Dir. Jaume-Collet Serra.Aus-US. 2005. 120mins.

Nicely balanced between comedy and terror, House Of Waxhas monster written all over it - box office, that is. It puts paid to thenotion that the irony-laden Scream and I Know What You Did LastSummer franchises had clipped the wings of mainstream teen-gore fests.North American numbers will be huge while international prospects will hinge onword-of-mouth.

But the big surprise is theperformance of celebrated celebrity and media-darling Paris Hilton, who acquitsherself admirably and provides two of the film's more spectacular moments. It'shard to gauge which is creating more heat on the blogs: Ms Hilton's saucystriptease or her equally spectacular exit, both of which will entice viewersof both sexes.

According to Tribeca FilmFestival director Peter Scarlett, where the film premiered ahead of its USrollout this weekend, this is the fourth version of the tale, a spook-festabout a ghoul who murders people and then encases their corpse within a waxshell. Video clip and commercials director Jaume Serra makes an assured debut,aided by a group of convincing young actors led by spunky Elisha Cuthbert andthe brooding Chad Michael Murray.

Screenwriting double actChad and Carey Hayes do a neat job of setting up the inevitable, scripting insome foreshadowing of the nightmare - and resolution - to come.

The film opens with a deeplycreepy flashback of life with young Bo and Vincent, twin brothers who are seenonly in glimpses as they are strapped and bound into their matching babychairs.

A vicious smack across ascreaming head catapults the film into the present, where Carly (Cuthbert) andher boyfriend, Wade (Padalecki) are on a road trip with another couple, Paige(Hilton) and Blake (Ri'chard) to a sporting event. Along for the ride is Nick(Murray), Carly's troubled twin brother, who has had several brushes with thelaw, and Dalton (Abrahams), who might as well have 'first to die' stencilled onhis sweat shirt.

The gang camps out overnight- the twigs crack, the bushes rustle - and in the morning discovers one oftheir cars has a 'broken' fan belt. Carly and Wade stay behind with the car,expecting to find a garage in the nearby town, while the others head off forthe game. But the town - which happens to have a wax museum with lots of mustyeffigies but no celebrities - seems unnaturally quiet, except for the churchwhere a funeral is underway.

Cathy and Wade meet Bo (VanHolt), the grown-up and slightly less insane half of the opening scene's twins,who convinces them to come back to his house to get the necessary car part -neglecting to mention that his brother is a homicidal maniac there waiting topounce. To the film's credit, it creates passably plausible reasons for theputative victims to separate - the tension is not in the 'who' will die but 'inwhich order'' In this case, Dalton gets a brief reprieve.

When the other car returns,having been stuck in traffic, the tally is one down, four to go. The grim jobof watching young lives abruptly ended is leavened by the matter-of-factapproach of Vincent (he may as well be trimming a hedge) and the gradualunveiling of the twin's hideous childhood secret: it could be seen as theultimate separation anxiety.

Production design is grade-AHaunted House and abounds with witty and knowing references to - and slyreveals of - its genre antecedents and their cliches: the little old lady whopeers through her curtain turns out to be as stuffed as the proverbial parrot,the town's cinema has a never-ending matinee of the Bette Davis classic "WhatEver Happened To Baby Jane'', complete with usher and audience. But themasterpiece is the eponymous house, which is - in the narrative - manufacturedentirely out of wax, and hence prone to dribbling when exposed to fire.

Prod cos: Silver Pictures, ImageMovers, Dark Castle, WarnerBros, Village Roadshow
US dist:
Warner Bros
Int'l dist:
Warner Bros/VillageRoadshow
Exec prods:
Bruce Berman, PollyCohen, Herb Gains, Erik Olsen, Steve Richards
Joel Silver, RobertZemeckis, L Levin, Susan Levin
Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Stephen F Windon
Prod des:
Graham 'Grace' Walker
John Ottman
Main cast:
Elisha Cuthbert, ChadMichael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton, Robert Ri'chard, Brian Van Holt,Jon Abrahams