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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Steve Beck
Cast:
Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham, Alec Roberts
Screenplay:
Neal Stevens, Richard D'Ovidio

Tagline:
Misery Loves Company
Box Office:
Budget $20 million.
Opening weekend $15.165 million on 2781 screens.
Domestic gross $41.867 million.
MPAA:
Rated R for horror violence/gore, nudity and some language.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English, French, Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 4/2/2002

Bonus:
• Audio commentary With Director Steve Beck, Production Designer Steve Hargreaves, and Makeup Effects Artist Howard Berger
• “13 Ghosts Revealed” Documentary
• “Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles”
• Tricky “Excess” Club Reel
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Crew


PURCHASE
DVD
Score soundtrack

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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

While the American public seems to enjoy supernatural tales, they don’t appear as sold on haunted house movies. Flicks like The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense brought in the big bucks, but abode-based films fell short of box office goals. 1999’s remake of The Haunting totally bombed, and other lower-budget efforts like 1999’s The House On Haunted Hill failed to make much of an impact with audiences.

Actually, considering the flick’s $19 million budget, its take of $40 million ain’t bad. 2001’s Thir13en Ghosts almost perfectly duplicated that feat. With a $20 million budget, it earned a moderately positive $41 million. The fiscal similarities probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given the high level of factors shared by each film.

First of all, Joel Silver’s Dark Castle production company created both movies. He started that group as a tribute to low-budget horror icon William Castle, the man who made the original versions of Hill and Ghosts. To date, Dark Castle has released just these two flicks, though IMDB indicates they have two more on tap for 2002. Both seem to be remakes, though I’m not sure if both redo old Castle productions. Macabre - directed by a surprisingly big name in Robert Zemeckis - reworks a 1958 Castle flick, but I’m not sure if Ghost Ship - led by the 2001 Ghosts’ Steve Beck - has any Castle connection.

In addition to those important factors, both Hill and Ghosts featured winners of the Best Actor Oscar. Hill gave us Geoffrey Rush, who took home the prize for 1996’s Shine. Ghosts, on the other hand, provided F. Murray Abraham, the victor for 1984’s Amadeus. At least Rush can claim continued acting success; he also took home Oscar nominations for 1998’s Shakespeare In Love and 2000’s Quills. Poor F. never earned another Oscar nod at all.

But I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I never saw the original Ghosts so I can’t compare the two. On its own, the 2001 version certainly seems fairly derivative and it suffers from many of the weaknesses often found in the horror genre, but I still had a little fun as I watched it.

Thir13en Ghosts - yes, the Se7en-inspired spelling is correct - provides a moderately interesting twist on the standard haunted house story. At the start, we meet Cyrus Kriticos (Abraham), a crazy rich dude who tries to imprison ghosts for his own nefarious means. One of them’s just a little too wild; though psychic assistant Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and the other crew eventually imprison the spook, Cyrus gets killed in the attempt.

From there we cut to the family of Cyrus’ nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub). He lives with daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), son Bobby (Alec Roberts), and nanny Maggie Jones (Rah Digga). His wife and their mother Jean (Kathryn Anderson) died not too long ago in a house fire, and they’re trying without much success to rebuild their lives.

Into this picture steps Cyrus’ lawyer Benjamin Moss (JR Bourne), who indicates that Arthur’s the sole heir of a fortune and a bitchin’ house. The family head out to see this most unusual abode. A glass building, it displays odd Latin inscriptions all over and works more like some funky clock than a standard house.

Dennis turns up outside the place, and he pretends to be a power company worker to gain entrance to the house. There the family checks out their posh new digs. Unfortunately, the basement holds a secret: all the captured ghosts are stored down there. But they won’t remain there for long, and most of the movie follows the action as the gang try to escape death at the hands of the dead.

On the negative side, Ghosts is a cheesy horror movie that includes all the stupidity of virtually every cheesy horror movie. It provides plot holes through which one could drive a truck, and the characters are thin and bland. The pacing seems fairly atrocious as well. For extended parts of the film, Kathy and Alec play absolutely no role in the proceedings; they vanish with virtually no explanation.

Ghosts features a fairly decent cast - well, at least a couple of good actors appear, though they make little impact. Abraham doesn’t do much with Cyrus, and the usually terrific Shalhoub comes across as bland and forgettable. Young Roberts is just plain irritating. Lillard can be annoying, but I occasionally enjoy his work. Not here, however, where he seems like just another brick in the wall.

The “R”-rating for Ghosts includes a mention of nudity, but don’t salivate over the prospect of seeing more of Elizabeth. She’s publicly disavowed any further skin-baring roles, and that promise holds true for Ghosts. Teasingly, in one scene the spirits tear at her clothers, but nothing more than a quick flash of bra appears.

Instead, Ghosts provides some of the least appealing full-frontal nudity I’ve seen. We see hot-bodied Shawna Loyer in all her bare goodness, but since she’s one of the spooks, she’s done up in rather macabre makeup. False knife wounds abound, and only the most dedicated necrophiliac will get a charge out of her appearance.

In addition, Maggie’s yet another stereotypical sassy black servant who exists just to provide wisecracks and give the film some “color”. Things haven’t improved since The Jeffersons, have they?

Nonetheless, I still got a minor kick out of Ghosts. To the filmmakers’ credit, the budget production looks like it cost much more money. Granted, most of the action occurs in one location, which likely kept down expenditures, but since it’s a very complex location, I feel they did a terrific job with it. From the excellent makeup to the fascinating house to some surprisingly well done computer graphics, Ghosts rarely belies its low budget.

Despite the pacing problems, director Steve Beck manages to string together some pretty good action sequences. The movie does fall apart somewhat during its second half; the plot gets bogged down in too much mystical mumbo-jumbo. However, the sequence that depicts the initial attack against the family and the others works really well. The shocking visuals offered by the monsters combines with some clever “now you see them, now you don’t” techniques to create a segment that packs a solid little punch.

Overall, Thir13en Ghosts falls short of anything remotely approaching greatness, but it never intended to be more than a fun thrill ride. In that regard, it does reasonably well for itself. No one will confuse it for a great movie, but if you dig this kind of fast-paced horror flick, you’ll probably enjoy it.


The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio A / Bonus B

Thir13en Ghosts appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Except for a few small concerns, this was a terrific picture that seemed consistently satisfying.

Sharpness appeared excellent. At all times, the movie looked crisp and well defined. I never saw any signs of sharpness or fuzziness, as the picture remained distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no problems, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, a smidgen of grain showed up on a few occasions, but this stayed very minor, and I noticed no examples of any other form of defects. This was a clear and clean picture.

Ghosts featured a pretty subdued palette for the most part, which one should expect from this sort of film. Nonetheless, the colors seemed nicely accurate and concise at all times. They displayed solid saturation without any bleeding, noise, or other concerns; the hues represented the original material and the production design well. Black levels appeared nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail came across as appropriately dense but not overly thick. All in all, Thir13en Ghosts provided a very solid image.

Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Thir13en Ghosts. To put it simply, this mix rocked! From the opening ghost capture sequence through all of the material inside the house, the track blasted all five channels through much of the film. Music showed nice stereo presence and delineation and miraculously held its own up against the effects.

Nonetheless, the latter dominated the mix, as they took control of the spectrum. These elements swirled about the spectrum and strongly enhanced the film. The house itself became a cool presence in the film, and the louder action scenes offered terrifically involving and active audio. The surrounds provided plenty of discrete sound that seemed appropriate and blended well with the forward elements.

Audio quality also appeared excellent. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music sounded bright and vivid. The score showed nice depth and solid fidelity; the track replicated those elements quite well. Still, the effects remained the strongest aspect of the mix. From the quietly creepy bits to the sonic assault of the attack sequences, the track featured clear and accurate audio that remained rich and clear at all times. Bass response was simply terrific, as the track boasted deep, tight low-end elements. Overall, Thir13en Ghosts gave us a fine sonic affair.

The DVD of Thir13en Ghosts includes a few extras. First up we find an audio commentary from director Steve Beck, makeup effects artist Howard Berger, and production designer Sean Hargreaves. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track - maybe. I try very hard to figure out how these commentaries are constructed, but Ghosts stumped me. Clearly at least Hargreaves and Berger were together, and it sure sounded like Beck was there with them at times, but it also appeared as though he sat solo at times. I’m very confused!

Whatever the case may be, this is a decent but unspectacular commentary. None of the three men dominates, and they each offer reasonably good information about a variety of areas. Hargreaves mainly covers the intricacies of the house set, while Berger goes over the complications of the ghost makeups, and Beck gets into a few general issues like script changes and whatnot. A few empty spaces appear, but not too many. The track never really catches fire, but it offers some useful notes and remains generally interesting.

During Thir13en Ghosts Revealed, we get additional information about the film. Like most documentaries, this 18-minute and 40-second piece combines movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from producer Joel Silver, director Beck, makeup effects artist Berger, key supervising artist Charles Porlier, production designer Hargreaves, senior visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, CG supervisor Kenji Sweeney, composite supervisor David Lingenfelser, contact lens technician Rob Miller, and actors Matthew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham, and Rah Digga.

Although clearly promotional in nature, “Revealed” includes enough good material to merit a viewing. It suffers from far too many film snippets, but it still provides a nice look at makeup, CG effects, and the challenges of shooting in a glass house. Some of the information becomes redundant alongside the audio commentary, but the documentary offers enough unique data to remain enjoyable.

Also entertaining are the Ghost Files. These provide brief biographies of all 12 ghosts seen in the film. After a 60-second intro to the section, we find clips that run between 47 seconds and 73 seconds for a total of 14 minutes of material. I enjoyed the backstories offered here; none go into great depth, but all flesh out the characters in a cool way. Hey, the discussion of “the Angry Princess” even explains why she has such painfully artificial-looking breasts; although I’m not convinced they hired the actress due to her silicon-enhanced qualifications, when you know the character’s tale, Loyer’s plastic chest makes more sense.

The remaining supplements seem less interesting. The Club Reel offers nothing more than Tricky’s “Excess” played over clips from the movie; the two-minute and 55-second piece appears dull. We also find the movie’s trailer as well as a Cast and Crew area. Stupidly, this only includes a listing of actors and filmmakers; no biographical info or filmographies appear. At least William Castle - Director/Producer of the 1960 Version adds some text about the man along with a filmography.

I have no idea how good or bad the 2001 version of Thir13en Ghosts seems in comparison with the 1960 edition, but I must admit I thought it offered a reasonably fun ride. It possessed a slew of flaws and doesn’t match up with the genre’s best work, but it kept me fairly entertained and interested. The DVD provides very strong picture and sound plus a decent roster of extras. Ultimately, Thir13en Ghosts should provide a fun time for horror fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3372 Stars Number of Votes: 172
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