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13 Ghosts
Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Steve Beck (Director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   October 26, 2001
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

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 for.

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 ending either.

-RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers thinks that The Angry Princess is just misunderstood.

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