Do you like collections? Do you like movies about houses that are made out of glass? Well this week we didn’t watch either The Collector or The Glass House, we watched the 2001 remake of William Castle’s 13 Ghosts instead. Thir13en Ghosts, as they nonsensically called it this time around, is Steve Beck’s directorial debut. You heard that right, this is the movie that gave the world Ghost Ship. Check out our review below to find out how well the remake aged.
Reviewed by: Mark
Cyrus Kriticos (F Murray Abraham) is an eccentric and exceedingly collector of many things. Chief among his curious collections is his amalgamation of 12 very specific ghosts. He’s got everything from the First Born Son to the Juggernaut, yo. Unfortunately for Cyrus things go awry when he is capturing the last piece of his collection and his head gets mostly detached from his body by a piece of sheet metal. Or does it? More on that later…
Some time later Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) learns that he has inherited his late uncle's house. This is good news for Arthur because his family has fallen on hard times following a house fire that led to the death of his wife (Kathryn Anderson). Arthur, his daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), and his son Bobby (Alec Roberts) tag along with Cyrus’ lawyer (JR Bourne) to move into their new abode. On arrival they meet Dennis (Matthew Lillard), longtime psychic employee of Cyrus, pretending to be a representative of the power company in order to get inside the house.
Once all are inside the lawyer parts ways with the group, heads into the basement, and sets off an ectoplasmic rube goldberg machine that systematically releases all 12 murderous ghosts in succession. The ghosts wreak havoc on the inhabitants of the house, kill both the lawyer and Dennis, kidnap the two Kriticos children, and generally just march around looking spooky.
Once all the ghosts are released they are called to the inner sanctum of the house by a spell that will use their power to create a powerful artifact that will grant immense power to whoever owns it. But who will own it? Yeah, turns out this whole thing was a ruse concocted by Cyrus and he’s actually been alive this whole time. But when the ceremony goes poorly the twelve ghosts throw Cyrus into the demonic mechanism, killing him. As the house falls apart the murderous ghosts are released into the world in what is confusingly framed as a happy ending.
What the Movie Does Right
Steve Beck cut his teeth in the industry working in visual effects, and that is supremely evident in Thirteen Ghosts. I chose this movie to go back and watch due entirely to the fact that I remember it looking really good, and while much of the movie’s effects haven’t aged well (the early 00s were a tough time for VFX) the zany comic book style of the world that is built within the house is charming in its own way. Each ghost has its own weird costume and visually told backstory. Each prop lends itself to illustrating Cyrus’ penchant for collecting. A lot of work went into the mise-en-scene for this one and it shows.
Additionally, Matthew Lillard’s performance as Dennis Rafkin is… peculiar but ultimately pretty enjoyable. In a movie with an honestly abysmal script the level of manic energy that he gives in his performance is weirdly perfect for the role
What the Movie Does Wrong
As mentioned above, the script is inexcusably bad. The characters are stiff and make bad choices. For the amount of effort they put into visual storytelling, they put in essentially no effort into actual storytelling. None of the backstory of the ghosts makes it into the actual movie. Cyrus’ plan is reliant upon a briefcase being set upon a series of levers. The Kriticos clan is really excited about living in this house that seems completely unlivable (and also doesn’t appear to have a kitchen). The ghosts that are all so carefully designed are sometimes completely left off screen for the majority of the movie (anyone remember who the Bound Woman is?) Moreover, the dialogue contained within the script is so clunky that it reduces the likes of Tony Shalhoub and F Murray Abraham down to flat and boring performances.
Lastly, this is a horror movie website, so I would be remiss to mention the fact that this is a movie that is intended to be scary, but relies almost entirely on jumpscares. That’s fine, we see jumpscare heavy movies all the time. Problem is, this movie fucking sucks at setting them up. We talk a lot about “unearned” jumpscares meaning things that make you jump but aren’t really set up well. Well, these are set up so poorly that you don’t even jump. The team seems to think that smoke machines and sparklers are the key to really ratcheting up tension, and they are wildly incorrect.
Story: 4 - At a high level, the story isn’t really what the movie does wrong here. Man collects spectral energies to gain power and eventually his plan backfires. Tale as old as time. Problem is, once you get into the specifics you realize that even within the narrative world of this movie almost no aspect of the story makes sense. We keep track of nitpicks on our podcast (that you should totally be listening to) and I had basically a full page of nitpicks written down for this thing. It’s just sloppy.
World-Building / Immersion: 3 - World building here is a huge missed opportunity. For all the effort they put into set design, none of the sets feel connected in any way. It feels very apparent for the entire length of this movie that you are watching something on a soundstage. To top it off the poor script means the acting is very lackluster. What happens when you put flat characters in an unbelievable world? You get a not-very-immersive experience.
Scare-Factor: 2 - There’s some creepy imagery associated with the ghosts. The Angry Princess has a few moments that are pretty creepy. There is some minor violence at various points that I suppose could affect those not totally expecting it.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - This is Steve Beck’s corner. Things might not make sense, but they at least look pretty good. I like the design of all of the ghosts. The sets, although disconnected, are interesting and unique. There is some terrible CG (as is par for the course for movies from around this timeframe), but even so it could look significantly worse. Effects is the redeeming quality of this movie.
Overall: 4 - Yeah, this movie isn’t good, but I do have fun while watching it. This movie is ripe for a lambasting while sitting on a couch with your buds. If that’s how you go into this one I think you’ll have a nice evening in front of you.