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Thirteen Ghosts (Steve Beck) 2001

Thirteen Ghosts, a high-budget spectacle of garish overkill, seems to be about the fear of the ghosts of bad editing. Few films outside of Requiem for a Dream have managed to assault me with quick-cuts, flash-cuts and flashing lights as this one has. Apparently, the filmmakers realized how incredibly fake their ghouls looked, so they decided to never show them onscreen for more than five frames of film. Every time one shows up (and they are ever-present in this film) the screen flashes like a strobe light. This is not a movie for epileptics. 

The movie, which is a remake of William Castleís 1960 shocker of the same name, retains the tongue in cheek feel of Castleís films, thankfully. There is little in the plot, which traps a family in a haunted mansion that they have inherited, that would benefit from a serious treatment, so when the introductory family scenes are presented as snappy catfights, the audience can breathe a sigh of relief. Whatís unfortunate here is that the update shifts the focus on the kids in the original to the adults. The kids (Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts) arenít the most likable actors on the planet, though, so perhaps I should be thankful. The family, which is apparently poor after a fire has taken their house (donít these people have insurance?) and mother, still maintains a live-in nanny, if for no other reason than to provide the black horror movie character that has become obligatory post-Scream 2.

The other characters arenít given any more justification. Thereís an evil lawyer (inventive!) that for some reason brings the family along to a mansion they know nothing about, although he intends to rob the house. That he has been hired at all makes far less by the filmís end. Matthew Lillard shows up as a psychic from the power company that the family allows to wander around their new home. None of the ghosts have much personality beyond their appearance. Itís not that disappointing that these characters arenít better developed though, since theyíre all just ghost fodder. As a genre piece, itís slightly better than average. Naturally, characters get split up, and reveal they are more than they initially appeared, but none of this is shocking. Itís garish, but itís also gory. There are only a few dead spots (har har) where I grew bored, and the film doesnít pussyfoot around before getting to the action. If anything, itís too much, too soon for my tastes.

Note: I am docking 1/2 * since the film doesnít use the originalís ďIllusion-OĒ ghost viewers. Essentially 3-D glasses, these allowed the audience to see the ghosts on screen only when they looked through a pair of glasses that they were given. This remake, like the Castle picture, shows the characters onscreen viewing the ghosts through such glasses, but the audience doesnít get to join in on the fun. Considering the filmís campy appeal, this would have helped a great deal. Itís unfortunate that the filmmakers donít show Castleís level of gimmicky showmanship.


October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman