Bonus Reviews: 13 Ghosts and also Thir13en Ghosts
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 157
Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
Directed by Steve Beck
Written by Robb White, Neal Marshall Stevens, Richard D’Ovidio
Stars Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidtz
Run Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It was a worthy remake, much more entertaining than the original. Tony Shalhoub and F. Murray Abraham are especially good in their roles. The clockwork house is cool. The ghosts are creepy. It does drag a bit toward the middle and there’s some plot holes to overlook, but it’s worth a watch.
Credits roll as we get views of a creepy junkyard. Trucks break through the fence, and a bunch of guys with expensive equipment disembark. A Rolls-Royce containing Cyrus Kritikix and Dennis Rafkin pulls up. Rafkin says “It’s really bad tonight,” and Cyrus looks pleased to hear it. Cyrus wants Dennis to “show me where it’s hiding!” Dennis is obviously a psychic. The ghost they’re looking for killed nine when he was alive, and over thirty since he’s been dead. Cyrus wants this ghost.
Kalinda and her man come running up. She yells at Cyrus, saying what he’s doing is nothing less than slavery and he’ll never succeed without the thirteenth ghost anyway. Dennis yells that he was only contracted for twelve ghosts. They use a truckload of blood as bait as they “power up the cube.” There is much more yelling and chaos as many of the men are killed by the ghost in various painful-looking ways. It eventually winds up trapped in the box, now they have their twelfth ghost. Unfortunately, Cyrus is also killed in the battle. As well as Kalinda’s partner.
As credits continue to roll, we cut to Arthur who has an audio-only flashback to when his wife died in a fire. He’s depressed, but he still has his kids. They have family drama when Ben Moss, the lawyer, arrives. Cyrus has left everything to Arthur. Moss gives Arthur the key to his house– there’s no neighbors for miles. Arthur, Kathy, Bobby, and the housekeeper, Maggie, head to the new place with Moss. It’s a very strange house. Dennis is there, pretending to be the power guy, and he wants in. Arthur puts the key in the door, and lots of clockwork stuff starts happening as power comes on throughout the house. They all find funny glasses throughout the house.
Arthur and Moss talk about legalities. Bobby rides his scooter through the mostly-glass house; that’s just great. Dennis goes to the basement, snooping around for Cyrus’ money and starts getting painful visions of ghosts in glass cells. He runs upstairs and tells Arthur that there are ghosts in the basement and that Cyrus owed him money. Not surprisingly, Moss and Arthur think he’s crazy. When Arthur touches him, he gets flashes of his wife burning.
Moss goes into the basement and he talks to the ghosts like he knew about them all along. He picks up a suitcase full of money, which activates a whole series of clockwork steampunk thingamabobs around the house. The walls and doors start closing and locking. Some of the ghost cages start opening, and Moss is an instant victim. Arthur finds Maggie and Kathy, but Bobby’s out on his own. The ghosts lure Bobby into the basement. Maggie asks, “Did the lawyer split?” Yes, yes, he did.
Bobby puts on the glasses and sees his dead mother. Her ghost is here too. As Arthur insists there's no such thing as ghosts, one of them drags away Kathy. Kalinda shows up and helps Arthur rescue Kathy. She’s in the spirit reclamation business, she explains. Arthur puts on the viewing glasses, and he believes it all. Kalinda is here to set them all free.
Kalinda shows a book that Cyrus used to build a machine designed by the devil and powered by the dead that was designed in the 15th century. It’s not really a house. They’re all inside that machine. There’s lots of running, screaming, and chasing around the ever-shifting glass corridors. Kalinda and Dennis argue that this is all his fault for stealing their souls for money. She shows them the twelve ghosts from her book, and Arthur’s dead wife is there as the 4th one. They are here to open the Ocularis Infernum, the Eye of Hell, which was supposed to give Cyrus incredible power and immortality. The machine is still grinding on its own, heading us to a world-ending disaster.
A willing human sacrifice could stop all this; this is the thirteenth ghost. Arthur should jump into the eye when it opens; his love will short-circuit the whole thing. Arthur decides to go looking for the kids again, this time using one of the etched, warded, walls as a shield.
Maggie and Kalinda go into the heart of the machine to plant explosives and run into Cyrus. He’s not dead at all, he was faking it. Kalinda and he were working together! Meanwhile, the two biggest, toughest ghosts tear Dennis aparts as Arthur watches. Cyrus starts the recording with the chanting of the spells, and the ghosts all fall under the control of it. Cyrus kills Kalinda. Arthur’s wife, Gene, materializes, and he gets to say goodbye.
Arthur spots his kids in the middle of a trap surrounded by twelve ghosts. If he’s supposed to be the thirteenth ghost, then why is Cyrus standing there? He figures out that Cyrus isn’t really dead and they fight. Suddenly Maggie interferes with the spell-tape, and the machine freezes up, freeing all the ghosts, who immediately turn on Cyrus.
Arthur makes a leap of faith to save his kids as everything explodes. The ghosts all walk off into the woods and vanish. Maggie quits; she ain’t getting paid enough for this.
The house itself is really unique and interesting. All the clockwork stuff was really cool, but there was so much of it that it stretched beyond the credulity phase. Someone designed all this in the 1400s in a parchment-filled book in that kind of detail? Yeah, right.
Tony Shalhub as Arthur does good work here, F. Murray Abraham is suitably evil as Cyrus, and Matthew Lillard is just annoying as hell in every scene - which is not entirely a bad thing.
The various ghosts are all visually distinctive, creepy, and probably each have a really interesting backstory. I’d have much rather seen that story than the one we got. I remember liking this one a lot when it came out, but on a rewatch, it’s definitely got problems. It drags in the middle with too much running around. There are numerous plot holes, such as why Kalinda did everything she did. And I guess after the house blew up, they all went back to their tiny apartment, since there was no mention of hidden money in this one.
13 Ghosts (1960)
Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Stars Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Martin Milner
Run Time: 1 Hour, 25 minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A very tame, very predictable family-friendly ghost story. It’s fine, but relies too much on an obsolete theater gimmick. But there are lots of ghosts.
We begin with an introduction from William Castle, the producer. He explains how the “Ghost Viewer” devices that were given out in the theater. When the screen turns blue in the black and white movie, you need to look through the red or the blue part.
We start with a museum tour talking about the La Brea Tar Pits. Cyrus Zorba gets a call from his wife, which interrupts his lecture. His furniture is being repossessed because they have been missing payments. Apparently, being a museum tour guide doesn’t pay much.
They have little Buck’s birthday cake sitting in a circle on the floor. Buck is a big fan of ghost-story books. He wishes they had a house with furniture, and the wind blows out the candles on the cake. Just then, the doorbell rings. A creepy little man hands Cyrus a telegram. He’s been summoned to the office of Benjamin Rush, an attorney. Could it be from a collection agency?
The attorney explains that they have inherited a furnished house from his strange old uncle. It’s a sprawling old mansion. Rush hands him a key and a sealed package. “Plato Zorba collected ghosts,” says Rush, “and you’ll inherit them, too. They go with the house.” They open the box, and the wind blows. Inside, they find a strange pair of glasses. They can’t sell the house, and if they don’t choose to live there, they lose it.
Rush goes for a visit later, and Rush explains that they’ve got a witch in addition to the ghosts; it’s a maid named Elaine. Rush says the ghosts nearly destroyed old man Zorba; Rush believes in them. Daughter Medea thinks he’s joking.
Buck finds a secret compartment behind the fireplace, and inside is an Ouija board as well as a book written in Latin. They do the Ouija board, and Bucks asks about ghosts. “Yes” appears as an answer. “How many?” he asks. “Thirteen,” it replies. “Are they going to hurt us?” is next: “Yes.” Wife Hilda and daughter Medea are terrified, but Cyrus laughs it off.
We see our first glimpse of the ghosts downstairs that night. Cyrus follows wailing to a door that is sealed from within. He gets inside to find the old dead man’s office. He puts on the special glasses and watches the ghosts appear. He’s terrified by the creepy light show until he takes the glasses off.
Cyrus talks to his boss at the museum, who translates the Latin book that tells about capturing ghosts. Old man Zorbo traveled the world, literally collecting ghosts and bringing them home with him. “I, Plato Zorba, am the twelfth ghost,” he reads. They don’t know about the thirteenth ghost.
We see various ghosts in the kitchen next, and they squeak at each other in decidedly non-scary chipmunk voices. They smash a bunch of jars and glasses; Cyrus and Hilda watch as the ghosts vandalize the kitchen. “That was Emilio, an Italian chef who killed his wife with a meat cleaver,” explains Buck. Elaine the housekeeper - who is totally not really a witch - told him all this; she knows all the ghosts. Elaine says she warned Plato against his experiments. He withdrew all his cash and hid it somewhere. She found old Plato’s body the next morning after he and Rush had been working on his will the night before. He had suffocated during the night. She warns Cyrus to leave the house tonight.
One of the ghosts shows Cyrus a button. When he presses it, the bed squashes down flat. Later that night, we see a dusty gray man covered in cobwebs walking through the house. Medea encounters him in her bedroom, but he quickly disappears. We noticed that he was fully visible without the use of the glasses. Hmmm.
Buck finds the ghost of a lion in the morning, but the headless lion tamer helps him out. He then finds two hundred-dollar bills which he shows to Ben Rush. Ben wants to know exactly what Buck was doing when he found the money. He then tells Ben that there’s treasure in the house and swears Buck to secrecy about the money.
Ben warns Cyrus to leave the house; he thinks he can get them $10,000 from the state to leave. Cyrus’s boss suggests getting Elaine to do a seance with them– maybe they can bring back Zorba for some answers. Elaine is a medium, and she leads them through the process.
In the seance, Zorba speaks through Cyrus, who puts on the glasses again. Meanwhile, Buck finds the hidden money but doesn’t tell anyone but Ben, who demands Buck not tell anyone. “Tonight, death walks again in this evil house,” says Elaine. Everyone goes to bed.
We see that Ben was the man covered in cobwebs; he’s still in the house. Ben picks up sleeping Buck and takes him into the bedroom with the suffocating/crushing bed. The bed starts to drop, but then all the ghosts in the house suddenly activate. Old man Plato’s ghost appears to Ben. The ghost pushes Ben into the deathtrap bed.
The next morning, they all sit around counting their money. Cyrus explains exactly what happened. Elaine explains that the Earthbound spirits have been released. Elaine won’t deny being a witch; she says the ghosts will be back.
Apparently, back in the 1950s, guys who couldn't even afford furniture dressed up in suits and ties every day.
The special draw of this movie was you were given real ghost viewer glasses when entering the theater. If you don’t believe in ghosts and don’t want to see them, look through the red lens. If you do believe and you want to see them, look through the blue lens. A color effect on the screen would accordingly make the ghosts invisible or vividly visible to the viewer. Or maybe it’s the other way around; we didn’t have the special glasses so they were sort of blurry visible to us. The effect really doesn’t hold up well for a modern viewer; it’s all pretty dim and lame.
“The Witch,” is, of course, Margaret Hamilton from the “Wizard of Oz.” As soon as she explained what happened the night of Plato’s death, I immediately came to the conclusion that Rush was doing all this as some kind of scam to get them out of the house. This was pretty much confirmed when he interrogated Buc about the found money.
It’s really, really tame, bordering on boring. There’s some fleeting fun moments, but it’s also very predictable.
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