The year was 2001. A day and age where horror wasn’t exactly the powerhouse it is these days. A time when numbers were spelled out with the numbers in it.
It was a relatively quiet year in horror but one film will always stick out to me. It was the first horror film I ever watched regularly – there was a three-week stretch while I was a high school freshman where I watched the film daily after classes.
While the film doesn’t get much love from critics, I don’t find many horror fans who don’t enjoy Thir13en Ghosts. A radical remake of 1960’s 13 Ghosts, this version is a bloody creep-fest that featured some of the best makeup and special effects the genre had to offer at the time (of course Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman were behind them!), as well as a solid cast headlined by Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth and rap artist Rah Digga.
The film follows a heartbroken family still reeling from the loss of their mother, Kalina (played by Embeth Davidtz), to a house fire. Father Arthur (Shalhoub) is barely making it paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to keep a roof over the heads of his daughter Kathy (Elizabeth) and son Bobby (Alec Roberts). Suddenly, a lawyer (JR Bourne) knocks on the family’s door one day with the news that Arthur’s rich-beyond-rich uncle has recently passed and a home has been left to the family in the will. The family packs up and heads to the mysterious residence, with housekeeper Maggie (Rah Digger) in tow.
The home is a massive glass mansion, complete with enough art and historical artifacts to make anyone a quick penny on Antiques Roadshow.
While the family marvels at their new address, the lawyer is clearly up to something, sneering and surveying the home as suspiciously as possible.
Enter Dennis Rafkin (Lillard), who is disguised as a power company employee. We first meet Rafkin earlier in the film when we learn that he is very much in cahoots with the deceased uncle, Cyrus. Rafkin begins surveying the home as well, much to the chagrin of the lawyer, Benjamin Moss. Moss insists that the family ignore Dennis as a crazy person, which is exactly what a shady lawyer would want you to think about the one person who has the family’s best interest in mind! Of course, it doesn’t help Dennis’ case that the family does think he’s crazy. Dennis tells the family about how Uncle Cyrus is a world-renowned ghost hunter and occultist who just so happens to have twelve of the most horrible ghosts on this earthly plane locked away in the basement of this magnificent home!
When Moss inadvertently releases the ghosts, one by one, Dennis and the family are forced to fight for survival against all-out Hell. To make matters even more fun (and worse for the family) is the fact that the ghosts can only be seen by using specially enhanced glasses, so for most of the film, at least half of the terrified group is left to navigate the maze-like mansion without any clue that the spirits are near them- until it’s too late.
Thir13en Ghosts is a hell of a fun film, with a solid cast and a ton of fun jump scares and imagery to make your skin prickle. Director Steve Beck followed up this fun Halloween watch with Ghost Ship, one of the most lampooned horror films of this era, so it’s safe to say that Thir13en Ghosts is Beck’s crowning achievement as a director.
Of course, no self-respecting haunted house film is complete without some good old fashioned ghost shenanigans. These aren’t your grandmother’s ghosties and they certainly are the stuff of nightmares. Nicotero’s KNB team deliver the goods in a big and gruesome way. The Jackal, The Hammer and The Angry Princess were two terrifying characters that did wonders on my imagination once the lights went out each night for a good two year period.
While this film will never be ranked on any critic’s Top 10 list, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fun horror experience from the early 2000’s. The soundtrack matches the cast in New Millennium nostalgia and the effects stand up quite well fifteen years later. Do yourself a favor and ditch some of the more recent remakes of legendary horror flicks and watch a remake that at least puts a creative spin on its lesser-known predecessor.