Misery loves company.
Back in the 1960s, a guy named William Castle became the king of gimmicky horror movies. Castle infused novelties such as 3D glasses and electroshock seats into his often cheesy but entertaining celluloid fright fests like House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler. In 1999, producers Joel Silver (Die Hard), Robert Zemeckis (Death Becomes Her, Back To The Future) and Gilbert Adler (Tales From The Crypt Presents: Bordello Of Blood) teamed up to recreate some of Castle's most famous works for a new generation of horror fans. Their first effort, House On Haunted Hill, took a graceful swan dive upon its initial theatrical release. Their second effort was the Castle classic 13 Ghosts, retelling with the snazzy new title Thir13en Ghosts (see? The "13" is in place of the "t" and the "e."…okay, you get it). Starring Matthew Lillard (Scream), Embeth Davidtz (Army Of Darkness), Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie 2), Tony Shalhoub (Men In Black) and F. Murray Abraham (Mimic, Star Trek: Insurrection), Thir13en Ghosts scares up a few screams on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Cyrus Kriticos (Abraham) is a hunter, but not just any hunter; his prey of preference is that of ectoplasmic proportions. While on an expedition to trap some poltergeists, Cyrus is accidentally killed in an abandoned junk yard. This is bad for Cyrus, but good for his nephew Arthur (Shalhoub), Arthur's two kids (Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts) and their nanny (newcomer Rah Digga) who sadly lost their beloved mother six months back to a tragic house fire. Through his uncle's misfortune, Arthur and his family have inherited one of the most sprawling and insidious mansions ever created, a huge house made with steel, glass walls, and some of the funkiest mechanical devices ever seen with the human eye. When a lawyer (J.R. Bourne) takes them to visit their new digs they meet up with Rafkin (Lillard), one of Cyrus' fellow ghost hunters (and a strange sort of psychic) dressed up as an electrician. As the tour begins the group slowly realizes that they aren't in just a house—they're in a prison that's housing twelve ugly and very mean spirited ghosts, and all the exits have been closed behind them! As the night dwindles on, the Kriticos and their new friends are going to need to figure out a way out before they become a permanent part of the house's history!
Once in a while I'm curious about what other critics thoughts were on a particular film. I was a bit surprised to learn that the website Rottentomatoes.com lists Thir13en Ghosts as having an 11% acceptance rating. This wouldn't be so bad if the mean was fairly small, say topping off around 13%. Unfortunately, this is a 100% scale, meaning if you gathered 100 people and put them in a theater with Thir13en Ghosts, 89 of them would come out demanding their money back. This critical panning did not bode well for the film. Not surprisingly, I'm one of the eleven people who actually liked Thir13en Ghosts. Maybe the circumstances of my viewing helped heighten the experience: it was late at night (around midnight) at my parent's house while they were out of town, the wind was blowing loudly outside, and the garage door was opening and shutting on its own due to some mechanical failure (I kid you not). That's a scary beginning to any horror film if I ever heard one.
Thir13en Ghosts is a pulse-pounding barrage on your senses. The music is loud. The effects are loud. The editing is swift and frantic. This is the Armageddon of horror movies. I looked for Michael Bay's name on the credits but came up snake eyes. If you've ever had an epileptic seizure from watching video games or TV, stay far away from this film. From the incredibly tense opening scene through the very end, I was absolutely enthralled by this movie. Now, I realize that the plot isn't airtight (airtight? It's like a mesh net), nor is it all that original (it's kind of like Ghostbusters with a hundred more buckets of blood). But by God, this movie scared the pants off me. The ghosts (with make-up by Wishmaster effects guy Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger) are terrifyingly mean and fantastically cool by monster standards. The girl with the cage around her neck is downright disturbing. Even the house itself appears terrifying (if only for the sole reason that the walls are glass, so a private shower is a big no-no in this bathroom). There are plenty of great death scenes for you gore hounds, including my personal favorite where a grouchy lawyer gets his due in one of the most gruesome ways ever captured on film.
The cast all do the appropriate moves needed for a film like this, including (but not limited to): screaming, yelling, running, breathing hard, panting, looking scared, crying, and my personal favorite, spitting on the floor (Lillard is notorious for that throughout this entire feature). The standout performer here is Tony Shalhoub, an actor that just gets better and better with each movie he's featured in. While I still often think of him as Antonio from Wings, with each role I am beginning to think that this guy has real star potential. He has a hold on how to deliver a funny line while simultaneously being dramatic (well, as dramatic as one can get in a movie about abducted spirits). Shannon Elizabeth is just eye candy, but tasty eye candy she is. And it's always nice to see F. Murray Abraham in a film; he always gives movies like this a bit more dignity than is needed. The only person who annoyed me was Matthew Lillard; overacting is a nine letter word for this guy. He grimaces, scowls, and contorts his face in so many ways that it's like he trying to out-maneuver Jim Carrey. Mr. Lillard, please for your sake and ours: calm DOWN.
It's been a while since I sat through a recent horror movie that I truly enjoyed. The critics all panned Thir13en Ghosts as loud, brash, abusive entertainment. That may be true, but it's also a lot of fun. It's not the best horror movie ever made, but as pure popcorn entertainment, it delivers (and for the squeamish or faint of heart, it's a killer).
Thir13en Ghosts is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Warner has put in a lot of work to make sure that this picture looks about as clean and crisp as you're going to see on DVD. Sporting some vivid colors (maybe too vivid during the lawyer scene) and dark black levels, this great looking transfer includes nary an ounce of edge enhancement, shimmer, or digital artifacting.
The audio portions of this disc are equally as good. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in both French and English, this is one of the scariest and most bombastic soundtracks I've ever heard. Horror films rely on not only visual but audio scares, and this 5.1 mix has plenty to please: voices from beyond swirl around the viewer, doors slam with alarming pressure, and screams are heard to full effect. No distortion or hiss is spotted during any of the dialogue, effects, or music, but then again with all the sounds how could you notice? Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Warner has put some blood and guts into this disc considering Thir13en Ghosts wasn't a huge hit. The first special feature found on this DVD is a commentary by production designer Sawn Hargrieves, director Steve Beck, and special make-up effects supervisor Howard Berger. This is a rather dry track that includes a lot of information on the make-up, the story (they wanted to focus on the "human aspects."…uh, whatever guys), and a few other tidbits from the making of the film. This is a good track for technical info, but don't expect to be overly entertained.
Next up is an 18-minute documentary titled "Thirteen Ghosts Revealed" that is a surprisingly in-depth. This documentary features a ton of behind-the-scenes footage, plus interviews with Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Lillard, director Steve Beck, producer Joel Silver, make-up man Howard Berger, and more. There's a lot of information stored in this documentary (I liked hearing that the make-up guys made up back stories for all the "ghosts" in the film), and a lot of discussion about how the original William Castle version was turned into this modern day remake. This worthwhile feature is much better than the commentary track. Speaking of back stories, that's exactly what the "Ghost Files" is. Each of these twelve options lets you watch and hear the back story on each of the ghosts. This is actually a very neat feature, and creepy to boot.
Finally, there is a music video for the song "Excess" by Tricky, a short biography on William Castle, and a pointless list of the cast and their characters from the film.
Thir13en Ghosts is purely horror-by-numbers. That being said, I really think it's a worthwhile disc for fans of rubber organs, droolin' monsters and splatter effects. This is a great looking disc that should please even the most discerning decapitation fan.
Thir13en Ghosts is free to go…OR IS IT ALREADY OUT?!?!?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Production Designer Sawn Hargrieves, Director Steve Beck and Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Howard Berger
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