Starring Tony Shaloub, Matthew Lillard, F. Murray Abraham, Shannon Elizabeth
Directed by Steve Beck
Distributed by Scream Factory
Following up on their auspicious debut remake of a William Castle property, House on Haunted Hill (1999), Dark Castle Entertainment went back to the well of its namesake and decided upon updating the 1960 chiller 13 Ghosts which like many of Castle’s pictures during that time had a novelty gimmick to draw in audiences. Presented in “Illusion-O”, viewers were given special glasses that had red and blue filters – the former would amplify the ghosts on screen while the latter would cause them to (kinda) disappear. Sounds like a lot of work but, hell, I would have gone to see the show for the novelty alone.
What isn’t quite as entertaining is the remake, going by the stupidly stylized title of Thir13en Ghosts (2001). I remember catching this in theaters and finding it to be a decent horror film but then I’ll also admit to not having the best taste in those days. It had been at least 15 years since I last saw the film and if you’re also in a similar boat let me say that while it doesn’t hold up very well there are some strong aspects to the production that keep it from being a travesty, those being the production design, Matthew Lillard, and Tony Shaloub, unexpected leading man.
A team of ghost hunters, led by Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and financed by Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham), infiltrate an auto graveyard in order to capture the Juggernaut (John DeSantis), a serial killer who has long since passed over to the other side. During the raid most of the men are killed, including Cyrus. Not long after the attack Cyrus’ nephew, Arthur (Tony Shaloub), is surprised to learn he has inherited his late uncle’s home – a boon that comes at just the right time since Arthur and his kids, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), recently lost the family matriarch to a house fire. They have a live-in nanny, Maggie (Rah Digga), who accompanies them on the trip to Cyrus’ former estate.
Everyone is surprised to find the home is… unusual; a monolith of glass and steel intricately designed and ornately decorated top to bottom – and, unbeknownst to the family, full of ghosts. Dennis, posing as an electrician, gains access to the home along with the family and Cyrus’ lawyer, Moss (J.R. Bourne). Dennis’ plan is… actually I don’t know what he had in mind; he’s mainly here for exposition because there’s a lot to digest in regard to the house and its spiritual inhabitants. All of the ghosts are trapped in glass chambers and bound within due to “binding spells” written on the walls, but when Moss accidentally triggers the house’s “engine” and doors begin to open the already-agitated spooks start to take out their aggression on the new guests. The only hope anyone has for survival are “spectral glasses” that allow a person to see into the spirit realm and thus the ghosts, too, but donning them grants the wearer no special privilege beyond seeing what’s about to kill them.
I would never expect the Academy Awards to acknowledge a film like this exists, let alone nominate it for anything, but seriously the production design is award-worthy. Cyrus’ house is a massive structure and even though some of it is augmented with CGI the practical portions of the set are huge, etched panes of glass and industrial mechanisms that appear functional and intricate. The design looks unique and unlike most traditional horror movie houses. It does feel small, though, and fairly apparent actors “walking the halls” are just going through recycled sets. It’s like living in a watch but, you know, one full of angry ghosts. The house has character, for sure, and incidentally is the most interesting part of the film.
Interesting trivia from IMDb: three of the leading actors are Arab-American – Shaloub, Abraham, and Elizabeth. Let’s just appreciate for a minute the fact Tony Shaloub was cast in the lead here because he seems atypical for such a role – i.e. not the hero type – and it’s nice to see someone like that headlining. He’s calm and collected, often confused (because what the hell is all this?), but confident and determined. Besides, Lillard is here with all the manic antics and exaggerated expressions needed to punch up the cast. What we didn’t need was Rah Digga, who is playing the stereotypical Loud Black Woman with zero range – and she’s also just a terrible actress, something her lone feature film credit on IMDb (for this film) solidifies. F. Murray Abraham rules and his presence adds a nice touch of gravitas.
Previously available only as part of a double-feature Blu-ray with House of Wax (2005), Thir13en Ghosts makes its solo HD debut with a 1.85:1 1080p image that is more than likely simply a recycled transfer from that prior release. Colors are bright and have a good bit of life to them. Film grain is present and looks smooth & active without being noisy. Contrast is generally good but some of the darkest scenes do leave black levels looking a tad gray. As I mentioned the house is extremely detailed, minutely so, and the picture here allows for every nuance to be glimpsed. I wasn’t blown away by any means but nothing stands out as problematic. All in all a stable, consistent HD image.
The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track is aggressive and LOUD. The dialogue is almost a little too low in comparison to the sound effects which are positively bursting from every speaker in the room. I was impressed from the onset because that opening scene in the auto yard has multiple examples of immersive sound design that set a high bar for the remainder to reach – and it does. Subtitles are available in English.
- NEW Audio Commentary with director Steve Beck
- NEW Haunted in Canada – an interview with actress Shannon Elizabeth
- NEW The Voice of Reason – an interview with actor Matthew Harrison
- NEW Sophomore Spookshow – an interview with producer Gilbert Adler
- NEW The Juggernaut Speaks- an interview with actor John DeSantis
- NEW The Hammer Speaks- an interview with actor Herbert Duncanson
- Thir13en Ghosts Revealed
- Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles
- Original Electronic Press Kit featuring interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage
- Audio Commentary with director Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargreaves and special makeup effects artist Howard Berger
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Optional English subtitles for the main feature
Dark Castle seemed to hold promise but the façade began to crumble two films in with this limp offering. The few good elements highlighted above keep the film watchable but that’s hardly any sort of praise. This release from Scream Factory should be a winner for fans who have wanted a solo release – and with some decent new features to boot.