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One of my guilty pleasures!
Thirteen Ghosts (DVD)
Member Name: zombieflesh
Thirteen Ghosts (DVD)
Date: 01/10/12, updated on 01/10/12 (78 review reads)
Advantages: beautiful set, cool special effects
Disadvantages: poor acting, storyline is not well presented
Thirteen Ghosts is a film that I've seen many times over thanks to various airings on TV, and I noticed recently that it was being promoted as available to stream for free as part of my lovefilm.com subscription. I've already started on a horror kick in anticipation of Hallowe'en, so I decided to give it yet another viewing. If you don't have a lovefilm account (why not?!) then the DVD is currently available on www.amazon.co.uk at the price of £4.99.
Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes
Directed by: Steve Beck
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub, Alec Roberts, Kathryn Anderson, J.R. Bourne, Rah Digga
Certificate rating: 15
Tagline: Terror has multiplied
Description: When Cyrus Kriticos, a very rich collector of unique things dies, he leaves it all to his nephew and his family. All including his house, his fortune, and his malicious collection of ghosts! (taken from imdb.com)
Thirteen Ghosts tries very hard to impress with it's visual techniques, and this is apparent even from looking at the cover of the DVD and promotional materials. Playing up to trends at the time of release, it was actually given the stylised name of Thir13n Ghosts which I personally find rather annoying. The cover art features a photo mosaic which looks quite effective and the screaming face gives the impression that the movie will be full of scares...
Thirteen Ghosts introduces us to the Kriticos family, who have recently suffered some devastating events which has caused the death of their mother and the loss of their family home. They are all on edge with each other and constantly bickering, struggling to make ends meet, yet somehow still able to afford a nanny to look after the two kids (one of whom being Shannon Elizabeth, who is clearly too old to be playing the daddy's little girl role they have tried to place her in here). Kooky old Uncle Cyrus has been off doing some weird and wonderful things that make precious little sense as we view the opening scenes with absolutely no introduction or explanation to his behaviour. He meets with an untimely death and here begins the stereotypical haunted house story. The main problem that I have with this film is that the plot is not presented clearly to the viewer. I'm all for a bit of mystery and suspense to keep me guessing, but when things are happening that need explanation to understand the story and none is given then it is pretty frustrating to watch. There are several "gear changes" where new plot developments are brought in, but these are handled abruptly with no sense of cohesiveness or natural flow from scene to scene. The story comes across as being jumbled due to snippets of back story being shown here and there, but appearing too late for me to actually care.
Another massive downer to the film is that the dialogue and acting is bad. Really bad. It is cringe-worthy and cheesy at all levels and there was not one single character that I felt gave a good performance. This meant that I couldn't form any emotional connection to the characters and was essentially just waiting (and hoping!) for them all to die. As the title suggests there are 13 ghosts doing the haunting of this unusual house, and I would have liked to see more time spent on showing the different ghosts and learning more about their circumstances and how they came to be chosen to play their part in this set-up. The ghosts all look great and the make-up effects are really neat. I like that it's all done by hand and there is not much CGI at all in the actual appearance of the ghosts. Each one appears as a unique character and this is used to good effect when the living characters are being haunted.
The main star of Thirteen Ghosts has to be the actual haunted house itself. The set design is stunning and a lot of effort has been used when creating everything to look a certain way. The house is made almost entirely of huge glass walls and corridors that run on a clockwork type system that moves different sections of the house around to form new areas. This is the most atmospheric part of the film, with the areas of the house constantly changing you can feel disorientated and this builds a bit of tension when the family are separated and then have to escape from the ghosts that are chasing them. I also really enjoyed the sounds effects used, as the distorted whispers of other-worldly creatures calling out work well to give a bit of a creepy feeling.
If you are a fan of horror movies then you will probably be able to guess all the shock moments and see what is going to happen next without even thinking about it, as there was not really anything original in the script. The ghosts were not scary at all and I did not get any feeling of horror any time that I've watched the film. Even though the special effects are well executed, there is still something in the filming or production that was left lacking and there were no moments of fear or panic when something bad was about to happen. This could of course be more to do with the bad acting, because I really couldn't bring myself to give a toss about whether the family survived or not. They are so stereotyped that it makes me cringe, with the black nanny unfortunately coming off the worst and being used for predictable cheap "laughs" with her "sassy" attitude. There is also a favourite horror movie exploitation moment, when the daughter gets attacked and - oops! - her top is ripped so her cleavage is hanging out for all the living and the dead to see.
What I've said so far is all rather negative, but for some reason unknown even to myself, I do enjoy watching this film. Despite everything it is still fun to watch and there are some enjoyable moments. Every time I see the house coming to life I find it just as exciting and enchanting as when I first witnessed it, and that is something that really stands out against everything else in the whole film.
Overall this is a shockingly bad horror film in that its storyline is jumbled and cliched. I don't like or care about any of the characters and I would have preferred to have a bit more back story to the individual ghosts and the functionality of the house rather than the sad story of the Kriticos' broken down family life. Even so, there is still something about this film that compels me to watch it every time I see it on TV, or as in this case, via my Lovefilm app on Xbox Live. It's beautifully presented with a stunning set that really captured my imagination, but the dire storytelling and dull as dishwater characters lets it down. It's so low on actual scares that I would probably recommend it as being the sort of thing to watch on a family movie night were it not for one particularly graphic scene of violence and some gratuitous boob-age. Worth a watch for a bit of light entertainment, but lower your expectations before the titles start rolling, otherwise you'll be disappointed. I would have given it 2.5 stars, but opted for the hard line and gave 2, as it really doesn't deserve the extra .5 to take it up to 3.
Summary: a terrible film, but somehow I still find it enjoyable