Just in time for Halloween comes 13 Ghosts, another in a long line of uninspired horror movies. Visually appealing yet effectively void of anything remotely resembling true horror, it is a movie without a soul.It stars F. Murray Abraham as the power-mad, greedy and manipulative Cyrus Kriticos, a man with an unhealthy obsession with ghosts. Namely, he’s collecting them for reasons largely unknown (at first, anyway). An attempt to capture a particularly violent poltergeist goes badly, costing the lives of several nondescript cronies and Kriticos himself. Fade to black.
Introduce nephew Arthur Kriticos, played by Tony Shalhoub (that’s right, the cab driver from TV’s Wings). He’s a man fighting to keep his family together, despite the loss of his wife and home. Economically on the ropes and emotionally frayed, it’s a losing battle for Arthur. Imagine their surprise then, when a shady lawyer appears and presents them with the deed to Cyrus’ lavish house.
The house itself is quite possibly one of the most imaginative sets ever created for a motion picture, in any genre. Made almost entirely of glass, its interior is a clockwork jumble of moving parts, whirring gears and nasty surprises. Walls slide in and out of place on cue, often with deadly results. The whole house seems to be counting down to something — something very evil.
Trapped within the contraption now are Arthur and his family, along with the lawyer, a freaked out psychic of sorts, a paranormal eco-warrior, and at least a dozen spirits, malcontents all.
The true nature of the house is slowly revealed around them as the twelve nasty ghosts — the concept of the “13” is explained later — are released, one by one, to wreak havoc upon its newly acquired inhabitants. Ancient Latin chants are scrawled everywhere, seemingly keeping the non-corporeal terrors funnelled through the hallways like a maze. And the unbreakable nature of the reinforced glass keeps the living in the same predicament.
A five minute ramble at the quarter-way point lets loose the bulk of the plot — that the ghosts contained within the basement of the house are part of the “black zodiac” — Satan’s equivalent to the one found in the morning paper. They’re here to be used in some sort of infernal machine, the purpose of which is anything but friendly in intent. Naturally, a crisis erupts, (like being stuck in a house full of ghosts isn’t enough) which leads to even more danger for Arthur’s family. There’s gore aplenty, most of which can be attributed to the ghosts themselves. Their gruesome visages resemble the violent deaths that brought them to this place, although the audience is hard-pressed to notice since they are invisible. Only by way of “special glasses are we allowed to see them, and even then it’s only one agonizingly short snippet at a time. Welcome to the new school of horror.
And it’s loud, even annoyingly so. While it may be an established fact that the right sound can evoke powerful emotions when used correctly, in this movie it’s a weapon unto itself. The audience is beaten about the head with a cacophony of screams, moans, clicks, bangs, shrieks and hisses. It’s distracting. Combined with the often-dizzying visuals, this is not so much a movie best kept from the faint of heart as the weak of stomach.
A whirling dervish of flash frames and quick cuts, 13 Ghosts is like a thrill ride that’s all ride and no thrill. The potential is there for it to be a good graphic novel, or perhaps even an amazing computer game, but as a movie, it doesn’t cut it. Lackluster writing and unsurprising plot twists (the friend accompanying me had it all worked out in about 10 minutes) leave this film firmly in the ranks of the … well, rank.