2001, R, 91 min. Directed by Steve Beck. Starring Alec Roberts, F. Murray Abraham, Jr Bourne, Rah Digga, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 2, 2001
The cinematic exhumation of Sixties schlock-genius producer/director William Castle continues unabated, and, sadly, remains uninspired, uninteresting, and unfun. After last year's jokey remake of Castle's great The House on Haunted Hill failed to floor audiences with its visual overload of CGI effects and woefully bad acting, Dark Castle Entertainment apparently decided to do themselves one better and resurrect one of the director's less-popular films and gussy it up as a turbo-charged haunted-houser in its own right. To some extent, it works. 13 Ghosts looks like a million bucks, and the house in question, a glass-and-chrome monstrosity that is -- surprise! -- a portal to Hell (kinda sorta) powered by 12 restless spirits contained within a series of glass cages, is pretty breathtaking stuff. That said, the rest of the film -- including a plot of such labyrinthine complexity that it would take the great minds of the world to attempt to puzzle it out and then grow weary of the task and head out for a spirited game of mumblety-peg -- is a frantic, muddled mess. Castle's original was hardly a watershed scare event -- look to The Tingler or the gloriously creepy Barbara Stanwyck vehicle The Night Walker for that -- but it nevertheless had a goofy lowbrow charm. The remake has none of the original's gimpy, lovable silliness, instead featuring the perpetually abrasive Matthew Lillard (Scream) in a role guaranteed to make you want to introduce the actor to the business end of a pointy stick. The plot has family man Shalhoub and his brood (buxom daughter Elizabeth and son Roberts, with nanny Digga along for yuks) inherit the house of horrors from a long-lost relative in the wake of a terrible fire that has killed their mother and left them penniless. This kind of deus ex machina is suspicious to begin with, but when they arrive on the property to find Lillard already scuttling around and psychic friend Davidtz (Army of Darkness), surely it's time to call Century 21. It's quickly revealed that the house is, as mentioned previously, a doorway to Hell (or, as the film unsubtly puts it, a “Oculorum Infernum,” or something along those lines), and, with 12 trapped bogeys already in residence, it needs only one final ghost to become, ah, active. The big question is then “Who wants to die?” and I can only speak for myself when I say, “Hey, why not scribes Robb White and Neal Stevens?” Sure, that'd make it 14 ghosts, but you can never have too many this time of year, can you? It wounds William Castle's inspired body of work to foist remakes of this substandard caliber on the man's name -- do yourself a favor this All Hallows, and go rent the great man's original films. You certainly won't be able to do any worse than this sad, sorry remake.