This is a movie you watch for the strange art that was late 1990’s and early 2000’s horror movies. The lighting and the details of the house scream of a bygone era in filmmaking.
A classic of questionable quality but decent entertainment
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
Some movies earn a cult following based on their story and the believability of the acting. Others attain cult status based on their excellent design and visual appeal. Some movies never gain cult status; instead, they slip into the dollar bin at Wal-mart or the discount two for $1.99 clearance sale at some long-forgotten and mostly mildewed to oblivion video rental shop. Thir13en Ghosts is deep into the third category but claws its way into the second category. Not because it is a particularly bad movie, but because the script and the acting provide just enough sticking power to hold the overall story together; and the story serves only to take the audience through one of the best sets designs I have ever seen, filled with some of the most exotic costumes and character designs in a movie.
This is a movie that provides nothing in the way of character development or exploration. There are no grand realizations, no heartwarming lessons, not even an important and satisfying villain comeupance. Instead, the audience is treated to minimal jump scares but plenty of horrific and ghastly designs. Though the cast does not flex star power, each ghost is interestingly designed and a horror pleasure to look at.
The story is not worth describing in all honesty, but I’ll do so as a formality. The movie is a remake of the 1960 movie 13 Ghosts. The only things the two movies share are a haunted house and a few general plot ideas. In the 2001 remake, Arthur Kriticos (played by Tony Shalhoub) inherits a house from his recently deceased uncle Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham). Unbeknownst to Arthur, his uncle had employed Dennis Rafkin (portrayed by Matthew Lillard) as a ghost hunter to find 12 ghosts for some unknown purpose. It takes little effort to guess that the ghosts are trapped in the newly inherited house and that all hell will soon break loose.
However, maybe the most impressive ‘character ‘ in the movie is the house itself. As described by Kalina Oretzia (played by Embeth Davidtz), the house is a thinking machine that can predict the future, designed by the devil himself. This machine-house-thing is powered by ghosts and can also open the “Ocularis Infernum”—the cheesily named Eye of Hell.
Most of the movie is spent with characters running around the house, chased by ghosts and looking for each other. As the house can think, it constantly rearranges itself to bring the occupants closer to the ghosts or farther away from the exit. This is all rather unimportant in the face of the brilliant set design and eye-popping ghost costumes. I can attest to the fact that as a child, at least one of these ghosts scared the pants off of me and the sliced in half lawyer plagued me through many nights.
This is a movie you don’t watch for jump scares and deep storylines. This is a movie you watch for the strange art that was late 1990’s and early 2000’s horror movies. The lighting and the details of the house scream of a bygone era in filmmaking. The flashes of light and the nostalgic glow that pushes through the glass walls, illuminating the “containment spell” is the right kind of retro cheesy that comes about now that we can call 20+-year-old things retro. If you want to watch a visually entertaining and completely vapid Halloween movie, this is it.