Thirteen Ghosts

 

Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford 

In 1960, schlock horror film producer William Castle, a man who loved to introduce gimmicks as a draw to his low-budget flicks, brought us a ghost story about a family who inherit a big old house haunted by a dozen poltergeists. Now, Steve Beck helms the remake, without gimmick but loaded with special effects, in the "13 Ghosts."

Robin:
Sometimes the remake of a film can surpass, in creativity or story development, its predecessor. Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a good case in point with the 1956 remake providing more punch and glitter than the 1934 original. But, that doesn't mean that remaking a movie is always a good idea and today's "13 Ghosts" is just that - not a good idea.

Castle's original was spooky fun with the producer introducing his Illusion-O process, providing a pair of half-blue/half-red cardboard glasses to allow the audience to see (or not) the dozen ghosts that haunt the inherited home of the Zorba family. The low-budget haunter provided humor amidst the paranormal trappings as the Zorbas try to survive their stay among the specters who want to make one of them the titular 13th spook. Four decades after seeing it as a kid I can still remember the cheesy fun I had back then. I only wish I could say the same for the update.

In the dark, sinister opening of the new "13 Ghosts" Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) leads a gang of plastic raincoat shrouded men (among them psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) through an auto junkyard to capture "something" in a large glass cage. In a send up to the start of "Jurassic Park," the creature they are hunting turns hunter and dispatches several of Cyrus's minion in gut-wrenching violence. Right away we know that there is no fun here. Flash forward to the cramped home of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) where the recently widowed math teacher is struggling to raise his two kids (Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts) on his meager salary. (The family does have a housekeeper, Maggie (Rah Digga), which leads me to say - a housekeeper? I thought the family was broke!) Lawyer Ben Moss (JR Bourne) shows up on his doorstep with news of Uncle Cyrus's death and a huge inheritance - the deceased relative's fabulous mansion.

The family troops off to see their new digs only to discover that Cyrus has left them a Rube Goldberg type of mechanical house that is constructed of a maze of glass rooms and loaded with mysterious machinery. Also present is Rafkin, posing as an electric company technician there to check a power drain problem emanating from the huge, weird house. When doors start to slide open and mechanisms whir with purpose, we know that something is up. This is, in typical horror movie fashion, the cue for everyone to split up and begin exploring Cyrus's home. We learn that the ghost hunter has been collecting the spirits for a Black Zodiac that will open a portal to the Ocular Inferno via his machine, which is, according to the story, "designed by the Devil, empowered by the dead." Hoo, boy!

But, enough about the story, or lack thereof. Newcomer Steve Beck is saddled with the job of helming this hyperactive ghost story that replaces plot with flashy special effects, a bizarre set design and dialogue that is, in a word, dumb. The cast, which includes an Oscar winner (Abraham for Best Actor in "Amadeus") and a costar of an Oscar-winning film (Embeth Davidtz in Schindler's List), are wasted as they wallow in this effects-laden dud. Tony Shalhoub, who gets to stretch his character acting chops in the Coen brothers' latest, "The Man Who Wasn't There," is collecting a paycheck, along with the rest of the cast, to be subjected to F/X hell. Matthew Lillard, in the press material, claimed that this is the horror movie script he has been waiting for. My question is: why? A paycheck is a paycheck, I guess.

I have to give credit to the imaginative set design for the Cyrus's haunted house. The mostly glass and machine abode provides a flashy, if too busy, look to the film that, with the stylish photography by Gale Tattersall and rapid fire editing by M. Scott Smith, makes the 90 minute run time pass quickly. Throughout the movie, though, I kept wishing I were at home, all snuggly in my jammies, watching Castle's much more fun original. I give the remake of "13 Ghosts" a D.

Laura:
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub, "The Siege") lost everything but his children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth, "American Pie") and Bobby (Alec Roberts, "Traffic"), in a fire and now lives in a cramped apartment with their nanny/housekeeper Maggie (rapper Rah Digga).  The inheritance of a glass mansion from long lost uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham, "Finding Forrester") at first seems a wondrous blessing, but quickly becomes worse than a curse in "Thirteen Ghosts."

This second remake of a 60's gimmick-meister William Castle horror flick by producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis' label Dark Castle (the first being 1999's "The House on Haunted Hill") only proves that sleeping dogs should be left to lie.  "Thirteen Ghosts" is a hideous, crashing bore.

In an almost incomprehensible prologue, we discover that Cyrus is trying to 'capture' twelve ghosts with the help of psychic Rafkin (Matthew Lillard, "Scream") and the hindrance of spiritual freedom fighter Kalina (Embeth Davidtz, "Schindler's List").  When the Kriticos family shows up at Cyrus' estate, Rafkin is at the door begging entrance as a utility man.  As the family explores the glass and gears structure in awe, Rafkin descends to the basement and finds the imprisoned twelve ghosts, which he can see with the aid of special eye wear.  Soon young Bobby's wandered off, Kathy's attacked by a specter only she can see, and the house begins to reconfigure itself, shifting glass panels etched with the 'containment spells' which keep the ghosts at bay.  Kalina's also beat the family to their new home and explains to Arthur how the twelve spirits are enslaved to open a gate to hell, if only he'll sacrifice himself for his children to become the thirteenth ghost.  Alas, the audience is already past the point of salvation.

This abysmal film can't even score on its technical credits.  The house is a dark maze for all the glass used in the structure.  The sound is so muddled, at times it sounds like the playback mechanism's gears need oiled. The script is utter crap and acting is purely of the paycheck variety. There's exactly one interesting effect.  When the first victim, a lawyer, is vertically dissected, the front half of his body slides to the floor leaving the back half against glass like a specimen on a microscope slide. It's not worth the excrutiating tedium of the film's other ninety minutes.

The true horror of "Thirteen Ghosts" is that it got a theatrical release.

F

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