Thir13en Ghosts
Dir: Steve Beck
Star: Tony Shaloub, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 2001
Format: DVD R1

Whilst on one of his "ghost hunts" renowned adventurer and occultist Cyrus Kriticos ( F. Murray Abraham) is accidentally killed when it goes viciously awry. His nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) whom hadn't spoken to his estranged uncle since he was a child is surprised to learn that in an attempt to make his absence up to him Cyrus has bequeathing his revolutionary and lavish home along with his assets to him and his family. After losing his wife and home in a terrible fire 6 months earlier Arthur has been struggling to clear his debts whilst provide a home and a semblence of normalcy for his teenage daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and young son Bobby (Alec Roberts). This is Arthur's chance to get back on his feet and provide a good life for them. Travelling to the secluded house with Cyrus's lawyer Ben Moss (JR Bourne) they all arrive to discover a power company guy lurking around outside the huge residence of glass and steel (looks like someone parked a "Borg" cube on the lawn). Once inside the house via a particuarly arcane looking key mechanism the power guy goes to "check the breakers" in the basement whilst Arthur and his family inspect in awe their new home. The power company guy is in fact Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) a psychic who worked for Cyrus in his pursuit of ghosts. Rafkin discovers to his amazement that housed in the basement of the house are the collection of 12 cubes used by Cyrus and himself to capture the ghosts. Worse still Rafkin finds that the cubes still incarcerate their ghostly prisoners. As Rafkin struggles to enlighten the disbelieving Arthur, Bobby goes missing and the mechanisms of the house seal it up as the house takes on a life of its own.

Another presentation from Dark Castle Entertainment, the production company set up by Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver in order to update and remake some of the classic horror movies of the late, great William Castle. After their success with their version of the 1958 classic The House on Haunted Hill they turned their attention to the 1960 classic Thirteen Ghosts. Castle was a master of gimmicks for the promotion of his scary movies which were renowned at the time. The gimmick he implemented for Thirteen ghosts was a pair of special 3-D glasses which at specific points during the film the audience wore in order to see the "ghosts". With this modern reworking of the film the concept of the glasses is transferred to the screen so that when the characters wear their ultra violet tinted glasses they see the ghosts as do you through their eyes. The glasses do contribute greatly to some of the more heightened sensory jerks through the film as they are optimally used to great effect. This is of course a modern spin on an old contemporary and already proven movie, but unlike many of the modern spate of remakes this film actually brings something new and welcome to the story. With it being based on an old film it retains much of the original concept so it is unlikely that you will find the film completely unpredictable but it does have a couple of good twists and plenty of scope to make the more sensitive amongst you jump.

The exhilarating "ghost hunt" in a junkyard which opens the movie and is reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors but with better direction and it sets a good tone and pace to the story whilst managing to be quite exciting in a macabre sort of way (a bit like the film really). A flurry of special effects and serious bone crunching graphics enhanced by an ear assaulting barrage of sound effects that accompanies this stunning set piece which is quite brutal but sets up the story a treat.

Tony Shalhoub shined amongst the cast of Galaxy Quest so it is good to see him contribute to something more serious and darker where he can sink his teeth in to provide a strong performance amidst a quagmire of generally redundant talents. In all honesty there is little real reason for the almost waif like Shannon Elizabeth to be in the film. She doesn't command that much scream time and is perhaps a little mature for her role. Much to the dissappointment of perhaps the more warmer blooded male viewer should we say, she does not expose herself as they would expect so they needn't expect her to as she is attempting a "serious" acting role far from the performance of Nadia in American Pie which was so popular. Embeth Davidtz who was captivating in Army of Darkness crops up here as a kind of supernatural activist who attempts to stop Cyrus from his pursuit of ghost collecting and release his ghostly captives. A good all round performance from Davidtz as she storms her way through an occasionally dire script until she has a more pressing engagement. Matthew Lillard provides an energetic and intense performance as the psychic Rafkin but lacks some of the prescence exhuded by Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone for example where he played a far more convincing psychic. Lillard has a strange quality to his performances and at times is almost believable even with his occasionally unfeasible grimaces but this is probably a highlight so far to a career which ranged from "Cereal Killer" in Hackers through to his upcoming role of "Shaggy" in the Scooby Doo movie due out later this year. The "comic relief" for the film is provided by Rah Digga as Maggie the nanny but basically her dialogue is merely a series of well timed pithy one liners with no real acting ability required. A chilling performance by F. Murray Abraham which is good but not as good as his performance of Salieri in Amadeus but does afford his character a sublime evil nastiness which only he could provide. But he isn't afforded the luxury of exploring the character further which diminishes what is otherwise a generally good portrayal. Unfortunately Alec Roberts is another child actor with the dreaded "Anakin Syndrome" and after a short time into the film you just wish something terrible and fatal happen to him preferably that one of the ghosts take him away and mutilate and dismember him just to get him away from the camera. Basically anything at all in order to get him off screen and out of sight so the viewer is spared further annoyance. Kids in movies rarely work and this is another example of a child character that you just want to die..... horribly, preferably quickly and not just to satisfy some primal bloodlust!

Hats off to the special make up effects prowess of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman who have in the past collectively been responsible for some of the most gruesome and terrifying make up effects seen in horror movies over recent years. This film is no exception as they have provided some fantastic and truly chilling effects which prove effectively creepy for the unique ghostly characteristics of each of the spirits. The disturbing and exceptionally well designed make up ranges from the horrific and torturously impaled "Hammer" and the zombie-esque "Juggernaut" through to the alluring and seductively scary visage of the "Angry Princess" evocatively played by Shawna Loyer (or maybe I just have a "thing" for scarred, naked undead chicks with black eyes?) . The ghostly trio of Nicotero, Berger and Kurtzman have contributed to many horror movies over the years including Army of Darkness and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors to name but two of their successful combined achievements. Their excellent work is well showcased in Thir13en Ghosts and is quite stunning making their contribution a good reason to watch the film as you see plenty of their work throughout.

The mansion is an impressive and spectacular achievement in set design and art direction which is superbly photographed by Steve Beck. The house made entirely out of glass and steel resembles a sublime combination of the inner workings of a Swiss clock and a Borg cube from Star Trek with some elements of the Lemarchand Configuration from Hellraiser. As the house moves through it's sinister cycle it quickly becomes a labyrinth of passages and dead ends created by the "special" glass walls adorned by engraved latin spells and symbols which reguarly shift every few minutes creating new rooms and passageways often as mind boggling as the last. The clockwork precision of the house brings to mind the puzzle box from Hellraiser as the cycle runs it's course you can see horrific precision of it all as it's "victims" are powerless to stop it. Steve Beck overcomes many of the limitations and difficulties you would expect with filming within a glass environment and directs quite well but unfortunately not without flaw. The film has moments of directorial ingenuity and brilliance but they are frequently demeaned by either cliche or unimaginative camera work. The frequently vicious and savage attacks by the ghosts are well directed but there is little real horror here and even less suspense.

Despite the shortcomings this is an entertaining film but more as a gruesome or supernatural thriller than as a horror movie. Although, some viewers may find it quite horrific this is one of those films that you will either like or you won't, but like The House on Haunted Hill there is no real inbetween for it. Some of the flaws you can merrily overlook for the most part as the effects tend to overshadow much of the flawed content. For fans of the older horror movies or people born before 1980 it is worth watching with an open mind and try not to expect too much. Personally I think that Dark Castle's homage to William Castle by updating some of his "classic" movies is both brave and admirable as little attention seems to be paid these days to directors of his kind despite the current overwhelming trend in remakes which to date have been pretty darn abysmal. To the credit of Dark Castle they have steered away from the easier or more eclectic of William Castle's repertoire and have endeavoured to produce some old style horror films for a modern audience. I found this film a fair follow on from The House on Haunted Hill and I am looking forward to their next reincarnation.......as long as it isn't Rosemary's Baby......not yet anyway.


"After you. Captain America!"

Rating: 3 out of 5

Glitz's say:

Thirteen Ghosts is a disappointment. For a horror movie it just isn't scary. There are three ways for a horror movie to scare, psychologically, via shocks, or with gore. Thirteen ghosts ignores this and tries the unique approach of attempting to scare with fantastic set design. In the end all it proves that sets and good effects do not make for a good movie. The idea of some people trapped in a bizarre haunted house populated by ghosts sounds good (it should be it was used in The Haunting), but this film spoils it for a number of reasons.

Firstly due to poor acting there is no empathy with the family trapped in the house. Tony Shalhoub isn't a leading man. Here he mumbles and bumbles his way through the poor script. Next we have his terrible kids Alec Roberts (annoying brat), and the acting non entity that is Shannon Elizabeth (she is great when taking her clothes off, but unfortunately here she doesn't. Maybe she should consider becoming a stripper). The biggest insult to the audience is their racially stereotyped nanny Rah Digga who single handily puts back the cause of black actresses' twenty years. There are good performances from F. Murray Abraham, Embeth Davidtz, and especially Mathew Lillard, but they are unfortunately short lived.

Next, as mentioned, the script is a mess of poor dialogue, confused plot, and bad characterisation. This added to the lack lustre direction of Steve Beck (you can tell he comes from an effects background as he has little clue how to progress a story) means that apart from the effects the film flounders.

Lastly we have the problem of the ghosts. For a start they are on screen for far too much time, thus ruining their ability to provide tension. Next although the make up is great it's nothing that hasn't been seen before, it just isn't original. Also there are far too many of ghosts. Only three of them are really threatening the others go from nondescript to farcical.

If you like special effects and good sets this is the film for you, but if you want a horror film try Jeepers Creepers instead. At best this film is average, at worst its poor. It proves that thirteen is an unlucky number for some, and in this case its the audience.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Perfect
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Very loud but good all the same.
Features Good commentary track by Sean Hargreaves (production designer), Howard Berger (SFX) and director Steve Beck.
Dissappointing static cast & crew credits page
"Ghost Files". Excellent featurettes on the supernatural characters individual history's, narrated by F. Murray Abraham
"13 Ghosts revealed" short making of documentary. (not bad)
"Club Reel" Music video of "excess" by Tricky. Taken from the soundtrack
Theatrical Trailer
Boring, static biography on William Castle. (Better one available on "The House on Haunted Hill" disc)
Verdict Not a terrible disc but for my money the commentary and the "Ghost Files" are the best extras on a disc that could have been much better.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Link Back Top Home