Thirteen Ghosts
directed by Steve Beck
(Columbia TriStar, 2001)

Horror movie aficionados will love Thirteen Ghosts for its visual effects. Anyone who cares about such niggling details as the plot -- well, get out of here already.

Thirteen Ghosts, based loosely on a 1960 3-D B-movie of the same name, gives us the tragic suburban Kriticos family (Tony Shalhoub as the fragile father, Arthur; Shannon Elizabeth as the hot daughter, Kathy; and Alec Roberts as the death-obsessed son, Bobby), their wise-cracking nanny Maggie (rapper Rah Digga), an amoral lawyer (J.R. Bourne) and a pair of supernatural sleuths (Matthew Lillard as Dennis and Embeth Davidtz as Kalina), and sets them up in a majestic edifice that's all glass, steel and clockworks -- and a dozen angry ghosts. It seems megalomaniacal Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) has devised an infernal contraption based on advice straight from Satan to gain incredible power. But his plan seems to have gone astray, and the Kriticos clan inherits the house.

The house is a marvel of engineering, a puzzle box and constantly shifting maze. Created by Sean Hargreaves, it's the real star of this show -- while it's safe to say the inside appears a whole lot larger than the outside, the ponderous mechanics, transparent design and fun-house theatrics are a visual treat.

The 12 pissed-off ghosts (you have to wait for #13) are suitably icky and scary and homicidal, as ghost #12 (John DeSantis as the Juggernaut) demonstrates violently in the opening scene. Flashy, eye-straining camera work means you'll have to wait to get a good look at them, and in some cases, a good look is more than you want. Those with vivid imaginations and weak constitutions may have nightmares after this one. Most of the ghosts, such as the First Born Son, the Bound Woman, the Dire Mother and the Torso, are content to lurk about the place while the Juggernaut and his ilk -- the Jackyl, the Hammer, the Angry Princess and the Torn Prince -- do all the grisly work.

But the story itself is fairly muddled, and it requires far too much exposition -- some of which is contradicted along the way -- to keep the audience up to speed. The acting, too, is uneven -- Abraham is deliciously evil as Cyrus, but Lillard's constant seizures grow quickly tiresome, Digga's ill-conceived jokes are almost always out of place and Shalhoub generally just seems tired. Overall, Thirteen Ghosts is a visual thrill and not much else.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002

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