PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Ghost hunter Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and his psychic assistant Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) lead a team on a mission to capture a spirit, called the Juggernaut, in a junkyard. Several of the men are killed during the ensuing fight, including Cyrus himself. However, the team is able to catch the ghost. Cyrus’ nephew, Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub), a widower, is informed by Cyrus’ estate lawyer Ben Moss (JR Bourne) that he has inherited a mansion. Financially insecure, Arthur decides to move into the mansion with his two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) and their nanny Maggie (Rah Digga).
Dennis Rafkin, disguised as a power company employee, meets the family and Moss as they tour the mansion. The residence is made almost entirely of glass walls and floor with Latin phrases etched on them. After going in the basement and seeing the several ghosts he helped capture, Dennis frantically runs upstairs to warn Arthur that there are 12 violent ghosts imprisoned in the house, held captive. Moss slips away to collect his payment, but upon taking the briefcase he activates a mechanism that seals the entrance to the home and begins to release the ghosts one-by-one. The Angry Princess is the first ghost to be released, and advances menacingly towards Moss for remarking “nice tits,” at her earlier. Moss attempts to apologize to her, but is sliced in half when two doors close through him.
Bobby disappears after getting separated from Maggie and is lured into the basement by the Bound Woman, recently released along with several other ghosts. Bobby then encounters two other ghosts, the Torso and the Withered Lover, who is revealed to be the ghost of his dead mother, Jean. He then sees his supposedly dead great-uncle, Cyrus, behind him and is attacked by him.
When the others split up and search the basement for Bobby, despite Dennis’s protests, the psychic manages to use a pair of spectral viewers – which allow the wearer to see into the supernatural realm – to convince Maggie of the ghosts by using them to show her the Hammer in its cell. Shortly after, Dennis discovers that the Jackal has been released, meaning they are in grave danger.
Meanwhile, Kathy puts on a pair of the spectral viewers she took from the bathroom earlier, and sees the Jackal, who then proceeds to viciously attack her and (possibly) attempt to rape her. However, she and Arthur are saved from the Jackal by Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz), a spirit liberator, who has snuck into the house and is attempting to free the ghosts. Kalina then uses Kathy’s (who has mysteriously disappeared) spectral viewers to show the Jackal to Arthur, and explains that the home is actually a machine built by Cyrus, based on a design in a 15th century book written by the astrologer Basileus while he was possessed by the Devil. The machine is powered by the spirits of 12 ghosts based on the “Black Zodiac,” and opens the “Ocularis Infernum” (Eye of Hell) that allows its user to see everything in the past, present and future, thus making the user the most powerful being on earth. Dennis also reveals that Jean is the Withered Lover, enraging Arthur. Kalina goes on to tell Arthur that his children are in grave danger, and the only way to ensure their successful return is for Arthur to sacrifice himself to become the 13th ghost – a failsafe ghost created out of an act of pure love, which would destroy the machine.
While Maggie and Kalina get to the library, Arthur and Dennis attempt to find the kids, using a glass wall as a shield against the ghosts’ attacks. However, when the Juggernaut is released as the final ghost and comes after the two men along with the Hammer, Dennis decides to sacrifice himself and traps Arthur behind the glass wall in a corner. Dennis, however, is no match for the two ghosts and Arthur watches helplessly as the Juggernaut brutally finishes the psychic off, bending him in half on a nearby pole.
Meanwhile, Cyrus is revealed to be alive, having faked his death in order to lure Arthur to the house and Kalina is his secret partner and lover. Cyrus has orchestrated the abduction of Kathy and Bobby so that Arthur will become the 13th ghost, which will not stop the machine, as Kalina had claimed, but trigger its activation. Kalina says the only flaw in the plan is that Arthur will only sacrifice himself if his children are in jeopardy. When she balks at Cyrus’s order to put the children in jeopardy, Cyrus traps her in a small chamber, crushing her to death between two walls. Cyrus plays a tape-recorded Latin chant to summon the ghosts to activate the machine.
Arthur arrives at the main hall of the house and witnesses all 12 ghosts standing around a rotating crest of metal rings, his children at the center. Arthur and Cyrus have a violent confrontation and Cyrus overpowers Arthur. Maggie begins to disrupt the machine’s controls, breaking the chant and freeing the ghosts of their trance. The ghosts grab Cyrus and hurl him into the rings, slicing him to pieces. Dennis’ ghost then appears, telling Arthur that it is not over and to go to his kids. Waiting for a break in the rings, Arthur safely leaps to his children. The machine continues to malfunction and the walls of the house shatter, freeing the ghosts. The ghost of Arthur’s wife, Jean, appears before the family and tells them that she loves them before vanishing. Maggie is then seen wandering through the destroyed house, screaming that she quits.
Horror really isn’t my genre, but every now and then one comes along that intrigues me. A film that deals with collecting ghosts, some weird contraption, and this giant glass house that holds them all is sure to strike my fancy, and that is exactly what Thir13en Ghostsaccomplishes.
First off, it should be known that there is a death in here that should go down as one of the greatest death this side of the Saw franchise. I won’t spoil anything about, but just know that you’ll be careful the next time you encounter sliding doors.
The creepy factor is a bit on the high side with this film. Not because of anything that is necessarily going to make you lock your doors and sleep with the lights on, but rather because of how these ghosts came to be and then the fact that they were capture and are out for revenge ups the ante, if you will.
I am highly impressed with the design of house and especially the Ocularis Infernum. It takes some real thought to not only come up with something like that, but to also build the thing. Kudos to the set and prop people.
Back to the ghosts, for some reason, I was thinking these were going to be seen through apparitions along the lines of Casper or the ghost of Jakob Marley, but instead, they were fully realised people, even if they could only be seen with those special goggles.
There are 12 of them, with a plot point to describe the 13th one, and for the most part the film does a good job of giving them all decent screentime and a letting us know about them, but they did seem to spend a hefty amount of time on the Jackal, Juggernaut(not the one from the X-Men movies), and the Hammer. Of course, these are the big, sadistic ones, though, so that might have had something to do with it.
Horror films are not known for their dialogue or performances. This is no exception, but I can say that this is probably the strongest performance I’ve seen Matthew Lillard pull off. Well, except when he was Shaggy, but that was more of him capturing the full Shagy-ness, rather than his being a master thespian, for lack of a better term.
I was a little disappointed in Ton Shaloub. I think I just expected more from him. Yes, he was playing the straight man, but he just seemed to be very wooden. Granted, his wife was burned to death and he just hasn’t gotten over that, bu still, he could have brought something more than just reading the lines.
Thir13en Ghosts is really not a bad film, but it is also not a great one. I have not seen the original film, but something tells me, it is far superior. This one may be better in terms of special effects and gore, but the original, I would wager soars in terms of storytelling and acting. Those points aside, I can recommend this. It won’t be the end of the world if you decide to check it out.
4 out of 5 stars