jason or any of the genre’s “giants.”

The wax figures populating the unknown town in which “House” is set sure are creepy, but then again, a roomful of mannequins in dim lighting would cause equal goose bumps.

“House” briefly summons some inspiration when we watch the first victim transformed into an exhibit. It’s gross and disturbing to watch, but it’s also riveting in its depravity.

Otherwise, the lethargic first half gives way to a frantic second, in which our heroes remain in constant peril so we don’t have enough time to focus on their — or the film’s — shortcomings.

Let’s do it anyway.

Jaume Collet-Serra directs his first feature as if a pal had given him a Blockbuster list of the worst horror films to emulate as a gag gift — but no one let Mr. Collet-Serra in on the joke. The director telegraphs nearly every scare, cheap or otherwise, and he squanders much of the potential inherent in a wax setting. Only a lethal contraption designed to render flesh into wax takes a stab at originality.

Miss Hilton shouldn’t be ashamed of her first meaty role, but her cast mates who got into the profession legitimately should be. Best of the bunch is “One Tree Hill’s” Chad Michael Murray, who shakes off a pedestrian screen intro to become a capable hero.

“House of Wax” has the gall to set up a sequel in its final moments, although it does so as clumsily as it handles the prologue meant to establish the killers’ motivations.

As undemanding as horror fans tend to be, it’s hard to imagine them wanting a second coat of “Wax.”

*1/2

TITLE: “House of Wax”

RATING: R (Violent images, gore, partial nudity, drug use and foul language.)

CREDITS: Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Written by Chad and Carey W. Hayes

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: www.houseofwaxmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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