Arthur and his two children, Kathy and Bobby, inherit his Uncle Cyrus's estate: a glass house that serves as a prison to 12 ghosts. When the family, accompanied by Bobby's Nanny and an attorney, enter the house they find themselves trapped inside an evil machine "designed by the devil and powered by the dead" to open the Eye of Hell. Aided by Dennis, a ghost hunter, and his rival Kalina, a ghost rights activist out to set the ghosts free, the group must do what they can to get out of the house alive. Written by
Not enough scares, but a great visual look. ** (out of four)
13 GHOSTS / (2001) ** (out of four)
I'll admit that I'm a sucker for haunted house movies. I forbid a guilty pleasure watching miscellaneous characters roam through dark, creepy hallways and walk through ominous corridors as vicious evil lurks behind closed doors, and observes from the shadows. The characters' fates are never in question, but it's a lot of fun watching them meet a gruesome demise.
I enjoy this kind of film so much that I even found a soft spot for "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Haunting," 1999's critically mauled haunted house movies. Naturally, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of "13 Ghosts," a state-of-the-art remake of the 1960's William Castle horror film of the same name. Warner Bros. released it the weekend before Halloween, and they couldn't have picked a better time. In 1999, "House on Haunted Hill" broke box-office records when released on the same weekend.
All that aside, "13 Ghosts" will be a major disappointment to even diehard fans of the genre like myself. The film perspires with potential scares, complete with an intriguing premise, a tantalizing trailer, and an astonishing visual appearance. Unfortunately, the screenplay drops dead on arrival, filled with enough recycled moments and cluncky, one-dimensional dialogue to wake the dead. This movie is a wasted opportunity.
The film stars Tony Shalhoub as Arthur Kriticos, the widowed father of two children, Kathy ("American Pie's" Shannon Elizabeth) and preteen Bobby (Alec Roberts). As the movie opens, the family faces tragedy as a fire burns down their house and kills Arthur's wife. They are left with nothing.
Nothing, that is, until Arthur inherits a unique house from his late, eccentric uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham). The house is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Made entirely of glass and steel, antique treasures fill the rooms, strange machines, gears, cranks, and big glass chambers position themselves throughout. The family can't believe their good fortune, nor do they believe a mysterious character when he tries to explain the house is haunted.
Like most haunted house movies, "13 Ghosts" works best when the characters explore the mansion completely unaware of the danger that awaits. Too bad this kind of sequence only inhabits but a few moments of the already short movie. With a running time of only 88 minutes, everything feels rushed, contrived, and astonishingly brief.
Talk about rushing things. This movie pounds us with moments of loud noises and violent encounters. If the film would have developed an ominous atmosphere and obeyed the rules of haunted house movies, then the rapid-fire violence may have worked to some extent. But we just don't get that here.
Prosthetics specialists must have had a field day with this movie. Contrary to the title, there are twelve different ghosts in this movie. We admire the makeup and special effects department when we see the masterfully crafted ghouls. But when we do see them, it's through quick, brief flashes. The editing is choppy, brief and visually incoherent. It's like director Steve Beck wanted the ghosts to be special effects instead of a solid physical presence. Big mistake.
"13 Ghosts" will not win any awards for composition. The overuse of slow-motion photography quickly becomes a nuisance. The editing, photography tricks, and computer animation techniques often feel misplaced. However, even if the film was masterfully constructed, a good technical department does not make up for the lack of a sufficient script.
But no! "13 Ghosts" is too concerned with pleasing audiences, and providing us with comic relief. Relief from what? The film does squeeze in a few decent horrific moments, but for the most part it is not that scary. If the film was 88 minutes of pure, edge-of-your-seat suspense and horror, I can see why comic relief might be in order. But with "13 Ghosts," we deserve more than comic relief, we deserve a better movie entirely.
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