13 Ghosts (2001)

Reviewed By Preston Jones
Posted 02/19/02 12:08:11

"So mediocre, it's scary."
1 stars (Total Crap)

The second in a pair of horror-themed films released just in time for Halloween, 13 Ghosts is an exercise in mediocrity.

13 Ghosts is a frustrating film that has moments of genuine invention and promise becomes bogged down by trite characterizations and a silly screenplay. A remake of the 1960 film directed by horror maestro William Castle, the beginning and end of the film are by far the worst in terms of undermining the fairly enjoyable 45 minutes in the middle.
The movie centers around Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children, teenager Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and younger brother Bobby (Alec Roberts), are down on their luck. Several months ago, Arthur's wife perished in a fire that burned their nice house down, leaving them with no money and a new, crummy abode.
Their bleak fate changes when the family, including live-in maid Maggie (rapper Rah Digga), are visited by a lawyer (J.R. Bourne) that tells them Arthur's wealthy, distant Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) has died. If Arthur wishes to accept, Uncle Cyrus has left him a guarantee of lifelong financial security and the key to his house, an awe-inspiring masterpiece of architecture that is made completely out of unbreakable, soundproof glass, making it resemble a carnival "House of Mirrors" maze.
Once inside the house, the family, along with Uncle Cyrus’ worried former partner, Rafkin (Matthew Lillard), becomes hopelessly trapped within its walls. It seems that Uncle Cyrus' house isn't really a house at all, but a meticulously constructed machine powered by the dead--namely thirteen angry ghosts that are nearer to them than they think.
Each time the walls move and the machine reconstructs itself, another ghost is released from its glass-encased cage. Suffice to say, its walls are quickly growing too small to hold everyone.
Director Steve Beck, making his feature film debut, moves events along quickly and finds a pleasant groove for the middle third of the film. Screenwriters Neal Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio punctuate the screams and gore with a few well-placed one-liners, but degenerate into nonsense as the film reaches its climax. The cast doesn’t seem to be too engaged in what’s transpiring onscreen, save for the achingly hammy Lillard as the screaming, hyperbolic Rafkin.
The production design and cinematography are topnotch, however. Sean Hargreaves’ work in creating a living, breathing house is incredible; Gale Tattersall’s camera work throws a few stylistic touches into the film that spice up its already potent visual power.

On the whole, 13 Ghosts is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. There is enough good about the film to recommend it for a matinee viewing, but unless you’re a diehard horror aficionado, 13 Ghosts is better left to haunt other viewers.

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