A genuinely spectacular waste of money -- and about as mind-numbing as you'd expect from a movie which brags in ads that its "R" rating is for violence, gore and nudity -- "Thirteen Ghosts" has nothing going for it beyond its wildly excessive production design.
The star of the movie is an all-glass haunted house, designed by a grandiose and evil ghostbuster (F. Murray Abraham) to be a combination phantasm prison and gateway to hell. The joint has thousands of Latin "containment spells" etched into its transparent walls -- walls which move and shift to reconfigure rooms, thus trapping screaming B-list actors in with half-decayed, psycho-killer apparitions. (In the only worthwhile nod to William Castle's "13 Ghosts" from 1960, the characters have to wear special glasses to see the spooks -- much like the audience did for the 3D-like original.)
The house also has at its center a huge clock-like mechanism of gears and gyro-gadgets, apparently powered by the psychic energy of 12 enslaved spirits, which will open the aforementioned gateway only if one live person is sacrificed to become a required 13th ghost.
Enter recently widowed Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub), his curvaceous daughter (Shannon Elizabeth), his precocious son (Alec Roberts), their nanny (Rah Digga), a tortured telepath (Matthew Lillard), an evil lawyer (J.R. Bourne) and -- I'm not making this up -- a ghosts' rights activist (Embeth Davidtz).
All at the house for various absurd reasons (except Shalhoub's clan, who inherited the place when Abraham "died"), they proceed to make every stupid, trite, cliched horror movie mistake in the book while being spooked, chased and gored by pasty, gimmicky ghouls -- one of which spends the whole picture naked to make up for the fact that the arduously untalented Elizabeth ("American Pie" 1 & 2) now considers herself above that sort of thing.
F/X expert and first-time helmer Steve Beck toys randomly with camera speeds (lots of unmotivated slow motion) and echo-chamber sound effects for the ghosts' voices, apparently unaware that movies don't direct themselves. Meanwhile, his cast is drowning in a quagmire of dumb dialogue ("Many people died in the quest for this book!"), imbecilic contrivances (apparently ghosts are afraid of road flares) and inexplicable actions. My favorite: A turncoat character attempting to actually open the "Eye of Hell" -- which will unleash demons and enslave the world or something -- balks at orders to deliberately put Shalhoub's kids in danger. Won't they soon be dead, undead or worse anyway?
When "Thirteen Ghosts" isn't insulting your intelligence, it seems almost deliberately out to offend in other ways, like endorsing "black thang" stereotypes as comic relief, with the nanny frequently wisecracking about being trapped with "these crazy white people."
Other than its extravagant visuals, there are only two things holding up this cinematic house of cards: Tony Shalhoub ("The Siege," "Gattaca"), who genuinely dedicates himself to his role as a father frightened for his family, and character actor Matthew Lillard. Known for playing charismatic kooks ("Hackers," "Scream," "SLC Punk!"), he so enjoys taking the psychoses of his reluctant clairvoyant to the max that watching him squirm with encroaching madness in a house teeming of incorporeal energy feels like an oasis of entertaining substance in this empty-headed wasteland of overproduction.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th October 2001
Box Office USA: $41.6M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Columbia Pictures Corporation, 13 Ghosts Productions Canada Inc., Dark Castle Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 79
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: Steve Beck
Starring: Tony Shalhoub as Arthur Kriticos, Embeth Davidtz as Kalina Oretzia, Matthew Lillard as Dennis Rafkin, Shannon Elizabeth as Kathy Kriticos, Matthew Harrison as Damon, Alec Roberts as Robert 'Bobby' Kriticos, JR Bourne as Benjamin Moss, Rah Digga as Maggie Bess, F. Murray Abraham as Cyrus Kriticos
Also starring: F Murray Abraham
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