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Warner Bros & Dark Castle, VHS, DVD, R, 1 hr. 30 min.
(F. Murray Abraham)
Kathy & Bobby
(Shannon Elizabeth & Alec Roberts)
Magic writing cages ghosts and glass walls humans
The Angry Princess
13 Ghosts is a remake of the 1960 William Castle horror film of the same name. Dark Castle Entertainment also brought us 1999's House on Haunted Hill which was another remake of a William Castle Film. Not surprising, because the production company, Dark Castle Entertainment, is run by Terry Castle, the daughter of director William Castle.
13 Ghosts is the story of Cyrus Kriticos, an evil and eccentric millionaire (F. Murray Abraham) whose hobbies include collecting ghosts and world domination. To this end he's employed the powerful clairvoyant Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) who can sense human misery in whatever he touches to find a collection of scary spirits.
After the death of Cyrus his house is left to his nephew Arthur (Tony Shaloub). The family, father Arthur, daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), son Bobby (Alec Roberts), and their nanny Maggie (Rah Digga), having recently experienced great personal tragedy and financial ruin excitedly anticipates living in their new home. And what a home it turns out to be. Made entirely out of glass, brass, and steel the house is unusual to say the least. All of its surfaces are covered in archaic Latin writings the purpose of which seems unclear.
After being lured to the house by money hungry lawyer Ben Moss (JR. Bourne) the family soon realizes there is more to this house than eclectic architecture. The house is a giant machine and at its center is the Ocularis, the eye of hell. Powered by the tortured spirits Cyrus Kriticos collected the machine is activated and nobody is safe.
With the help of a reformed Rafkin and special glasses that allow them to see the ghosts (a salute to the original 13 ghosts where special glasses were handed out to the audience so they could see the ghosts on screen) the family must battle a constantly changing maze of glass walls and wandering spirits to stop the Ocularis from opening.
13 Ghosts is a visually exciting movie. A lot of credit has to be given to Howard Berger, Charles Porlier, and Charlie Belardinelli for their great special effects work and Gail Tattersall as director of photography for setting a very evil and almost surrealistic setting.
I found the Jackal ghost to be particularly scary. Played superbly by Shayne Wyler the Jackal is an escapee from a turn-of-the century lunatic asylum. Wearing a tattered straight jacket and a cage over his head he truly is what nightmares are made of.
A close runner up is the Angry Princess (Shawna Loyer), the ghost of a woman so absorbed in the pursuit of physical beauty she performs self surgery and finally commits suicide when she can't attain perfection. Loyer gives such a subtly eerie performance it sends shivers up my spine just remembering her performance.
The casting and acting of the main characters however, do not live up to the stunning special effects and cinematography. Tony Shaloub better know for his comedic rolls and Shannon Elizabeth from American Pie give less than stellar performances which is about par with everything else they've done. Six year old Alec Roberts at first seems an interesting character but is out of place and irrelevant soon into the picture. This is unfortunate because given a little development he could have shined in this role. Rah Digga, as the token and formula "feets don't fail me now" black person, plays a minor but offensive role. One has to ask themselves, as far as horror is concerned, if directors realize there are roles for African Americans between 1930's stereotypes and Blade.
Mathew Lillard of Scream fame provided some energy to the film and gives a good performance but seemed sucked dry trying to carry the largely flat performances from the rest of the cast. Again this is too bad because Lillard has a much greater range of acting ability than most of his roles allow.
The lack of attention given to casting and direction is also reflected in the story. It would have been nice to give more background and screen time to the true stars of the film, the ghosts. Background information on the ghosts is given in the DVD's special features section but it does little good when this is viewed after the movie. It would have also been nice to develop the main characters more fully. It's hard to have emotion for a character you know nothing about; even harder when you can't understand why they do what they do.
One particular point of confusion is Bobby's (Alec Roberts) love of death. We know his mother has died but that is the only connection. He certainly isn't enamored with the dead when the ghosts appear. Another is in the bathroom scene with Kathy and the Angry Princess. Scrawled in blood on the floor are the words "Im Sorry". Obviously a reference to a scene or factoid that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Perhaps the most confusing for me was why an apparently bloodthirsty group of ghosts who have killed many in the past don't take the opportunity to kill when they get them? In several scenes in the movie where the ghosts had opportunity to kill they instead give a menacing look and move away. It's a bit of a let down when I was so looking forward to Tony Shaloub being offed.
In conclusion, 13 ghosts is a completely formula horror movie but with great special effects. You'll find some inconsistencies both in performances and plot but it's an enjoyable film none the less. It shouldn't be at the very top of your rental list but is well worth a rent.
The DVD special features include:
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Reviewed by: Hauntmaster 4/02/2002
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