Horror movies tend to reflect the cultural climate in which they were created. German Expressionism rose out of the horror surrounding World War I. The science-fiction and horror movies of the '50s conveyed the suspicion and fear of the atomic age. In the '70s, horror movies reflected the anxiety and paranoia that followed Watergate, while the postmodern slasher movies of the '90s mirrored the jaded irony that characterized so much of that decade.
So what does the glut of recent horror remakes say about the culture as a whole? It's easy to assume that American studios have run out of ideas and are now reduced to cannibalizing their own past. House Of Wax reflects this trend in its purest form, but goes even further by ostensibly remaking 1953's House Of Wax while actually remaking another horror classic. In terms of plotting, characters, setting, and tone, House Of Wax is essentially a Texas Chainsaw Massacre knockoff, with the fetching Elisha Cuthbert taking over the screaming and running duties.
Cuthbert stars as a student headed to a big game with her boyfriend, her brother (Chad Michael Murray), and some friends. After getting lost, they end up in a small, seemingly abandoned ghost town whose most remarkable feature is a big wax museum that houses a deadly secret. House Of Wax takes forever to get going, which wouldn't pose a problem if some big payoff loomed in the end. But the film doesn't so much let tension build as stall inevitable disappointment. Like too many horror movies these days, House of Wax goes for scares, but settles for being gory and deeply unpleasant. Beyond Cuthbert, the characters are so sketchily conceived that they might as well have names like "Victim #1," "Victim #2," and so on.
Much of the publicity around House Of Wax revolves around Paris Hilton's role, which can generously be described as minor, and her ephemeral celebrity proves distracting. After all, how scary would The Blair Witch Project be if Kato Kaelin were one of the terrified campers? In her few scenes, Hilton conveys the combination of boredom and vague annoyance that constitutes her one note. She can't even run right: When being chased by a mad slasher, she conveys all the desperation and urgency of grandma tiptoeing down to the kitchen for a midnight snack of milk and cookies.