13 Ghosts (2001) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for horror violence/gore, nudity and some language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Tony Shalhoub, F. Murray Abraham, Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Lillard
Director: Steve Beck
Screenplay: Neal Marshall Stevens, David D'Ovidio
Review published October 30, 2001
I am not exactly sure why schlock horror director William Castle has been such a source for remaking films for today's audiences, except the idea that his films might be better if they weren't so low-budget. If The House on Haunted Hill and now 13 Ghosts have anything to prove, it's that if you are going to update a B-movie with a bigger budget and better actors, at least have the decency to make it better than the original. While 13 Ghosts may look slick, it's obvious that more thought went into the design of the set than in a bona fide script.
What it does have for a script is so threadbare that I wonder if they didn't shoot without one. Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham, Finding Forrester) is a collector of many things, and is especially interested in collecting ghosts. Not just any ghosts, but a complete set of 13, all of which serve a special need in his quest (whatever that may be). Upon news of Cyrus's death, the elaborate house he lives in as well as his considerable fortune are now left to his struggling nephew and his family, broke as a joke after the death of his wife in a fire. Once inside their new home, the family are trapped, along with the ghosts who aren't keen on company.
13 Ghosts is excellent fodder for a video game, probably in a vein similar to such classics as "MYST" or "7th Guest." However it is a very dumb idea for a movie, and considering how much of a failure the similar remake of The Haunting became, mining from the same cave was bound to lead to little success. The film features some pretty good actors acting badly, and with an especially awful performance by F. Murray Abraham as Cyrus. Shannon Elizabeth (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, American Pie 2) might have some appeal, but is vastly underused, while Matthew Lillard (Summer Catch, Finder's Fee) offers little we can root for with another annoying character portrayal in an already impressive career of such roles.
13 Ghosts is never scary, mostly because we don't care about the characters nor can we swallow such a terribly unrealistic premise. It is merely a bombardment of ugly imagery and noise that tries to make up for a lack of inspiration for suspense and chills. For all future filmmakers who are thinking of more B-movies to remake for today's audience: maybe there is a reason they don't make 'em like they used to.
©1998 Vince Leo