Sometimes a horror movie doesn't have to be a masterpiece (or even be particularly
smart) to be worth the price of admission. Sometimes it just has to have slick
visuals, a nice bit of atmosphere, a few goods scares, and a healthy dose of
gore. If you've already seen From Hell, and you're looking for a quick post
trick-or-treat horror fix, then 13 Ghosts might be just what you're looking
13 Ghosts is the second remake (courtesy of Dark Castle Entertainment)
of an old 1960s William Castle film. The first remake was 1999's The House
on Haunted Hill. I, personally, can't wait until they remake The Tingler,
but, well, I'm strange that way
In any case, a family inherits a magnificent house from one of my favorite
horror movie archetypes, the mysterious distant uncle. There's the father (Tony
Shaloub from Galaxy Quest and Men In Black), the daughter (Shannon
Elizabeth from American Pie and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)
and the annoying razor-scooter-riding son (ah, who cares who played the annoying
razor-scooter-riding son). There's also the nanny (Rah Digga), who's not particularly
interesting. Then, a third of the way into the movie, she turns into the pandering
"I'm the only black person in this horror movie, but at least I've got
that snap-snap-snap attitude" character. Judging by the reaction of the
people in the audience I was in, this (if not offensive, then at least terribly
tired) stereotype still tests well with moviegoers of all colors, so we can
look forward to more where that came from.
The main character (and by main character, I mean, "the only character
in the movie who is truly interesting and who is, in the literary sense, a rounded
character." ) is Rafkin, a twitchy, miserable psychic who used to work
for the family's benefactor, Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham from Amadeus
and Star Trek: Insurrection). Rafkin is played with manic, face-contorting
energy by Matthew Lillard (from Scream. He'll also be playing
Shaggy in the upcoming Scooby Doo movie). You either hate Lillard or
you love him, and I happen to love him. His presence in the movie bumped it
up one notch.
Okay, so these people get trapped in the house, which (you knew this, right?)
turns out to be full of ghosts (one guess how many). Why do they get trapped
in the house? Well, because if they didn't get trapped in the house, they'd
just run away, and that would end the movie right quick, now wouldn't it?
The house is a giant clockwork beast of a building, all wheels and levers and
massive gears, with rooms and passages that have a way of getting closed off
by sliding soundproof doors at the most inconvenient times. The walls are made
of shatterproof glass etched with Latin barrier spells that keep the ghosts
from wandering the halls too freely.
You can only see the spirits if you wear special glasses (like the goggles
from your bio-chem lab). This is a nod to the gimmick William Castle used in
the original 13 Ghosts: audience members at the movie theater were given
special specs to help them spot the on-screen ghosts.
The wraiths are actually pretty imaginative, thanks to the people who did the
character concepts and the makeup, and they have names like The Pilgrimess,
The Torso, The Torn Prince, and The Jackal. Unfortunately, some of the ghosts
are massive powerhouse poltergeists, and, because they have the most potential
to do harm to our intrepid characters, those are the ones we spend the most
time with. The thing is, characters like The Great Child, The Dire Mother, and
The Angry Princess are a lot creepier than the more obvious menaces like The
Hammer and The Juggernaut. All of the ghosts were great, but I think the movie
missed a lot of opportunities by moving too quickly into "ghosts are on
the loose, and they're going to beat the crap out of us" mode. The most
memorable scene didn't involve running from ghosts or being clawed by ghosts.
It was a quiet scene early on where Shannon Elizabeth's character spent several
minutes in very close proximity to The Angry Princess, and never even knew that
the wraith was there with her.
Okay, so there was plenty of room for improvement. But here's what 13 Ghosts
does give you. Excellent art direction and sound design. A good funhouse ride
with great set-pieces, gruesome apparitions, ambient haunt nightmare noises,
and a few truly nasty, wince-inducing deaths.
In fact, it was chugging its way toward being an easy 7, or maybe even an 8.
And then came the ending. Too quick, too easy, and too (THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS
START, FOLKS) cheery. Early on, the annoying razor-scooter-riding son is heading
into peril. Now, I was hoping against hope that the kid would be the first to
buy the farm. Not because I'm evil (though I am), but because then I'd know
that the filmmakers weren't frelling around. When the kid didn't die, I accepted
the fact that this would be one of those horror movies where the good guys win,
and where there is little question as to the final outcome. However, that didn't
prepare me for the excruciating, family-values-heavy denouement in which everyone
hugs and says, "I love you." I mean, part of 13 Ghosts' advertising
campaign was, "This movie has been given an R rating! Yeah, that's right!
For swearing, nudity, extreme violence, and gore, gore, gore! You want nudity?
We got nudity! You want cussing? We got cussing! And, boyohboy does this movie
have a truckload of blood and wicked mayhem." So, who do they think is
coming to watch this movie? The audience may not want the cozy single-parent
family to be torn limb from limb (well, some of them might), but I'm pretty
sure that they weren't looking for the life-affirming love-conquers-all Zip-a-de-do-dah