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'Thirteen Ghosts'

'Thirteen Ghosts' is haunted by its own special effects

Friday, October 26, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Leave it to the sassy black baby sitter to hit the nail on the head.

 
 
'Thirteen Ghosts'

RATING: R for horror violence/gore, nudity, some language

STARRING: Tony Shalhoub, F. Murray Abraham

DIRECTOR: Steve Beck

WEB SITE: 13ghosts.warnerbros.com

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

In "Thirteen Ghosts," as the terrified talk turns to the "eye of hell," she moans, "I'm stuck here with crazy white people." I hear you, girlfriend.

In "Thirteen Ghosts," the nanny, her widowed employer (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children are trapped in a house "designed by the devil and powered by the dead." And not just any dead. These angry spirits represent the black zodiac and are really, really freaky.

You've got the little boy with the arrow through his forehead. The blacksmith who has spikes and nails embedded in his head and body, plus a large hammer bolted to his wrist in place of a hand. The teen-age boy whose right side -- including part of his skull -- was sheared off in a car accident. And let's not forget the busty naked woman with gashes all over her body, or "The Jackal," whose head is encased in a rusty metal cage.

"Thirteen Ghosts" is a remake of the 1960 William Castle film of the same name. That movie employed "Illusion-O!" which allowed audiences to see the spirits on screen only while wearing special glasses. This time, the people trapped in the house can see the ghosts when they don the spectacles conveniently placed within reach.

Shalhoub stars as Arthur Kriticos, a teacher whose idyllic life is shattered when his wife dies in a house fire. He, his daughter (Shannon Elizabeth), son (Alec Roberts) and baby sitter (rapper Rah Digga) soon are drowning in bills and squeezed into a cramped apartment. So, when a lawyer comes calling with news that they've inherited the estate of Arthur's late Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), they are thrilled.

Instead of a spooky old place behind a creaky, locked metal gate, this haunted house is a sleek triumph of glass and steel that is actually a machine, complete with pulleys, cogs, gears, a floor with elaborate concentric circles adorned with the black zodiac signs and glass walls etched with writing.

If there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's definitely no such thing as a free house, as Arthur soon discovers -- with the help of Rafkin (Matthew Lillard), a psychic who had been working for Cyrus, and Kalina (Embeth Davitz), an activist who frees trapped souls.

"Thirteen Ghosts" isn't scary. Or the least bit thought-provoking, even though it introduces us to a dozen imprisoned wraiths.

It's much too fast-paced, dependent on special effects and spends virtually no time exploring the living or the dead. The press materials for the movie actually explain the background for the dozen ghosts; in the film, they appear and then disappear in a bloody blur. It gave me a (belated) appreciation for the understated "The Others."

If all I wanted was to spend time in a fascinating, architecturally interesting house, I could watch HGTV. At home. Without ghosts or crazy people of any color.

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