My friends, we find ourselves at something of a crossroads. After last week’s spectacular Geoffrey Rush exploits I do wonder if I am ever going to be able to enjoy a film again that doesn’t feature the great man (Seriously, he’s now the background picture on my laptop). And since he doesn’t seem to grace the genre of horror that often I have decided this week to discuss a film I mentioned in that review which includes some of the same features of House On Haunted Hill 1999; Thir13ten Ghosts (Christ, I’m already angry that I’m such a pendant I will have to use the insufferable spelling of the name all the way through this review). As with House on Haunted Hill 1999, Thir13ten Ghosts is a remake of a William Castle film which has little resemblance to the original films on which they were based, and that they both (slightly surprisingly, but welcomingly) feature Oscar winning actors hamming it up amid the bad CGI, nonsensical plots and pretty young Hollywood darlings who are “so hot right now” (in the late 1999s). So, House On Haunted Hill 1999 already has two checks in its column; Geoffrey Rush and not having a stupid ridiculous fucking name, let us see how the rest of Thir13ten Ghosts (sigh) stacks up. Spoilers To Follow.
If I Had Lots Of Mini Matthew Lillards Imposed On My Face I’d Be Gutted As Well.
We open in the future world from WALL-E? Oh, my mistake, it’s just a dingy old car impoundment type place. A group of folk turn up, possibly in order to have a 1996 style rave as they are all decked out in plastic raincoats and weird glasses. Directing operation is a clearly unhinged man named Cyrus (F Murray Abraham – who along with Geoffrey Rush before him, has won many actual awards for acting, one has to wonder what Dark Castle productions has on these two), he’s after the ghost of a serial killer who haunts this car lot, and has along a physic, Dennis (played by everyone’s favourite 90s chump Matthew Lillard) to help him locate the spirit. Cyrus has also bought along Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator to contain the angry ghost. After being confronted by two people from the Ethnic Treatment Of Murderous Ghosts League, he uses a truck full of terrible CGI blood to draw the ghost out. This works a bit better than expected, as the ghost kills most of the men, one of the ETMGL members, and Cyrus himself (Shame, he was rocking the suave, Geoffrey Rush style, before having his throat crushed with a metal plate. Hope he gets a flashback or several). I seem to remember the Ghost Busters could catch spirits with much smaller equipment and less needless loss of life (Who SHOULD ya have called?)
Ethnic Treatment Of Ghosts? So People, Animals and The Planet Were All Saved Enough Already?
We cut to the grief stricken world of Arthur Kriticos (played by Tony Shalhoub), who lost his wife in a tragic accident. We hear all this being played out in voice-over (the fire, getting the kids out, ambulances, death), as a panoramic view of his house shows all the changes he’s had to cope with. One does however, imagine some embellishment on his part, how often to do hear sisters refer to their younger siblings as ‘the best little brother in the world’? The family is broke. Daughter Kathy (played by Shannon Elizabeth) has taken over the cooking/housekeeping, although despite being stony broke the family has hired a nanny Maggie (played by Rah Digga) to look after the young son Bobby (played by Alec Roberts), who is cheerfully obsessed with death (give it 8 years he’ll be carrying round a copy of The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy everywhere) The cracks are never far from the surface for this broken family; Bobby calls his sister a slut, Maggie doesn’t care, Arthur (early props to Tony Shalhoub by the way, he’s great in this) is just struggling to the get through the day.
A lawyer turns up, representing Cyrus’ (who was Arthur’s uncle) estate. He might be an actual automaton, his eyes are so lifeless and his skin so shiny. As far as Arthur is concerned, Cyrus is the family odd-ball who he only met a handful of times and squandered the family fortune. He’s left a video will, and hooray some more Cyrus action – he’s left his house to Arthur and his family, as he never got to have a family of his own. The house has a frankly bizarre key which looks like something Link would have unearthed from a chest in a Legend of Zelda game. Excited at the prospect of new fancy digs, the family make their way to the house (which, quelle shock, is very isolated. Putting a fiver on right now of there being no phone reception either). ‘Looks like things are a starting to get better’ states Arthur hopefully. Oh Arthur you poor naïve fool. Mysterious old relatives never leave vast estates to family they barely know out of the goodness of their hearts. Elsewhere, the remaining member of the ETMGL is still alive and still angry over the ill treatment of ghosts (Western problems indeed), she has various newspaper clippings of tragic things and Cyrus’ death, which is told via the headline; ‘Adventurer dies at 57!”, with an exclamation point, not sure even The Sun would do that.
Looks Like The Lawyer Forgot To Delete His Browsing History.
When they get to the house, Dennis the physic is already there and pretending to be an electrician. There is no way of course, of hiding that unique Matthew Lillard ‘charm’. The house is a curious construct; all glass walls with Latin scripture scrawled over it. It’s very steampunk, with lots of cogs and metal. There is a massive circular set piece in the floor of the main room. Shifty lawyer is being, what else, a shifty lawyer, he takes Arthur to sign some paperwork, the rest of the family disobey his strict instructions to stay put and go off and explore (that’s some great being a responsible adult there Maggie). Dennis has made his way to the basement, and seems to be looking for Cyrus’ fortune – “where’d you hide your money old man?”, now this is just a guess, but maybe he poured it all into this massive fuck off ridiculous house. Dennis starting getting physic twinges, he puts on his super ghost seeing glasses and can see all the various disgusting ghosts that are trapped in the walls of the house. I’m getting twinges as well – my ever present dislike over hyper editing.
For Sale: One Freaky Circle Of Hell, One Owner, Slightly Used.
Meanwhile shifty lawyer is on the verge of getting Arthur to sign the paperwork giving him legal ownership of the house when Dennis bursts in ranting about ghosts; he tells Arthur he was a ghost hunter who used to work with Cyrus. “Goats?” questions Arthur in disbelief. Aw, I love Arthur, he’s so cute. Plus now I kind of want to be watching a film called Thir13en Goats. Dennis goes in Matthew Lillard overdrive, why can’t he play a role without spitting everywhere? He gets more twinges, and when Arthur touches him Dennis sees flashes of the fire that took his wife. During this, lawyer pops on some glasses and makes his way downstairs, stopping to taunt some of the ghosts on the way (you’re probably going to regret that big guy), and gets himself a big wedge of cash. The house has its own ideas about his leaving and the walls start moving on their own accord and the spinning disc in the middle of the main room lights up. One of the ghosts, Naked Lady, Avec Knife, leaves it’s chamber and starts towards the lawyer, before she can cut him down for being a prick the walls do that for her, as he is sliced, literally in half. Why would one be a lawyer in a horror film? Always ends badly.
Dennis and Arthur, also disturbed by the moving walls, and by Dennis’ insaneness, go to round up the rest of the family, but they are all off looking at bathrooms (Kathy) and toys (Bobby and Maggie). Kathy seems obsessed by bathrooms. I know their last apartment was pretty cramped, but surely it had a bathroom for Christ’s sake? Through a pair of the ghost seeing glasses the audience sees what Kathy does not; a blood soaked room with the a aforementioned Naked Lady, Avec Knife Ghost, in the bathtub – seems she killed herself, the words ‘I’m sorry’ are written on the floor with blood. So Cyrus caught her ghost, contained it, and also had the room of her death moved/replicated in his house? Or does it conjure itself up around the ghost? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either way. Sadly for those in the audience hoping to see some Shannon Elizabeth having a bath action, Arthur bursts in and interrupts her. He asks where Bobby is – ‘with Maggie’. ‘Er, not with Maggie’, Maggie sheepishly re-joins. Maggie, you suck at your job.
This Ghost Can’t Believe Shannon Elizabeth Is Meant To Be Playing A Teenager Either.
Bobby, unaware of all this, has himself a pair of ghost glasses and is scooting around the house. As he does, another ghost room opens and inhabitant entreats Bobby to join him, but a different ghostly voice warns him not to – so, his Mum then. His Mum is a ghost in the house as well. Oh please, like that was going to be a surprise to anyone. When Arthur and the girls go to leave they find where they thought was a door is a door no more (I love a good rhyme), Arthur tries to break it down but to no avail, as Dennis tells them, they are now sealed it, and he has no interest in helping Arthur find his son. Arthur, having had enough of Dennis’ callow and dismissive attitude, man’s up and shouts at him. Nice one Arthur, best character in the film being played by a good actor yet again, it’s almost like there’s a correlation between being good at acting and getting people in the audience to emphasise with you. (Note to Hollywood – hire more people who can actually act). Dennis explains the glass walls are made of Ecobar glass, which is shatter proof and sound proof, the Latin inscriptions on them “are harder to explain”, he says. Ok Dennis, I’m listening attentively, ready to take notes. Dazzle me. “They’re containment spells. The ghosts can’t cross them”, well that wasn’t so fucking difficult to grasp was it? Because Dennis is such a stand-up guy, Arthur has to promise to pay him in order for Dennis to help him find his 8 year old son.
Right Back At You Son (By The Way, How’s The Career?)
Bobby, meanwhile, should have listened to Mum Ghost and is being accosted by all sorts of spooks; Hanged Emo Girl and Cling Filmed Torso. He pegs it away from them and runs straight into another glass door. And I know I shouldn’t laugh, but people running into glass doors is always funny, even when it’s children; Rule of the Universe Number 8 that is. Ghost mum is talking to Bobby via the recorder thing he always carries – she orders Bobby to get out the basement. As he scrambles to his feet, he sees Cyrus Ghost is also trapped in one of the containment chambers. Except that no he isn’t, because he’s still alive. But the film thinks it’s being clever with this little twist so let’s not ruin their fun and just go with the Cyrus Ghost angle for now. The others are in the basement, looking for Bobby. Why is Dennis the only one to have the glasses? They were littered all over the house, they should have tooled up. They split up, at Arthur’s idea (oh dear, Arthur, you were doing so well), he and Kathy go one way, Dennis and Maggie the other. Dennis explains to Maggie that ghosts are all around us and most of them don’t care about us but the ones who died a brutal or violent death are evil. They see another ghost, Massive Nails Through The Head Dude. Dennis sees a flash of his own demise at the hands of said ghost. Speaking of these psychic ‘powers’ of Dennis’, he says that when he touches people he sees their inner torment or whatever bollocks, but people touch him all the time, Maggie is always grabbing him and he doesn’t react at all. It couldn’t just be a convenient plot device to use and discard whenever the writers saw fit can it? Oh, oh it can? Carry on then.
Kathy and Arthur find Bobby’s tape recorder. Various ghosts are now loose, including the Jackal, which is Charlie Manson’s ghost, according to Dennis. Did I hear that right? Charles Manson isn’t dead. Kathy puts on the glasses and we meet Head In A Cage Ghost, who attacks her, it drags her down the corridor and flings her up against the back wall, it then slashes at her, ripping her top open (of course). Arthur tries to save her and lovely game of tug of war starts. ETMGL member from the beginning shows up, and throws a flare at the ghost, which is now defeated, eh? A fucking flare sends these things fleeing away, tails between their legs? Really? Arthur and the woman manage to get Kathy to safety after another wall closes, trapping the Head In A Cage Ghost. The woman’s name is Kalina and her aim is to free all of Cyrus’ victims, aka the trapped ghosts. She got in the house through an opening when the house shifted, although she doesn’t hold out much hope for it happening again. Vying with Dennis for the role of Mr/Miss Exposition, she explains to Arthur and Kathy about the Archanem, a book written by a 15th century astrologer. In the book he describes the making of a machine that can see into the future, which he wrote about while he was under demonic possession. Cyrus thought it would be ripping good wheeze to build this machine so he did. They are inside that machine now, “designed by the devil, and powered by the dead”. Would love to see how well that would go down on Dragon’s Den. I guess we’d just end up with loads of dullards moaning about the dead taking jobs from the living. Kathy has got bored of all this chat and has wandered off. Yeah, she just fucking vanishes, we never find out how.
Reminds Me Of Me With A Hangover.
Dennis and Maggie continue in their competition as to who can piss off the most ghosts. We meet Childhood Game Gone Terribly Wrong Ghost, and Naked Lady, Avec Knife Ghost, also shows up and nearly slashes Maggie (This ghost seems a firm favourite, which I’m sure has nothing to do with the fact that she’s naked for the entire film). Dennis gets trapped in a room and is attacked by Half Face Off Baseball Ghost and then he escapes. Good scene. These two aren’t really adding anything to proceedings except to show case ghosts we haven’t met yet.
Kalina tells Arthur they have to get to the library, as it has spell protection around it, they go straight up, via floor bloods. Dennis and Maggie met up briefly with John Waters Character Rejects Ghosts and then they meet up with Kalina and Arthur as they chamber through the floor and make their way to the library. How many floors does this basement have? Isn’t the point of a basement that it’s the bottom of the house? Also, Arthur, remember your missing kids? No? It’s OK, there’s a lot going on, they weren’t that interesting anyway. If Naked Lady, Avec Knife Ghost is the most prolific ghost, Head In A Cage Ghost is definitely the most persistent as it turns up again and attacks Arthur, again a flare to the head slows it down ( And again, why?). Another ghost, Witch In Stocks Ghost (how many are we up to now?) also gives chase.
They make it to the library. And promptly start fighting. In a nutshell; Kalina shouts at Dennis, Dennis shouts at Kalina, Arthur defends Dennis, Kalina reveals that the fourth ghost is Arthur’s wife, Arthur punches Dennis, everyone blames Dennis. Kalina tells Arthur there is a way to save his wife’s spirit, and his children. And here’s the point where things get convoluted for no reason. The notepad you had ready when Dennis gave his non-complex explanation about the Latin scriptures earlier? Now would be the time to break it out. So, here we go. The house is not a house but a machine. The ghosts that Cyrus caught represent the Black Zodiac – The First Born, The Torso, The Bound Woman, The Withered Lover (This is Jean, Arthur’s wife), The Torn Prince, The Angry Princess, The Pilgrim, The Great Child and The Dire Mother, The Hammer, The Jackal and The Juggernaut. (I prefer my names for them to be honest, plus bonus points if you can work out which name I gave the ghosts correlates with their given names). And can you imagine if we used the Black Zodiac instead of the regular one; “Yeah I was born in the moon of The Torso, on the cusp of The Juggernaut. That means I’m impulsive and wise”. Plus that’s only 11, or 12 if we count The Great Child and Dire Mother as two separate entities. The machine needs these specific spirits in order to function, the ghosts are released in order and drawn to the centre of the machine in order to power it up (poor Arthur looks like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown here, I don’t blame him), and this climaxes with the opening of the Eye of Hell, the man who controls this will be the most powerful man in the universe. The 13th ghost of the film’s title is the house’s get out clause; in order to stop the process the house needs a sacrifice of life instead of death, a willing human, aka the Sacrifice of the Broken Heart, the only ghost to be created out of pure love. This utter chump, sorry, I mean selfless individual must stand in front of the Eye of Hell when it opens and throw themselves into it, sealing it shut and thus saving the world. Psst, by the way Arthur, in case you didn’t get it, this means you.
The Family Reunions Of Candy Man Always Ended With A ‘Who Has The Most Brutal Becoming A Ghost’ Story.
Maggie is not keen for Arthur to take this role, demanding that there must be another way. Kalina’s alternate plan is to blow the house up. Dennis persuades Arthur to go out into the ghost infested basement with him and try and find the kids one last time. They take a wall from the library with them to use as a shield. Maggie and Kalina go to the epicentre of the machine to try and buy them some time, somehow. When they get there however, Kalina is revealed to be a traitor, knocking Maggie out (thanks for sparing us more of her endless whining though Kalina) working with, and snogging, Cyrus, who is still alive (Yes, I know I ruined it earlier on, but at least try to be surprised, alright?) He grabs the book from her and takes the spells. She turns from an strong headed woman to a snivelling girl in a matter of seconds, which is fairly dispiriting.
He’s Kind Of Hot, But Nothing Will Replace Geoffrey Rush In My Heart.
Dennis redeems himself from all his earlier dickheadness and sacrifices himself to save Arthur, getting double teamed by Juggernaut and Hammer (there’s a pleasant image), who smash him up and snap his back. Jean’s ghost comes to Arthur, he totally breaks down at this point, sobbing that he loves and misses her (some great acting from Tony here), she then disappears to become part of the ritual, which is now starting. Cyrus tells Kalina to put Arthur’s kids in danger so he will sacrifice himself to save them, thus completing the process and opening the Eye of Hell. This done, Cyrus callously kills her. Kathy and Bobby are tied up in the middle of the circle in the centre room with whirling blades around them. The ghosts are surrounding them, chanting (well, maybe not Torso, hard to chant without a head). Arthur comes face to face with Cyrus. He takes his glasses off and sees that Cyrus is real. They fight. Cyrus wins, telling Arthur he will become the 13th ghost, and his purpose is not to stop the machine, but to power it. But Maggie is still alive, and messes up the machine, stopping the ritual. Freed, the ghosts take Cyrus and throw him into the whirly blades of death, chopping him up into pieces.
Those Charity Clipboard People Are Getting Meaner.
The ghost of Dennis appears and tells Arthur it’s not over yet, and he has the power to do what has to be done. Arthur gets his Bruce Willis on and leaps over the blades to save his kids, timing it so he doesn’t follow the same yucky route as Uncle Cyrus into the afterlife. As he shelters them the whole house/machine massively malfunctions for the last time, shattering glass everywhere. I guess the whirly death blades protected them from the falling debris? The ghosts, free now, leave. Ghost Mom sticks around for a bit to tell the family she loves them. Maggie (who, despite being right next to the machine when it blow, is unscathed) gets in one last unfunny joke and that’s the film. (I’m choosing not to mention the excruciating rap song that plays over the end credits).
Ah, The Power Of Love *Vomit*.
Ok, so let’s start, as I often do, with the ending. I really dislike the lame cop-out “the power of love saves the day” trope. It’s lazy, sentimental clichéd rubbish. That said, it does usually make sense in the context of the rest of the story, here it just doesn’t. Kalina lied to Arthur about him being the sacrifice of pure love needed to close the Eye of Hell, and Cyrus tells him he will be the catalyst that will open it. But Maggie destroys the machine and the ghosts leave, which nullifies the need for the love sacrifice. Ghost Dennis tells Arthur he has the power to do what needs to be done. Which is what then? Being inside the whirly blades of death actually saves the family, so where was the sacrifice? This wouldn’t be a big deal if all the preceding dialogue (and the music swell during Arthur’s heroic slow-motion leap) didn’t support the big martyrdom that Arthur was sure to achieve. The rest of the plot is standard enough, although bogged down in its own mythology. Convoluting stuff just for the sake of it and rattling it all out in one massive chunk of dialogue so the audience don’t question the plot holes it raises is not clever story-telling, it just makes people tune out. The set is inventive and interesting, and as with House on Haunted Hill 1999 the bulk of the action takes place in a basement at least this basement is nice to look at. The ghosts have some lovely creative designs and props to the film makers for using practical effects and make-up as opposed to CGI. The film makers also gave each ghost its individual back story, which, while cut out of the film, shows a commendable commitment to their creations, marking them up as more than just props in the story (Although was I the only one who thought that Jackal was meant to be a woman?). Acting kudos goes mostly to F. Murray Abraham and Tony Shalhoub. Shannon Elizabeth is just there to look pretty and scream, and I’ve never been a fan of Matthew Lillard’s hyper active schtick. Like Geoffrey Rush, Abraham is clearly having a riot of a time chewing up the scenery, while Shalhoub is understated and believable (and rather loveable) as the grieving widower in a ridiculous situation. His scenes at the beginning, before the house even features, where he is enveloped in his grief, are probably the scariest in the film. Other scares? Yeah, none of those. As inventive as the ghosts were, I didn’t find them scary, part of the blame for that once again falls at the feet of hyper editing. I don’t want lingering shots of gore and guts, but I want to be able to see what is going on, that’s what helps one get invested in the film. Pretty simple really.
I’ve really enjoyed looking at these last two films, so next time I am going to complete the trilogy of haunted house remakes of the late 1990s/early 2000s and look at The Haunting remake, and then follow that up with a compare and contrast of all three films. A mini project if you will. Yes, a good nearly 15 years after the films were originally released so a long time after the fact for anyone to really care but as I said, I’ve enjoyed doing this so I’m going to do it anyway! If you have any thoughts or opinions on the remakes of House On Haunted Hill/Thir13en Ghosts/The Haunting please let me know in the comments or on Twitter, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I’d love to hear other views on them (And if you’d like to share these reviews, using the buttons below the post, that would be beyond epic!). Thank you for reading!