Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is a little down on his luck. After losing his wife and most of his possessions in a devastating house fire, he finds himself in dire financial straits until a creepy lawyer shows up with a message from Arthur’s late uncle, Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham). It appears that Arthur is the only surviving relative of Cyrus, and thus has inherited his uncle’s mansion and all of his worldly – and conveniently, very rare and very valuable – possessions…and if any of this sounds at all familiar, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, for this plot device is one of the oldest in the book. The guy even has a video will, for Pete’s sake.

Now I’m not one for blindly criticising films for being clichéd; in fact, far from it – for some horror films, being clichéd is half their charm. The trick said films have to achieve, however, is either to be great fun to watch, or absolutely terrifying…and this is where Steve Beck’s Thir13en Ghosts falls flat. It instead takes itself way too seriously, trying to shoot for the big target labelled ‘scary’ instead of ‘fun’. And sadly, it drastically misses its mark…both of them in fact; which is actually quite an accomplishment, considering it is a remake of a film of the same name directed by William Castle; a man who became famous for campy horrors in the 60’s and 70’s.

So Arthur, his family, the lawyer, and an electrician-who-is-really-a-ghost-hunter head over to the house, and surprise surprise, it turns out to be haunted by evil spirits. Twelve of them, to be precise. Who are all imprisoned within their own little cubicles down in the basement. And can only be seen by wearing these dorky-looking glasses. It transpires that Cyrus had plans of his own, imprisoning these ghosts in his house with the intention of harnessing their energy to power a machine that would allow him to see into the past and future; the Ocularis Infernum (that’s the “Eye of Hell” for all you non-Latin-speaking folk). Things go drastically wrong – both thematically and cinematically – though, when the team unwittingly lock themselves inside the house and release the twelve ghosts one by one.

There’s really not a whole bunch to say about this movie; the characterisation is pretty terrible, as is the acting; the editing – whilst clearly trying to startle the audience – ends up being more headache-inducing than anything, and to be honest any film in which the characters are stupid enough to lose each other in a glass-walled house isn’t really worth your time.

Credit where credit’s due, though; Cyrus’ mansion certainly shows a lot of thought, even if it does end up resembling an overgrown version of the Hellraiser puzzle box, and the Ocularis Infernum is quite an impressive sight to behold. Similar kudos goes to the design of the ghosts themselves; each has clearly been given their own unique lore that I find rather intriguing…though it’s actually quite telling when you find yourself wondering more about the film’s back-story than the film itself.

Rating: ★★★½☆☆☆☆☆☆

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