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