Published on March 28th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Thirteen Ghosts 
Summary: This CGI-loaded haunted house flick can't figure out what type of movie it wants to be. Flaccid comic relief is forced into an otherwise dead serious, yet wacky, plot. Also, it stars Monk.
R | 91 min.
Director: Steve Beck | Screenplay: Robb White, Neal Marshall Stevens (based on White’s 1960 screenplay)
Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth
Distribution: Warner Bros. Picture (USA) | Box Office: $41,867,960 (#57 of 2001)
Whomever coined the phrase “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” obviously never saw Thirteen Ghosts. The lesson of this picture is to spread that pony’s jaws, fire up the flashlight and look VERY CLOSELY.
In the late ’90s/early ’00s, to be edgy and cool you had to purposefully misspell things; this is charted by the rise of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Ludacris. When rookie director Steve Beck was tapped to do a remake of William Castle’s 1960 13 Ghosts in 2001, the studio heads naturally decided to go name the flick Thir13en Ghosts (presumably pronounced “Thur-THIRTEEN-in Ghosts”). This kewl title is what you’ll see printed on the movie’s DVD and posters but for our purposes, we’ll go with the unhip spelling.
The story centers on math teacher Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts). The trio have recently fallen on hard times following the death of their wife/mother in a house fire but a mysterious lawyer representing Arthur’s late uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) takes them to a luxurious house that’s been left to them. However, Cyrus’s home turns out to be an occult device, housing the souls of a dozen pissed-off ghosts for a sinister plot.
Thirteen Ghosts has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be. The movie’s soundtrack features uninspired rap music and the final line goes for a lighthearted laugh but the entire movie is about death and tortured souls…a recipe for comedy, of course. There is a live-in nanny character named Maggie (rapper Rah Digga, in her only role to date) that is completely forced into the script to serve as comic relief but unfortunately she has nothing funny to say.
In fact, Maggie’s mere inclusion in the film completely undermines the backstory given to us in early exposition. The Kriticos clan are supposedly broke, based on the extremely heavy-handed dialogue in one early scene inside a cramped apartment. “We don’t live in a big place anymore,” Arthur says. When someone knocks on their door, Kathy says, “I thought our credit was cleaned up Dad!” …meanwhile, they just hired a live-in nanny for two kids that are obviously old enough to take care of themselves. I’m beginning to understand why they’re in financial trouble.
Speaking of the kids, I’m so glad we’ve finally reached the point where we could acknowledge Shannon Elizabeth, who was nearly 30 in 2001, is not a high school-age girl anymore. She made a living playing 16-year-old girls in several big hits in the late ’90s and mercifully, I believe Thirteen Ghosts was the last time casting directors tried to make that leap. It’s easy to forget now that Elizabeth was a big name when this movie came out; she also appeared in Tomcats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back that year and two of her former vehicles, Scary Movie and American Pie each had sequels hit theaters.
Speaking of folks who fell off the face of the Earth after the early 2000s, Matthew Lillard (Scream, SLC Punk) also plays prominently in this film. His character Dennis is Lillard’s usual paranoid, fast-talking morally-shaky role. Aside from the various ghosts, Lillard is the best part of the film, playing maybe the only character you’ll actually end up caring about. I also dug Cyrus, mainly because he was like the ghost pimp. He walks around with a suit on all the time, holding a cane and not taking any shit from the ghosts he ensnares.
Beck’s filmmaking career was very short-lived from here. After Thirteen Ghosts, he made Ghost Ship in 2002 (which I saw in theaters on a high school date but remember very little about) and was never heard from again. Who knows, maybe if he had branched out beyond the confines of “ghost” pictures, he could have been the next Scorsese.
This CGI-loaded horror flick is a haunted house/ghost/slasher-hybrid with a little taste of Cube thrown in. The human characters are powerless to defeat the angry spirits, left only to hide behind enchanted barriers and try to elude the ghosts whenever they encounter them. There are a couple of grotesque deaths that may make you laugh but there’s relatively little blood and guts in Thirteen Ghosts. The gory high point is when the lawyer (J.R. Bourne) is sliced neatly in half, height-wise, by two sliding glass doors, leaving his insides on display like a museum exhibit. Later, Maggie ruins this bit of fun by asking, “Did the lawyer split?”
The array of ghosts at the film’s title are definitely the most interesting part of this ride. Each has a title, reflecting their past life or the method of their death, and a unique look to go along with it. Not all are created equally in the script–The Torso, The Bound Woman and The Torn Prince may as well not even be here–but some are made into stars.
It’s hard to ignore The Angry Princess (Shawna Loyer) in all of her topless, knife-wielding glory but there’s impressive makeup work done on a few other favorite specters. The Great Child & Dire Mother are a creepy-as-hell combination of fat man in a diaper and his shriveled-up mom, The Hammer is intimidating and brutal, The Jackal features the flashiest look by floating around with a mangled cage on its head. My favorite though is The First Born Son, a child dressed like Mike Teavee who looks like he was killed during a game of William Tell. These characters are what keep you watching but unfortunately there aren’t any real scares in Thirteen Ghosts, not even any cheap jolts that I can recall.
As expected, the dialogue is stilted and just plain awful in spots. The first time we see Arthur’s kids, Kathy is seen hugging Bobby, telling him, “You’re the best little brother! I love you.” Show of hands if you ever heard any sibling say that to their adolescent brother? In retrospect, 2001 was a fairly weak year for the horror/thriller genres but Thirteen Ghosts is on the lowest end of the spectrum, especially when compared to an original, legitimately frightening film like Jeepers Creepers, which came out two months earlier.