Hooray for the good bad movie! Nothing puts the party in an audience like more rocky horror. The new House of Wax is not just fun and funny (don't forget, Paris Hilton's in it), but it's also surprisingly frightening. The whole thing makes next to no sense, damn near every element of the story is gleefully lifted from somewhere else, and the nudity could hardly be more gratuitous. So laugh all you want, but be warned, this jolting amusement-park ride will keep you clawing at your seat's armrests anyway.

Although it takes the title of the 1953 3D spooker starring Vincent Price, the story is something else. Camping teens get lost in a seemingly deserted town with a madman on the loose. Really, this House of Wax is a throwback to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the kazillion other slasher movies it spawned in the '70s and '80s. Only now the teens are the dreamboats and candy girls of the WB.

The film starts stupidly enough. There's grainy handheld camera work and dumb dialogue in this "get to know the kids" section. Apparently, their ordinary lives look like The Blair Witch Project. A twins motif is subtly introduced when Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) remind their friends about eight or nine times that they're twins. Which is the good and which is the bad one? We get a hint when Nick passes a random homeless stranger sitting on a curb and, a propos of nothing, kicks him. A little later, it's made plain that this Nick fellow is not all bad: He takes off his shirt.

But when the real madness takes over-when the Leatherface sort leaps into action-things become genuinely alarming. This killer is named Vincent (presumably after Mr. Price), he's missing half his face and he performs all sorts of gruesome Dr. Moreau-esque surgical procedures on people. He encases them alive but paralyzed in wax replicas of themselves, wherein they starve and rot. So it's not just a guy with a knife, it's a guy with a fetish for human carcasses. Here, in the midst of this silly spectacle is a character whose sickness is almost as appalling as that of Hannibal Lecter.

Vincent, with the aid of a secret helper (I told you there was a twins motif), has for some reason created a whole fake town of wax replicas-all of them unfortunates who wandered "off the map" into this neck of Louisiana. You'd think we'd have that state pretty well chartered by now, especially considering that these kids seem to have strayed not much more than ten minutes from the Interstate, but what the hell.

The film builds to an out-of-control and very, very waxy climax-but not before Hilton performs a striptease for the camera. If you're a bit thrown at moments like this, just remember, the filmmakers are probably assuming you're drunk. But a horror film could be worse. It could be a lot less entertaining than this one.
-Kevin Allison