13 Ghosts

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Movie Review by Dr Kuma

Starring: F Murray Abraham, Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Kathryn Anderson, J R Bourne

Director: Steve Beck

In 1963 producer William Castle gave the world his latest invention in his quest to make the cinema an ‘experience’. Known as the PT Barnum of the B movie, Castle has found a place in film history as the maverick creator of low budget horror movies of the late 50’s and early 60’s (although he did go on to produce Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY) that were highlighted by the use of “gimmicks”. These started off with Lloyds of London insurance policies paid to anyone who died of fright during MACABRE (1958) to ‘Emergo’ in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, where a fake skeleton would be run out from the top of the screen and over the audience’s heads. This didn’t last too long as kids would get wind of this and wait until that ‘Emergo’ moment then beat up the skeleton as it flew over head. My favourite however was when Castle hooked up certain seats in cinemas with electrical wires through which he would feed a slight electric shock when the monster appeared in THE TINGLER (1959). This beauty was known as ‘Percepto’. This kind of trickery really fuelled my imagination as a kid when my parents told me of such events and as I grew up I attended several screenings of ‘Emergo’ and the like at re-runs.

Last year I tracked down the original 13 GHOSTS on DVD, which came with a cardboard set of ‘ghost viewer’ glasses. This enabled the faint of heart not to see the 13 ghosts, as when watched normally there are no ghosts to be seen, but when the glasses were placed over the eyes (after the screen flashed red) those brave enough could see the ghosts in all there cheap 1960 glory. This fantastic gimmick along the lines of 3D was called ‘Illusion-o’ and was based on an idea Castle had after having his eyes tested.

So would the new version of 13 GHOSTS have anything even close to its totally original predecessor? We’ll no, but I can tell you that this remake is head and shoulders above most of the teen-in-trouble nonsense that has been littering the screen of late. After the dire HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake, I held no real expectations for something this good. The cast is adequate if not slightly better than most movies of the genre, bar the casting of Rah Digga as the nanny and Alec Roberts as the token kid Bobby who’s characters really are quite irritating. So what is the premise of the new movie?

13 GHOSTS is a state of the art ‘re-telling’ of the original, although it is original enough in itself to take it’s place amongst the better horror flicks of the past couple of years. Its story concerns a family who inherit a house from a mad uncle, only the find that not only is the house not a house but a giant machine with shifting walls and traps. They also discover that their strange uncle Cyrus (F Murray Abrahams) was also a collector, not only of antiquities but of ghosts. It is not too long before they discover that they are not the only occupants of the house…..

This really is entertaining (if a little too violent) nonsense to keep your eyes fixed to the screen and your hands nervously in the popcorn. Although some of the ‘ghosts’ look as though they were lifted from Clive Barker’s NIGHT BREED, they too are original enough for you to leave satisfactorily scared.

As the two movies are so different, there is no point really in comparing them. You wouldn’t need to see the original to enjoy this version, but I recommend you get yourself a pair of Illusion-o glasses and try at least. If the producers of this retelling had the foresight of supplying these glasses (the right red eye was a Ghost Viewer, the Blue on the left a Ghost Remover) and made it possible for the audience not to have to watch the irritating kid and the nanny in the same way, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Dr Kuma’s verdict: One of this year’s better fright fests.

4 out of 6 stars