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Thirteen Ghosts

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Thirteen Ghosts

Starring: Shannon Elizabeth, Tony Shalhoub
Director: Steve Beck
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: F. Murray Abraham, Embeth Davidtz, John DeSantis, Rah Digga, Matthew Harrison

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Leaving the screening of "13 Ghosts" the other day, I overheard a gaggle of comments by the invited audience. I mentioned to a colleague that I had not seen Roger Christian's bomb last year, "Battlefield Earth," and wondered if I was now redeemed. "Oh no," he said, "Battlefield Earth" was worse.

And that was the nicest comment about "13 Ghosts" that I heard outside the theater.

But here's another, one that I can make. If you have never taken the ride at Coney Island, the one that used to give teens and preteen boys an excuse to hug their girlfriends in the dark, this is a decent replica. Featured in the cast are some of the same people that were found on that journey--which used to cost 10 cents I remember (but now I'm now sure it can be bought for anything since Coney Island went from being a dump to being a dump without the rides)--some of the same characters you'd have met if you had paid your dime and taken your choice. The folks include some people with blood dripping down their faces though I don't think they used the same make-up artist employed by Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," and while none of them will make you shiver in your seat, your intellect might be stirred. You might wonder why the red blood never turns brownish.

The plot is not overly heavy on characterization, but you'll remember F. Murray Abraham as Rich Uncle Cyrus, the guy who started all the trouble. Now I heard Mr. Abraham speak at a commencement address at Brooklyn College, I think, some time ago, and he was pretty scary then. This time he might have taken some coaching from either Rodney Dangerfield or the French Bulldog down the block from me, because when he gets angry--and he's angry ALL the time--his eyes bulge. They flash too. Other than Mr. Abraham, you'll breeze through this 90- minute picture without a quiver or a shake but, more importantly and devastatingly, without a laugh. In fact there's not even an unintentional laugh in "Thirteen Ghosts," and that's bad. This is a horror comedy that's neither scary nor comic. If this movie were a video game that you played, you'd probably use your computer for word processing for the next year or so.

In what passes for a story you'll find six characters in search of an author. Dad, teen daughter, bratty kid, nanny, and I think a couple of ghostbusters. When Daddy Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) inherits a billion-dollar glass house from his newly dead uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham again), he and his family are joyful. He's a math teacher with "nothing set aside," so his present crib is cramped. He takes a two-hour drive with his uncle's lawyer and without asking how he's going to commute to his high school from there, he settles in only to find out (like Polly Adler decades before him) that a house is not a home. It's called a machine but one of the day's tenants. It's haunted with 12 ghosts (don't ask about the 13 because I don't know) and every time a wheel of fortune spins somewhere in its center, glass doors with Latin inscriptions move, but no matter how much they move, the family are sealed in. If they can't get out of the house before the Eye of Hell is opened (don't ask), there will be 18 ghosts in the house. The ghosts are invisible unless a family member wears special glasses. (This is a remake of the 1960 film now on DVD: when the viewer in the audience wore the glasses, the ghosts would appear. If not, then not.)

What should you watch out for (without giving away the, uh, plot)? Embetz Davidtz as Kaline. She's tricky. You know that because she says "trust me."

If the thought of the upcoming Halloween scares you, if you're worried about trick-or-treaters who will shun your candy and opt to trick you instead, if your nerves are shot, go to "13 Ghosts." The picture should have a calming effect.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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