Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) looks the part of a 19th century villain, but he’s dedicated to a 15th century plan. He’s had his house constructed according to diagrams within the Arcanum, an ancient book said to have been written through demonic possession. But this house is not a home. It’s more like a devil’s-clockwork Rubik’s Cube designed to open the Ocularis Infirnum, the Eye of Hell, powered by the titular 13 ghosts, “the Black Zodiac.” Kriticos, assisted by mercenary psychic Rifkin (Matthew Lillard) and a squad of expendable ghostbusters, lures the spirits and traps them with Latin containment spells played on tape recorders and etched into the glass of “containment cubes.”
But the 12th ghost, the Juggernaut (Rifkin describes him as “the Charles Manson of ghosts”), gets the best of Kriticos. Soon his recently widowed nephew, Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) and Arthur’s family — nubile daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), happily morbid son Bobby (Alec Roberts) and their black nanny Maggie (Rah Digga) — find themselves the new occupants of an inherited little piece of hell.
And, of course, horror ensues. But 13 Ghosts is a low-voltage spine-tingler that’s stingy with adrenaline. This flick is produced by the same team that gave us last year’s House on Haunted Hill and, like that B-movie, is another disposable remake of one of director William Castle’s cheesy horror classics of the ’50s and ’60s. Even novice director Steve Beck’s rapid-fire visual effects can’t hide the rubbery phoniness of the ghosts who — like the true star, the house itself — seem to be shanghaied from Hellraiser (1987). Beck does better when he borrows from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and takes Arthur’s family from connubial riches to widower’s rags in one panoramic shot.
13 Ghosts has a nonsense plot filled with “Scooby Doo”-quality dialogue and jokes. I’d wait for a better ghost trap.
Visit the official 13 Ghosts Web site at www.13ghosts.com.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.