What a house! It’s all steel and glass and elegance – and it all belongs to Arthur Kriticos and his family as an unexpected inheritance. You could say it’s their dream home. Especially if the dreams are nightmares.
Awesome ectoplasmic specters populate Thirteen Ghosts, an effects-rampant remake of the 1960 William Castle haunted-house film from producers Gilbert Adler, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, who conjured up the equally terrorific House On Haunted Hill (1999). Tony Shalhoub as Arthur leads a cast that includes Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga and F. Murray Abraham. The house itself is a design marvel and a mysterious puzzle-cube whose eerie corridors, sliding walls, spinning floors and phantasmic fiends may allow no escape.
eyelights: the cool-looking glass house.
eyesores: everything else.
“Oh, God! I hate it when they do that!”
When Dark Castle Entertainment was formed in 1999 by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gilbert Adler, the intention was to remake William Castle’s schlocky, but iconic, horror films. They started off with 1999’s ‘House on Haunted Hill‘, which was a moderate success (mostly thanks to video).
‘Thirteen Ghosts’ would be the second and last of this series, after which Dark Castle would venture in other directions.
It’s hardly surprising. ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ was not only an equally unspectacular box office release, it was a critical disaster – it’s even considered by Roger Ebert as one of his most hated films. And rightly so: ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ is a frightful mess of a picture on all fronts.
I’m no great fan of the original: it’s a weak picture by any standard, coming off more as a gimmicky Scooby-Doo episode than an actual film. You see, Castle made his name tying his horror films to novel promotional tools. In this case, he gave tix buyers special glasses to enhance their experience.
But the film revolved around this gimmick, and had little story to go along with it. In fact, many scenes seemed just shoe-horned into the picture to make use of the special glasses – they advanced the plot in no way. To make matters worse, the picture was largely illogical and sometimes incoherent as well.
I never thought the remake could possibly be any worse. And yet it was.
The prologue was a firm indication of how it was going to be. Set in a junkyard, for some ungodly reason, it had a bunch of unsavoury characters chase after a ghost in a nonsensical action piece. It was all bad, full of outrageous overacting, much like a modern John Carpenter picture (think ‘Ghosts of Mars‘).
Then it segues to the opening credits, which are our introduction to the protagonists of the piece, the Kriticos family. Instead of showing us their backstory, we get to hear a saccharine and then traumatic audio montage of the incident that has torn them apart. Meh… why try to connect the audience emotionally?
After the credits , and the requisite platitudes that are supposed to endear the family to us, the family inherit a distant uncle’s house just as they’re struggling financially. They are taken to visit it by the lawyer in charge of the will, and they will spend the rest of the picture there.
The house is the only cool thing about this whole movie. Honest. All its walls are made of glass, which had one of the characters comment about the lack of privacy there. It’s modern, expansive, with lavish rooms and all the amenities one might want in a home. Except maybe a live-in window cleaner.
It’s outlandish, but truly impressive.
Each window/wall has spells inscribed on them because the house holds 12 ghosts in the basement, and it’s the only way to protect the inhabitants. Ahem. Also, the house is a machine designed by the devil and powered by the dead. It was built by Cyrus, the distant uncle, who was an occultist. Really, now… *cough cough*
This house is conveniently sound and shatter-proof, which is helpful in the oncoming action sequences. Because, even though there’s a distinct lack of privacy here, they always lose sight of each other – and the two kids eventually disappear, forcing the family to stay there. Hmmm…
Anyway, the dad and a psychic go looking for kids, bringing a whole plate of glass as protection – leaving the room it came from (and the women inside it) unprotected. No joke. It’s a risible solution, even if the scrolls on it does protect them somewhat (i.e. not their hands or feet)
An investigator goes out to the basement to distract the ghosts and buy those two time, but for some reason brings the nanny along – even though it’s quite clear that she would only impede her efforts and put them both in jeopardy in the face of the ghostly onslaught.
Naturally, the nanny will play a role later…
Not only is the nanny the “comic relief” (she had one good line, not knowing that the lawyer was cut in half: “Did the lawyer split?” Ha!), but she would later play around with the machine’s controls, making the ghosts get Cyrus – but, somehow, not any of the other people there.
As one might expect in this brand of quality cinema, the whole house gets destroyed when the machine blows up (it couldn’t just break or stop working – it just HAD to blow up, right?), but all of them escape unharmed. And have a… ugh… heart-warming encounter with their deceased mom.
Not even the ghosts are worth seeing in this piece of crap film: they’re all stupid-looking. Don’t get me wrong: they’d make for terrific Hallowe’en costumes, but they’re gawdawful ghosts. And the naked ghost with the implants? I mean, really? Does silicone go with you in the afterlife?
Honestly, there’s no reason to see “Thirteen Ghosts’. It knows nothing about mood or emotional engagement, key aspects of any well-conceived horror film. It serves up visceral thrills instead and doesn’t even do that well, wrapping it up in a contrived mess that even the most brain-damaged child would laugh at.
Be afraid. Be very afraid of ‘Thirteen Ghosts’.
Date of viewing: November 1, 2014