When House of Wax (2005) hit our cinema screens, it came up against a lot of criticism, even though it has firmly been one of my favorite slasher movies ever since. A lot of people had issues with House of Wax, most of which seemed to be unfairly directed at Paris Hilton (Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2008) for merely appearing in the film. However, one problem which came up a lot was the lack of connection to the original House of Wax (1953), which itself was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). Seemingly a remake in name and nothing else, the 2005 version of House of Wax was accused of being nothing more than a cash-in attempt – another excuse to draw fans of classic horror movies into the cinema and collect their ticket money.
I’m not going to lie to you; House of Wax and its predecessors do have very little in common with each other, aside from involving a wax museum and murderous wax artist. The central themes, the wax museum’s role, and the motive of the killers are all very different. However, fear not remake fans, because House of Wax actually works much better as a remake to the ’70s te lekinetic horror movie Tourist Trap (1979). In fact, there are so many similarities between the two movies; I refuse to believe it wasn’t intentional!
The most obvious change to the remake of House of Wax is the location, making it quite clear that we’re dealing with a very different story in this version. Rather than a lush, world-famous wax museum in the middle of a bustling city, we’re out where so many horror movies start – the middle of nowhere. Carly, her boyfriend Wade, her brother Nick, and their friends Dalton, Blake, and Paige are traveling across the country for a college football game. They make the unfortunate decision to take a shortcut to save time and get lost due to a diversion. After spending the night camping, the gang wakes up to find Wade’s fan belt is broken. Carly and Wade get a lift from a roadkill collector, Lester, to the local town of Ambrose, where they hope they’ll be able to get help from the gas station.
Tourist Trap offers us a similar setup. Woody and Eileen’s car breaks down, and Woody heads off to the nearby gas station to get their spare tire inflated. Eileen then meets up with another car and friends Becky, Jerry, and Molly, and they head off to try and track Woody down. Unfortunately, their car suspiciously stops working as well, leaving them stranded.
While the main focus in both movies is the roadside oddities of Trudy’s House of Wax and Slausen’s Lost Oasis, that’s not the reason why both groups of teenagers end up stranded away from civilization. Both killers use the front of a functioning gas station to lure people to them almost willingly. While it’s implied that Mr Slausen uses his telekinetic powers to make the cars breakdown, it’s also hinted that either Bo or Lester is responsible for the sabotage of Wade’s new fan belt. Rather than going out to hunt their victims, they simply wait for cars full of teenagers to show up.
While the tourist attractions aren’t what lure the visitors to the area, there’s no denying the importance of both Trudy’s House of Wax and Slausen’s Lost Oasis. While Mystery of the Wax Museum and 1953’s House of Wax features a wax artist opening a new museum in the city which draws visitors from all over, Tourist Trap and House of Wax instead focus on small-town attractions which have had to close down. Much like the Bates Motel in Psycho (1960), the highway has been moved, and what were once popular tourist hotspots have now been left to fade into non-existence.
In the original movies, the wax artist uses the cover of his wax museum to murder his enemies and turn them into wax models. He then displays the dead bodies in his wax museum, hiding in plain sight from the police. In the remake, however, Vincent wants to continue to build his wax model skills but is more interested in keeping the whole thing a secret with Bo so their work can continue, rather than risk flaunting it and being caught out.
Mr Slausen takes a similar approach, though it’s unclear if all the models in his Lost Oasis are dead bodies, or if some of them were the original famous characters which tourists would travel to see. One thing is for sure, the model of his wife is most definitely a corpse covered in wax. Slausen can play this off as a tribute to the love of his life with this model, and so it seems reasonable it would exist, even if Molly does point out that it feels like flesh to the touch. Even though the Lost Oasis isn’t as jam-packed with dead people as the town of Ambrose is, the heavy mannequin presence in Mr Slausen’s house is a clear indicator that he’s been using his skills to kill people for a long time.
The Obsessed-Over Women
As we mentioned Mr Slausen’s wife above, it’s essential to talk about how the women in the wax-based killers’ lives are what had the most significant effect on them. While Mr Slausen initially says his wife died of an illness and he created a shrine to her to honor her memory, we soon find out she was having an affair with his brother, and Slausen murdered them both in a jealous rage. His entire life seemed to revolve around his wife and their plans for the future, and so when this was taken away from him, it pushed him over the edge. Perhaps like Carrie (1976), it was a traumatic event that caused Slausen to realize he even had psychic powers in the first place.
Slausen mentions that he and his wife wanted to expand their business to include a hotel, but the highway moving away ruined their plans. It makes sense that Slausen would continue to look after the Lost Oasis, both because his wife loved it so much and because he wants to keep his shrine to her alive.
In House of Wax, the brothers lose both their parents very close to each other. Their mother dies due to a brain cyst, with their father killing himself shortly after due to his guilt at not saving her. While running from Bo, Carly and Nick see a sign for Trudy’s Wax Town, hinting that Trudy was looking to expand outside her already famous wax museum and create a much larger tourist attraction to showcase her skills. Again, the highway moving away ruined any plans of doing this on a profitable scale, and so to honor the memory of their mother, the boys decided to create a wax town full of dead people instead.
Similarly to Tourist Trap, the brothers use Ambrose to create a shrine to their mother. Not only does the wax museum itself acts as a tribute to her skills over the years, with things like newspaper clippings preserved for visitors to see, but they also stage the church to eternally represent her funeral. Wax mourners are seen holding paper schedules for Trudy’s funeral, and her body as been preserved in wax and placed in a coffin. When Carly and Nick first arrive in town, Bo participates in a mock funeral for his mother. While he may have done this purely for their benefit, so they believe he’s a good guy when they first meet him, it seems as if the church is staged this way so that the brothers can visit their mother whenever they want to.
Even if it was Mr Slausen that killed his wife, the deaths of both these women pushed them over the edge and turned the men into killers. Bo is obviously the more vindictive and violent of the two. He then uses the situation to his advantage to push Vincent into joining him in his murderous pursuits by convincing him that this is what his mother would have wanted. Both films see the killers trying to continue the life they would have had, and feel they should have had if the women who were so important to them hadn’t died.
Both films also deal with the thought of being turned into a wax figure and remaining alive throughout the process. Now, when it comes to Mr Slausen’s ability to turn people into wax figures, there’s confusion on the techniques he uses. He seems to turn Eileen into a figure immediately, but we see him killing a young woman, Tina, by covering her face in plaster and suffocating her. However, we also have poor Jerry, who gets turned into a mannequin at some point and doesn’t seem to realize. When he shows up as a hero at the end of the movie to rescue Molly, he doesn’t understand anything is wrong until Mr Slausen rips his arm off, and it’s revealed to be a mannequin arm. Sadly we don’t get to deal with the emotional fallout of this too much as it happens in the closing minutes of the film, but the shock for both Jerry and Molly is palpable.
House of Wax deals with the same terrible fate, but it gives us a more gruesome version of the events. Wade suffers what is potentially the worst fate of any character I have seen in a slasher movie when he’s ambushed by Vincent and pulled into his underground workshop. Vincent incapacitates Wade by snipping his Achille’s tendon with a giant pair of scissors and then kicking him in the face. After sewing Wade back together, Vincent coats Wade in molten wax. If you think that’s the end of Wade, you’d be wrong, as Dalton finds him posed at the piano in the House of Wax later. While he’s frozen in place, Wade’s eyes are still moving. Not only is it a terrible way for Wade to die, but it also suggests that not everyone in the House of Wax was dead when they became an exhibit.
The final similarity between both Tourist Trap and House of Wax is the use of brothers as the central antagonists of the movie, even if House of Wax is a little more straightforward in its reveal. When the gang of young people first get to Slausen’s Lost Oasis, Mr Slausen is pretty open about the fact he has a brother. However, he claims that he made most of the museum’s models and then left to go and work in the city. When we see Eileen die and then Mr Slausen discovers her body, he seems distraught and worried that his brother is on the loose in the area. When Jerry and Becky are held captive in the house’s basement, they assume it’s Slausen’s brother who has attacked them. The masked figure backs this up by saying his brother makes him wear a mask to hide his good looks and prevents him from using his powers.
I think the film does a fantastic job of keeping you on your toes until the final reveal that it’s Mr Slausen under the wax mask after all, and he killed his brother along with his wife in a murderous rage. We go through most of the film believing that Mr Slausen is trying to protect his brother and help these young people escape in their car simultaneously. However, it’s all a ruse, and Mr Slausen is trying to have the best of both worlds by pushing his murderous impulses onto the character of his brother. Probably so he has something else to blame his brother for.
“Personally, I wish 2005’s House of Wax had been marketed as a Tourist Trap remake to give the original movie the chance to be pushed into the spotlight and get the mainstream recognition it deserves“
In House of Wax, both brothers are real and alive, but we still get a bit of a reveal about the two of them, and their characters as the story progresses. In the opening scene, we see Trudy and her husband caring for their two children. One child sits quietly in their high chair, eating cereal, while the other has to be carried into the room and strapped to their chair, kicking and screaming.
When we’re first introduced to Bo and Vincent, we’re supposed to assume that Vincent is the violent killer of the two. At this point, the town seems relatively normal, if a little deserted, and as Bo is attending a funeral and running the local gas station, it seems as though Vincent may be a killer, and Bo is perhaps not involved. Our first view of an adult Vincent is him hunched over in the House of Wax’s basement, modeling a figure of a wax woman. We then see him creeping about at a window and watching Carly inside the museum. We soon find out that Bo is also a bad guy when he attacks Carly, and we see the old scars on his wrist. However, it’s not until later that Carly vocalizes the connection between the high chair she and Wade found in the wax museum and the restraint scars on Bo’s wrist, showing that he’s been the more violent brother all along.
Vincent clearly loves making wax models and has a strong relationship with both his dead mother and his brother. He wants to continue to develop his skills, carry on the work that his mother loved, and preserve her legacy for years to come. Without Bo’s influence, it seems unlikely that Vincent would have turned to murder. He does it because he thinks it’s the only way to continue to populate the wax town his mother dreamed of creating. Both films give us a complex relationship between two brothers and how they have ended up in these murderous situations.
So why were we given a Tourist Trap remake masquerading as a part of the House of Wax franchise? Perhaps the House of Wax franchise seemed like a better one to attach a remake to, as the 1953 movie is considered a classic, and even stars horror royalty Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill, 1959). Personally, I wish 2005’s House of Wax had been marketed as a Tourist Trap remake to give the original movie the chance to be pushed into the spotlight and get the mainstream recognition it deserves. Either way, Tourist Trap and House of Wax make a perfect double-bill if you’re up for a bit of mannequin madness. However, it may leave you thinking twice about driving off the main roads or stopping at a rural gas station.
“Tourist Trap and House of Wax make a perfect double-bill if you’re up for a bit of mannequin madness.”
Are you reading for a Mannequin Madness double-feature? Have you always been quietly suspicious of the similarities between 1979’s Tourist Trap and 2005’s House of Wax remake? Let us know what you think of these mirror reflection horror movies over on Twitter, in the Nightmre on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!