Saturday, June 30, 2018

REVIEW: Thirteen Ghosts (live action movie)

Thirteen Ghosts is a horror movie.

My review includes a few spoilers.


Arthur Kriticos hasn't been doing well since his wife was killed in a fire. He and his remaining family barely get by, and their current apartment is small and crowded. He's shocked and cautiously thrilled when a lawyer drops by to tell him that his family has inherited a house from his deceased uncle, Cyrus Kriticos.

Cyrus was a ghost hunter who, at the time of his death, had been in the process of capturing and caging several ghosts. As Arthur, his teenage daughter Kathy, his young son Bobby, and his housekeeper/babysitter Maggie all tour the house, they're unaware that they're about to be trapped in Cyrus' greatest accomplishment, a house-shaped cage with mysteriously moving parts and a bunch of violent ghosts.

I will admit that this movie isn't great, but it does have its good points. First, the house is absolutely amazing, even if it's completely unbelievable as a place where anyone would actually want to live (my first words upon seeing it would be "Instead of living here, could we just sell it and its contents?"). Second, Tony Shalhoub does an excellent job with just about nothing. Characterization in this movie is paper thin, but he manages to bring Arthur to life nonetheless. Third, I like that the movie didn't end in the slaughter of most of its main characters. I know there are lots of horror fans out there who'd probably hate the movie's relatively low body count, but I actually like it when decent/innocent people manage to survive. Even if their survival doesn't necessarily make sense. ::glances meaningfully at one particular character::

Still, this isn't a great movie. The house and its existence is one of those things you can't think about too hard, or you start noticing all the many things that don't make sense. I barely paid any attention to Cyrus' reasons for building it in the first place, but later I found myself wondering if he'd actually lived there. If he hadn't, why furnish it so nicely and expensively? If he had lived there, how could he stand it, what with its glass walls and ghosts in the basement?

The psychic, Dennis, dropping by to see what Cyrus had done didn't really make much sense either. He'd been established as someone who'd only gone after those ghosts because Cyrus had essentially forced him to. I'd have expected him to be too fearful or too focused on his own survival to voluntarily step into Cyrus' lair, even considering what he knew about Arthur's connection to the house. And, by the way, Matthew Lillard's acting was...weird. Was he trying to sound as bizarre as possible during scenes where Dennis was upset, or was that just his best effort at acting upset?

I also thought Maggie's character was disappointing. Her presence didn't make much sense. How was Arthur paying her? It was clear he didn't have much money, and I had difficulty believing that she'd work for free. Her last line, especially, made it sound like she probably wasn't a friend of the family. Arthur clearly wasn't happy with her housework and cooking. The only thing she seemed to be good at was dealing with Bobby, who'd reacted to his mother's death by becoming fascinated with anything to do with death.

I've seen this movie often enough now that I can't really say for sure anymore whether it's scary. In my most recent rewatch, there were only a few scenes that put me on edge: a couple scenes in the basement and the scene in the bathroom with Kathy and the Angry Princess. The movie's gore is pretty much limited to the first scene in the junkyard and the lawyer's death. (Is it just me, or did a lot of horror movies in the early 2000s like using that effect where someone is quickly sliced into two or more sections? I can think of two others besides this one that do this.)

There was one bit that bugged me, not because it was particularly gory (it wasn't), but because of the way it was shot. Kathy, Arthur's teenage daughter, was attacked by a ghost. The ghost shredded her clothes, and viewers were given a brief glimpse of part of one of her breasts. It seemed unnecessary and inappropriate. A similar scene happened later on with Arthur, but unlike Kathy's scene it didn't have any sexualized elements.

All in all, this is one of the few horror movies I've seen that I'll willingly rewatch, despite its mediocre story and characters. I like it, more than it really deserves. I think it's primarily the house that pulls me in, and maybe Tony Shalhoub, a little.

  • Audio commentary
  • Documentary, "Thirteen Ghosts Revealed" - Interesting, since I knew nothing about the history of this movie going in and didn't know it was a remake. I liked the bit about the ghosts' makeup, but it needs a giant warning for the close-up of a contact lens being put in one of the actors' eyes. Gah.
  • Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles - This is a must if you like the movie, even though Cyrus does the commentary and is occasionally nasty and cruel. Each one of the movie's ghosts has a detailed backstory, revealed here. I do wish this feature had had some kind of "view all" button, though. 
  • Tricky Excess Club Reel
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast film highlights

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