For some reason today I have been having something of a horror movie marathon that started with Ghost Ship and continued with Thirteen Ghosts. Okay maybe that doesn’t constitute a marathon but gives me as good a reason as any to talk about Thir13een Ghosts so that is what I am going to do. This is a 2001 remake of a film of the same name by William Castle and stars F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub with Shannon Elizabeth and Rah Digga. I hadn’t seen it for a while before today but remembered it fondly for Lillard’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a psychic named Dennis Rafkin.
Ask yourself, what is worse than being trapped in a house with a ghost?? The answer is being trapped in a house with thirteen of the most dangerous and vengeful spirits existing in the limbo between Heaven and Hell. That is precisely what happened to a family in this remake, they are lured to, and trapped inside a haunted house...right that is basically the plot talked about but naturally there is a little more to it than that.
Just for the record I could blow this film out of the water in seconds by scientifically proving that ghosts definitely do not exist, however, educating you humans regarding true sciences and technology that would cause your primitive brains to dribble out of your ears like mash potato is not why I am here so there is no point in doing it.
As you know as I am effectively just killing time on this planet, I have to admit that I enjoy the way you view your world and the possibilities of life after death…and here is an example of what happens when a cast just run with a concept that you can tell they think is beyond ridiculous.
So without further ado, let the haunting begin…
We start off with a rich ghost hunter named Cyrus Kriticos (Abraham) and his psychic assistant Dennis Rafkin (Lillard) who lead a team to a junk yard in order to capture a nasty ghost named the Juggernaut. A human killed nine people during life but has killed over forty after becoming a ghost in the junk yard. During the ensuing chaos a number of the team members are killed, including Cyrus himself, but the ghost is successfully captured in a cube that prevents it from escaping.
Meanwhile widower Arthur Kriticos (Shalhoub), Cyrus' nephew, is told by Cyras’ lawyer Ben Moss (JR Bourne) that he has inherited a unique home. It turns out to be a mansion built by Cyrus and left to Arthur in his will, along with enough money for Arthur to support his family for life. Arthur decides check out the mansion with the lawyer, his two children, Kathy (Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), and their nanny Maggie (Digga).
At the mansion a power guy (that the audience will recognise as Dennis) is trying to get in apparently to check the circuit breakers. He is allowed entry to the house and disappears into the basement where he discovers that there are numerous ghosts, that are for the moment, contained within their glass cages.
As Dennis tries to convince Arthur that his family is in danger Moss accidently activates a switch which causes the house to begin to shift, trapping everyone inside, and releasing one of the trapped ghosts every few minutes. The house is surrounded by “ghost glass” (I forget what is actually called) which the ghosts cannot cross that effectively seals them in the house with Arthur, his family and Dennis after the lawyer “splits”.
As far as I am concerned there are not many ways that you can do horror well but there are a million ways that you can fuck up horror.
Horror itself is such a wide genre and encompasses psychological horror like The Blair Witch Project, splatter horror like Event Horizon, stomach churning gore like Hellraiser and tongue-in-cheek horror like Dog Soldiers. If you are going to attempt a horror film then you had better make damned sure that your movie fits into one of these categories because if it doesn’t you end up with unorganised mess that won’t do anything other than bore an audience to death.
Thankfully Thirteen Ghosts knows exactly what it wants to be…it’s tongue is well and truly in its cheek and that is mainly due to Matthew Lillard, I’ll talk about him in a paragraph, but first let’s have a look at the film as a whole.
Thirteen Ghosts definitely shows the audience played-down gore in its attempt to illicit scares, which are a little hit and miss. The ghosts themselves look quite scary, and can be seen by people if they wear special ‘ghost-glasses’. The ghosts running around the house are varied and all looking to inflict very unpleasant injuries upon anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. Plus in a nice touch if you Google the film you’ll see that each of the ghosts have a back story that explains who they are and how they ended up as the tortured spirits that seek to do nothing but inflict pain on the living. The make-up artists have done their job very successfully with all of the ghosts looking the part, they are all different and are trapped in their particular hellish existence for various reasons. There is very little CGI which works in the film’s favour. Unfortunately the amount of ghosts is one of the flaws with the film, because the monsters themselves get very little individual screen time with most only being glimpsed. The Jackal is probably the main ghost antagonist and as a result the worst of the ghosts, the Juggernaut, only appears briefly at the beginning and towards the end.
Acting wise everyone does a reasonable job, with the lovely Shannon Elizabeth (the one who got topless in the first American Pie film) on hand to provide a little eye candy, sadly though she doesn’t do another topless scene. However, it is Matthew Lillard who steals the show as the neurotic Dennis Rafkin. He has some great one liners and will get the audience to chuckle, he also prevents the film from taking itself too seriously, which works massively in its favour. It is pretty obvious that he is not taking the film especially seriously, in fact whilst the rest of the cast do well it seems that they all know that it is not going to be a classic so are just having some fun. Classic horrors like The Thing wouldn’t have worked if there had been some wise-cracking guy in the middle of things, but here it works, and lifts this film up from being nothing more than an average horror flick
The audience also gets the gist of a plot which explains why the family are there but basically this is a check your brain at the door kind of affair. Yes, there is a story of sorts but it completely and utterly ridiculous, well, I guess no more ridiculous than having cages that can house ghosts (eat your heart out Ghostbusters), or barrier spells, quicksilver flares that drive ghosts back…okay fine so there is plenty in this film that is so ridiculous that it should be laughable.
The thing is, here none of it seems so stupid.
Remember what I said in my Ghost Ship review (yes I am assuming you’ve read that review) that in the last few minutes we were suddenly introduced to concepts like soul collectors, managment and souls without sin being hard to control?? There it was risky because it took a film about a haunted ship and turned it into something that took it into unfamiliar waters, whether it worked or not was up to you. Here, barrier spells, ghost-proof-glass, the eye of Hell, and the idea that a house designed by a man under demonic possession powered by the dead could give someone the ability to see the future…yeah, sure, why not??
Is it stupid, yes, is it also having some fun…hell yeah
Whilst Thir13een Ghosts does not have any real genuine scares it is good enough to entertain horror fans, and does not cross the line into be sickeningly violent or gory. If you like the tongue-in-cheek style of films like Dog Soldiers then you will want to check out Thirteen Ghosts because it is well worth your time. Basically sit down with a few friends, pop open a couple of beers, and sit back and enjoy the mindless movie playing before your eyes.
I enjoyed Thirteen Ghosts and if you are a horror fan then give it a watch, it gets a recommendation and it also gets a cheerful Thumbs Up.
7.5/10 – Thirteen Ghosts is entertaining horror, the story is stupid, but the cast are all enjoying themselves and it is their energy that makes this worthwhile. Actors phoning in a performance can ruin what should have been a decent film, here the concept is stupid, but everyone runs with it and it is a film in which Scream’s Matthew Lillard steals the show.