The upside of this flick is, it’s got enough ghosts for a very loaded Halloween. The downside: they fail to frighten, even on a moonless midnight!
But, then again, that depends of what scares you. For starters, "13 Ghosts" is a well-conceived picture formulated broadly on the 1960 William Castle original of the same name. It narrates the tale of an outlandish geezer, Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) who dies in a freak hunting expedition, and bequeaths a gizmo-esque house to his pauper nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) and his family of two.
Newsflash: Cyrus hunted ghosts and stored them in the basement of his fantastic house.
So when naïve Arthur and his teenage daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and son Bobby (Alec Roberts), along with a very sassy nanny Maggie (Rah Digga) troop into paradise palace with Cyrus’ attorney, they imagine they’ve struck gold. Once inside, they make a couple of discoveries - namely, the alleged guy from the power company, Dennis Rafkin (Mathew Lillard), was actually a certified ghost hunter of Cyrus’ hunting days; the plastic eyewear placed strategically around the rooms had little cosmetic value, and in fact, enabled them to see these ghosts; and the pretty lady with the nose pin, Kalina Seyler (Embeth Davidtz), who appeared as if out of nowhere, knew a lot about why Cyrus had trapped twelve ghosts in the cellar.
What began as an exploration of the manic mansion progresses into a race to retrieve some missing persons who’d strayed a tad too far into the haunt of the haunted. Locked within walls clad with Latin spells, and a house that visibly shuts in on them, the people within furtively try staying alive and getting out.
While the movie does well with shock effect, it barely passes off as convincing or even close to it. It’s the kind of film that makes you throw your popcorn up in fright a couple of times, but not one that will leave you tearing the arms off your chair. Resting on an inventive concept, the movie takes off with excellent SFX and sets; the house itself deserves standing ovation, with its futuristic façade! However, the script is none too inspiring and gets even tedious at times, often skirting melodrama. The actors make as if they’ve been paid to look scared, and the ghosts are ghastly without being ghoulish. So much for chills up your spine!
All said and scared, "13 Ghosts" attempts to fill ninety minutes of a mundane workday, and gets by with half!This article was first published on 07 Feb 2002.