Rated R - Running Time: 1:28 - Released 10/26/01
As horror movies go, 13 Ghosts is one of the better ones I've seen lately. Mind you, it's still full of dumb characters who keep doing dumb things, but at least it attempts to try something new. A remake of the 1960 version written by the late Robb White, updated by Neal Stevens and Richard D'Ovidio (Exit Wounds) and directed by newcomer Steve Beck, the movie features a fantastic setting (a house that resembles the inside of a huge glass clock) and not one, not two, but 12 different spectral baddies, each with his/her own tragic circumstance. This concept yields an enjoyable variety of make-up jobs, and although the numerous villains don't really have specific characterizations, the sheer number provides a pleasing break from the mundane horror formula.
Central to the story is Arthur (Tony Shalhoub), a recently
widowed father of two who is trying to move on after losing his
beloved wife (Kathryn Anderson) in a fire. Although he's having
problems paying the bills, Arthur hires a cook/nanny (Rah Digga),
a strange choice indeed, since he only has two children, a teenage
girl (American Pie's Shannon
Elizabeth) and a pre-pubescent boy (Alec Roberts). Maybe he just
wanted to have a sista in da house. At any rate, everyone thinks
the troubles are over when a mysterious lawyer shows up and informs
Arthur that his rich, eccentric uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham),
a renowned ghost hunter, has left him his fabulous, Frank Lloyd
Wright-esque glass mansion in his will. I mean this place is like
a huge hall of mirrors, with glass floors, walls, and ceilings,
not to mention a complex system of gears, pulleys, and cables
which seem to work independently, moving walls and opening and
closing doors after its own agenda. Unfortunately, the lawyer
neglects to tell Arthur and family that the house is actually
an elaborate machine designed to open the "eye of hell."
A minor memory lapse, no doubt.
The four family members begin a tour led by one of Cyrus's
former assistants (Matthew Lillard), who begins to explain the
house's horrible secret. Imprisoned in the basement rooms are
the disgruntled spirits of 12 people who died horrible, painful
deaths, visible only through special "spectral viewers"
which look like those really geeky glasses you wear when using
a power saw. Thoughtfully, Uncle Cyrus left several pairs lying
around the house so his benefactors could tell when they're being
pursued by a headless, bloody torso or a huge, snarling, WWF-looking
dead guy with railroad spikes sticking out of his neck. However,
inscribed in Latin on all the glass panels are numerous containment
spells which keep the ghosts in their cells until the machine
opens the doors and lets them out. When the kids turn up missing,
the horrible truth becomes evident: the machine is in motion,
all the exits are sealed, and Arthur must get past a dozen freaks
(plus Unkie Cyrus) to get them back.
In addition to the incredible set that serves as the centerpiece of this film, which is without question its most enjoyable quality, there are also some amazingly truthful performances (atypical for the genre) by Shalhoub, Lillard, and, of course, Abraham. It is unfortunate that director Beck didn't choose to do something more, characterization-wise, with his 12 villains; it would have been interesting to see each of them with more to do than just look menacing and say, "Grrrr!" However, if nothing else the film provides a nice showcase for the talents of make-up artists Howard Berger (The Cell), Victoria Down, and Charles Porlier, and their staffs, and for the production designs of Sean Hargreaves and his set people. ****