Thirteen Ghosts 

Release Date: October, 2001

"Fun but somewhat less than smart, but not quite dumb... 13 Ghosts makes for an amusing couple of hours..."


Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

Remakes are kind of a dodgy business. If it was good the first time, you realize the only reason to redo it is for the studio to try and make more money the second time. And if it was bad the first time, well... see the previous notion for helpful hint. But all you can hope from a remake of a film that was less than stellar the first time around is that the second try will have learned from the first. Either that or your date's got a good sense of humor.

In that vein, we have the remake of 13 Ghosts.


The Story:

Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub, from the amusing Trek-spoof Galaxy Quest) is a down on his luck math teacher. He lost his wife and self-confidence in a fire some months prior, and is reduced to living in a crowded apartment with his kids (Alec Roberts and the lovely Shannon Elizabeth) and probably the worst excuse for a nanny ever seen (Rah Digga). There's unpaid bills stuck to the walls, the nanny's cooking is horrible and his little boy's gone and gotten himself a death fetish. Life isn't looking too good, here.

But there's hope in Arthur's darkest hour: some lawyer with a powerbook has come to deliver the last will and testament of Arthur's Uncle Cyrus Kriticos. Cyrus (played by the ever-wonderful F. Murray Abraham, last seen in Finding Forrester) offers Arthur his house and estate, which we're later told is such that the Kriticos family won't have to worry about money ever again. Given that Cyrus supposedly squandered the Kriticos family's fortune, it seems a fair trade. Great news, right?

Well, no. Unknown to Arthur, Uncle Cyrus was a crazy-eyed ghost-hunter with neat toys, disposable helpers, no moral qualms about anything and a medium on a leash (Matthew Lillard, from Scream, soon to be appearing next to a certain cartoon dog). He got his in a ghost-nap gone somewhat awry - though his company says he had an accident - and now it seems his only living relative gets the house.

And what a house! Miles away from anywhere, the whole thing's made out of glass and steel, with what looks like backwards Latin soaped all over the panes by some goofy fratboy on a dare. The place is loaded with neat old stuff, luxuries, weird Devo glasses left lying around...

Oh, yeah, and some really pissed-off ghosts contained in the basement. But you knew there had to be a catch, right? We also know from the film's opening scenes that these ghosts don't just rattle chains and moan. These bastards can hurt you - badly. And Cyrus went and picked some real winners, here, it seems.

The medium shows up, wanting the cash Cyrus owed him, and tries to warn off Arthur. The lawyer sneaks downstairs to try and grab his cash, unwittingly setting certain things into motion. Said things include starting up some funky machine in the basement, and letting the ghost of a dead, nekid chick out of her cell, with amusing results. The house locks itself up, walls shift... and Arthur's kids, of course, went off to go explore the house in the meantime.


Eventually, it's made clear that those glasses left lying around will allow you to see the ghosts. This leads to the sight of bloodied, worried and jumpy people walking down darkened halls in Devo glasses. This also leads to some rather shocking glimpses of these ghosts, who have some very top-notch makeup jobs.

Things proceed from there. A fellow ghost-hunting chick in black, leather pants (Embeth Davidtz) shows up to not-quite-save the day with quicksilver flares and a Big Book That Explains Everything. We get details of questionable alliances, a betrayal of trust that's quite telegraphed in advance, a reverse or two, some weird-ass ritual... all leading up to a conclusion that you'll probably see coming a mile away. This is followed by a real tear-jerker of an ending that'll make you say "awww....." coupled with one final rimshot, leading into a closing rap song that I think was done by the gal who played Maggie. THE END.


The Gen:

One thing that should be remembered is that, again, this movie is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, and borrows several elements of the original's plot. Unfortunately for the film, it also borrows some of the hokiness of the original. However, this version's special effects are fairly well-done, as opposed to the original's.

If taken with the understanding that, yes, this is not going to be an Oscar-winner, then the movie isn't all that bad. The acting isn't what I'd call compelling, and the sets - while pretty good - suffer from obvious CGI syndrome in a few spots. The plot doesn't really lag at any point, though there's a few twists that don't get adequately explained, or seem like they were just tossed in to "keep 'em guessing."

If the film fails in its aim of being a "horror movie," it's in substituting jarring cinematography and fright-flashes for good, old-fashioned atmosphere and suspense. The shocks are slapped on too thick, and too obviously, for them to be anything more than pure shock value. Those shocks are good ones, natch, but after a while they just seem like a bad waste of good makeup and effects. But then, that's what we came to see, right?

Well, okay, and Shannon Elizabeth. Simmer down, Beavis: at no time does she remove her clothing.

If I have one major complaint about the film - other than not getting to see much of the dead nekid chick, courtesy of local, Islamic censors - it's the nanny. If I see one more movie where the token African-American is a lazy, wisecracking pickanniny, I'm going to go do something rude to a helpless stuffed animal and send it in to the studio responsible as a screen test. In this day and age, can we not get past that stereotype? Grrr...


Wraith/WOD-friendly Content:

Is Uncle Cyrus a superstitious Etherite with a mad taste for power, a Hermetic with a taste for technomagic, your general, all-purpose potpourri-paradigm Nephandi, or an evil sorcerer with a technomagicy bent and a really big, unique focus? Take your pick.

Are the Devo glasses talismans? What the heck are those containment cubes? What sort of spells are written on the walls? What else is in the Big Book That Explains Everything (which they entitle The Arcanum, no less)?

There's also the notion of a "Black Zodiac." No such thing exists, so far as I'm aware, but the idea is certainly evocative. Maybe once Demon: the Fallen comes out, we'll have something else to stick in there.

What's the Medium's problem (other than spending the whole film whining and seeming to wonder why he took this part)? Once you see the film, I think you'll agree that there's a basis for a new Medium Flaw, there.

Now, as for the titular boojums, we have some lovely pieces of work, here. The explanation for them doesn't quite jibe with Wraith, but the notion of violent deaths breeding violent ghosts should strike a cord with those of you who just bought a certain reprinted book about Spectres. In fact, go see the movie before or after you read Dark Reflections: Spectres: I bet one will give you some ideas about the other.

The ghosts were all given a back story by the film's writers, and even though we never saw those stories in the movie, what happened is quite reflected by their appearances. The gal in the turn of the century madhouse restraints is extremely evocative, as are the little woman and her big, idiot son, "the torso" and, from what little I got to see of her, the nekid chick. The guy with the bolts sticking through him looks a little fakey, but it screamed "Artificer with an attitude problem" to me.

Examples of very violent Outrage Arts are legion, here. If you want to see how much damage a Spook could do to someone with his bare hands, or a "wrapped" Relic, this is the movie to watch.

The Final Cut:

"Where's the lawyer? Did he split?" - Maggie.

Fun but somewhat less than smart, but not quite dumb, and with good effects and inspirational value for Wraith, 13 Ghosts makes for an amusing couple of hours, but don't expect anything on the order of Sixth Sense or The Others.

2 skulls of out 5.


Official site:

Also be sure to look at the back-stories of the ghosts, which can be found under the production notes, at:

Reviews on the Wraith Project are the opinions of those reviewers, and are not necessarily those of the Wraith Project themselves. If you disagree with this review, send in another one. If you still feel like strangling the reviewer, see an analysi.