Dread Central’s “Haunted August” theme presents more of a challenge than usual this month. Haunted house movies rarely parallel the bonkers midnighters I tend to highlight around here. Either they’re sincere and dour or more family-friendly, neither of which permit “booze and hoots” Drinking With The Dread branded watches. Thankfully there exists a bedeviled labyrinth puzzler from the early 2000s that fits my gory, chaotic formula: Steve Beck’s Thir13en Ghosts! Underappreciated in the way it blends gruesome practical effects with remake nostalgia for an energized update on 1960’s cinema.
F. Murray Abraham plays extravagant ghost hunter and collector Cyrus Kriticos, who traps only the most malicious entities in spell-protected containment cubes. Upon Cyrus’ death, nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) inherits all treasures and properties left behind, including an isolated glass house – with a ghost dungeon in the basement! Turns out Cyrus’ estate is a massive contraption with shifting doors, spinning turbines, and a collection of damned souls. Arthur’s family – along with psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and “spiritual liberator” Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz) – are hunted like animals. No exit, no escape? Home, sinister home.
It’s been years since first watching Thir13en Ghosts on TBS one October as a young pup, but what shocks most is the gore factor Beck’s team achieves. Haunted investigations don’t typically showcase exposed cadavers or bashed-in greaser faces. Of course, “typical” isn’t Cyrus’ vibe. Spectral spookiness supports schlocky grotesqueries of the highest visual design. Between JR Bourne’s upright door-slam death where half his body slides down clear door paneling – leaving a viscous red streak – to “The Angry Princess’” slashed-and-naked makeup work, horror visuals are *stunning* to behold. Cyrus’ translucent mansion another marvel as lockdown panels close and rooms take different forms as the minutes pass.
Thir13en Ghosts delivers as promised – a gallery of Black Zodiac rogues conjured from penitentiary nightmares beyond what ordinary souls might fear. Every captured apparition more unhinged than the last. “The Angry Princess” remains my favorite demon, but uniqueness boasts a loaded, rotting deck. Junkyard serial killer “The Juggernaut,” dismembered body “The Torso” (played by a double amputee), sledgehammer-handed blacksmith “The Hammer” – every “villain” is defined by appearance and background. “The Great Child,” messy bile running down his man-child bib, or hysterical inmate “The Jackal?” Sickening, revolting, and refreshing when you think about how many haunted flicks since haven’t the time to characterize their monsters.
Shocker: Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman are responsible for each and every gnarly SFX detail. Masters of their trade, earning their damn paychecks one bucket of fake organs at a time.
Fleeing from Basileus’s entrapment are the likes of Shannon Elizabeth, Tony Shalhoub, musical artist Rah Digga – but you’re here for Matthew Lillard giving it 110%. Dennis Rafkin’s supporting presence is that of champions, as Lillard’s body crumbles into a pile upon his character’s telepathic readings. Convulsions and whimpering pain and drool strung from the floor to a withered Dennis’ mouth. Thir13en Ghosts is a demo reel goldmine. Dialogue leaves quality to be desired, but Lillard animates dread and paranoia and wiseassery nonetheless. Undersung achievements in these hallowed genre halls.
Highlight moments include but are not restricted to:
- “Did the lawyer split?”
- The Black Zodiac.
- An opening junkyard scene like Jurassic Park’s velociraptor caging but with a murderous spirit instead.
- Gonzo and bloody gore.
- Child Bobby plays “dumb little kid” to a charming degree.
- Kathy’s first interaction with “The Angry Princess” – without knowing – and the bloody bathroom.
- “The Hammer’s” design in specific, railroad spikes stuck in his body like a Pinhead knockoff.
- Cyrus’ house, a feat in scenic design.
- Hits that early 2000s sweet spot between haunted architectures and grisly effects.
Time to hit the timer on another Drinking With The Dread, as we toast those demons unleashed in Thir13en Ghosts!
- Drink whenever you see a “new” ghost. Example time. You see “The Angry Princess.” Drink! You see “The Jackal” next. Drink! “The Angry Princess” returns to frame a few minutes later. Drink! Multiple ghosts at the same time count as one drink, or be a badass and slug for every single one. Your sobriety. (Dread Central does not condone or encourage this).
- Add another drink if that ghost is either Arthur’s Wife or Cyrus.
- Drink whenever Dennis enters one of his psychic fits.
- Drink whenever someone says “ghost” – JUST KIDDING. No. Don’t do this too. Seriously. No one wants to see you “Ghost Drunk” sloppy.
- TAKE A SHOT when sleazy lawyer man initiates Cyrus’ machine and the game begins.
Why only three drink rules and a shot rule this month? Reader, my aim isn’t to get you staggeringly drunk. I view these drinking games as a pregame or social event, to be enjoyed within a fun-filled night. Thir13en Ghosts is a shining gem of 2000s horror complete with random hip-hop musical cues, corny-as-sin lines, and *wicked* production value aside from some wonky animatic spinning gears. Drinking With The Dread is meant to enhance such an experience, not cause couch-wide blackouts. Strap on your undead viewing goggles and sip the devil’s nectar – thirteen’s a lucky number if you’re in the mood for freakshow frights soaked in suds.