Steve Beck’s “13 Ghosts” is yet another modern “re-imagining” of a classic horror film. There has been a flood of such remakes, probably indicating Hollywood’s inability to hire a decent writer to craft an original story. “13 Ghosts” opens with ghost hunter/psychic Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) in a car salvage yard late at night with his employer, eccentric millionaire and all-around weirdo Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), trying to trap a destructive ghost in a specially made “cube.” Things go awry and Cyrus is killed, but the ghost is trapped and… Fade to new scene.
Cyrus, it turns out, is someone’s uncle. In this case, nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub), a widow still grieving the loss of his wife in a fire 6 months earlier. Arthur has two children, teenager Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and precocious almost-teen Bobby (Alec Roberts). When Arthur discovers that crazy uncle Cyrus has left his state-of-the-art “glass” house to him, the family is enthusiastic. Things are starting to look up for this down-and-out family. Unfortunately the house, besides being constructed entirely of glass and inscribed with weird Latin verses, is also home to 12 ghosts in the basement, and what’s worst, the ghosts are ticked off.
You can approach a movie like “13 Ghosts” with only two mindset: One is to go in with your brain shut down for the night; Two is to go in and try to think your way through the movie’s plot, which means you’ll be the only one not enjoying your popcorn. Let’s face it, 13 Ghosts is one of the dumber horror films to come out in recent memory catering almost exclusively to teens. Not only is its premise a little ridiculous, but the whole concept of a house made of glass (Uncle Cyrus apparently doesn’t know what “privacy” means) is just too much to swallow. Which is not to say I couldn’t swallow “13 Ghosts’” premise. In fact, I easily swallowed it, and was paid in kind with a fun movie.
It’s no brain surgery, and its whole premise of ghosts that “powers” a house in order to open some magical portal into Hell is even more idiotic than it sounds. On the other hand, the movie boasts quite a number of good scare scenes, and the ghosts are very effective, mostly because director Steve Beck never shows them to us for any lengthy period. The ghosts come and goes in flashes, and it’s sometimes hard to keep a firm grasp on their location within the movie, but maybe that’s what makes them so effective. There is a sense that they can appear and disappear at will and can be right behind you at any moment. I loved it.
Act Two, with its nonstop ghost chases and ghost fights, is the movie’s highlight. Act Three, on the other hand, is series of exposition explaining why Cyrus built the house, why Arthur inherited it, why the ghosts are here and how they were chosen, blah blah blah. The movie breaks down quite a bit after the long chase sequences of Act Two.
Still, I have to give “13 Ghosts’” filmmakers a lot of credit. The movie, at slightly under 90 minutes, moves really fast, and Act Two’s fright fest more than makes up for the movie’s boring and predictable last Act.
Steve Beck (director) / Gale Tattersall (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Shalhoub …. Arthur
Embeth Davidtz …. Kalina
Matthew Lillard …. Rafkin
Shannon Elizabeth …. Kathy
Alec Roberts …. Bobby