13 GHOSTS soon turned into 13 reasons why I hated this movie. The film begins with Cyrus (Abraham) and Rafkin (Lillard) hunting for ghosts in a junkyard. Edited in nauseating quick cuts, shots explode and collide together. It’s as if even the filmmakers knew their movie was trash so they tried to camouflage it with flashy, over-the-top editing. Or maybe it’s the only thing director Steve Beck knows how to do from his experience as visual director of movies like THE ABYSS and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. The opening scene is further ridiculified with a semi-truck spewing forth blood from its bumper to lure the ghosts. From this first scene, Lillard’s comedic relief wasn’t funny at all and continued throughout the movie to become progressively more childish and annoying.
The film focuses on the incomplete family (the mother died in a house fire) of Arthur (Shalhoub); his daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth of AMERICAN PIE fame); son, Bobby; and their maid, Maggie. It was a poor choice that the only actor of color in the film, Maggie, is put in a stereotypical role of being the nanny. From the outset, Bobby is an annoying little schmuck. Contrasting with the syrupy-sweet antics of Bobby, the rest of the cast acted like mannequins, infusing their flat lines with their equally flat delivery.
The atrocious acting is not solely the actors’ fault. Screenwriter Neal Stevens’ screenplay adaptation of the 1960 film of the same name shares some of the blame. Chock full of horrendously clichéd dialogue, the script suffers from its attempts at laughs and suspense. In some scenes characters, namely Kalina the ‘spirit reclamator’ (Embeth Davidtz), hurriedly expose chunks of plot and background information in rushed dialogue to save time that the filmmakers should have set up by scenes.
Back to the plot. Cyrus dies and leaves his grand glass house to his nephew Arthur. The house, fashioned out of ectobar (I’m guessing the filmmakers are referencing the ectoplasmic slime from GHOSTBUSTERS) glass, is a ghost depository for Cyrus’s evil plans. The house is gorgeously designed strictly of plates of glass with inscribed with Latin spells. Bizarre machinery and cogs combine to form an edifice that has a life of its own.
Certain ghosts specified by a 15th-century sacred text are supposed to unlock the eye of hell (Eye of hell? Where do they come up with this stuff?). The spirits are a mish-mash of creepy B-film ghosts that include the withered lover, angry princess, torn prince, the pilgrims, great child and the dour mother, the hammer, the juggernaut, the bound woman, the torso, and the jackal. To see the ghosts the characters have to put on glasses—a typically stupid use of deus ex machina—to help defeat the enemy.
Trying to find his children who disappeared in the basement, Arthur and Rifkin fight off ghosts holding a pane of glass with containment spells written in Latin. Unfortunately, Rifkin meets his untimely end at the hands of a spectre in what is quite possibly one of the most awkward death scenes in Hollywood horror movies. It’s a shame that high-caliber actors wasted their time making this film. F. Murray Abraham spirals from his Oscar-winning performance as Salieri in AMADEUS to cardboard-cut-out evil villain. Embeth Davidtz, who plays a peripheral character in the movie, climbs down the ladder from her moving performance as Helen, Ralph Fiennes maid in SCHINDLER’S LIST.
The movie’s attempts to scare only made me guffaw. 13 GHOSTS is good for about 13 derisive laughs.