2 stars (out of 4)

Does anyone else find it vaguely suspicious that the central image for Warner Bros.' print and Internet campaign for "House of Wax" bears an uncanny resemblance to Paris Hilton, an extremely secondary character in the film?

True, Hilton is the film's biggest celebrity, an heiress and "reality" TV star famous for being famous, so that much makes sense. But "House of Wax's" ads—featuring what looks like a horizontal Hilton, lit in a blue-green hue and dripping with gooey wax—aren't a nod to her fame, but rather her infamy.

The campaign seems to reference Hilton's widely available homemade sex tape (featuring a close-up of Hilton in a green "night vision" sequence) with one-time boyfriend Rick Salomon, dubbed "One Night in Paris" by porn distributors and Internet portals.

It's doubtful Hilton herself made the link or is even vaguely aware of the exploitation. Nor does it matter much, as the remake of "House of Wax" anchors itself firmly in the time-honored tradition of horror exploitations. Gratuitous gore and young, nubile flesh bind together a cardboard plot, as a group of six friends stumble upon a creepy wax museum in an abandoned Florida town.

Elisha Cuthbert (formerly Kiefer Sutherland's daughter in Fox's "24") plays Carly, a young woman caught between her boyfriend, Wade ("Gilmore Girls'" Jared Padalecki), and bad-boy twin brother, Nick ("One Tree Hill's" Chad Michael Murray).

Not strictly a remake of the 1953 movie starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson (yes, that Charles Bronson), director Jaume Collet-Serra's modern "House of Wax" instead re-imagines the franchise, complete with twin brother serial killers who make wax sculptures of their prey. Not that this increases the on-screen frights. Mostly, our soft-witted sextet of heroes spend the first half of the movie scaring one another until the first casualty, 53 long minutes into the 96-minute film.

Though screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes (also twin brothers) follow fairly standard slasher movie tropes, but the one thing that keeps it from slipping into one-star territory is the inspired flare of making the museum itself out of wax. It's an impractical and featherbrained turn, but makes for impressively gooey, blaze-fueled finale.

But this doesn't happen until Hilton shakes her small behind in an abbreviated striptease and then runs for her life (in her undies, of course). Funny how she never gets turned into a wax figure (maybe filmmakers sensed the redundancy), or even enters the House of Wax itself. Guess the filmmakers saved that for the ad campaign.

relder@tribune.com

MPAA rating: R (for horror violence, some sexual content and language).

"House of Wax"

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes; story by Charles Belden; photographed by Stephen F. Windon; production designed by Graham "Grace" Walker; music by John Ottman; edited by Joel Negron; produced by Susan Levin, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. A Warner Bros. release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:26.

Carly Jones - Elisha Cuthbert

Nick Jones - Chad Michael Murray

Bo - Brian Van Holt

Paige Edwards - Paris Hilton

Wade - Jared Padalecki

Dalton Chapman - Jon Abrahams

Blake - Robert Ri'chard