A few years ago, producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis decided to remake director William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill" for a Halloween release. The film certainly was not terrific, but I found it to be a fairly entertaining popcorn flick, with a marvelous sound mix and moderately good performances. Last year, the two producers decided to try things again and remade Castle's "13 Ghosts". The result is a picture that is quite visually impressive but absolutely a ridiculous and empty mess otherwise.
This film opens with eccentric millionaire Cyrus (formerly award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham) and his psychic assistant (Matthew Lillard) attempting to trap spirits to use for their own gain. Things don't go as planned - cut to present day. Cyrus' long-lost nephew Arthur (the great Tony Shalhoub, who absolutely should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination for "Man Who Wasn't There") finds out that a giant house has been left to him by his uncle. He packs up his children (Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts) and his nanny (rapper Rah Digga, stuck with unfunny lines) and sets out to the place, meeting up with a lawyer and eventually, previously mentioned Lillard character.
Everything seems calm at first - and nobody believes the Lillard character - but things quickly turn dark. It turns out that the house just happens to be evil and it also just happens to be a giant machine (powered by a group of very irritated ghosts) that is going to open the "eye of hell" - or some such business. The rest of the picture - no more, no less - is one very long chase sequence throughout glass hallways that - hey - occasionally look a bit like hallways we just saw a couple of scenes prior.
The film does not attempt to explain the plot or the motivations. Suddenly, there's a ghost hunter (Embeth Daviditz, who did horror far better in "Army of Darkness") who just happened to get into the house that the characters had been completely locked in. Goggles around the house which look like ordinary shop goggles somehow magically give the characters the ability to see the previously-unseen ghosts. By the end, the story becomes confusing - loud sounds attempting to make it appear as if things are actually happening. Even the film's sound mix is volume and fury, although not particularly inspired, using similar shock sounds over and over until they get annoying.
VIDEO: "13 Ghosts" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture looks remarkably good throughout the show, as the film's vibrant cinematography and impressive production design were offered in top-notch fashion. Sharpness and detail were exceptional throughout; even dimly-lit hallways provided a strong amount of visual information.
Flaws are very minimal and hardly bothersome. Some very light grain was occasionally seen as was some very slight edge enhancement. No pixelation was seen and the print seemed nearly faultless, with no specks or marks that I noticed.
Colors looked vivid and well-saturated during the entire film, with no smearing or other flaws seen. Black level also was solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural. A fantastic visual presentation.
SOUND: "13 Ghosts" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Certainly, I will say that this is an agressive soundtrack that uses the surrounds often and provides a solid amount of bass. The film occasionally seemed to rely a bit too much on "shock sounds" that tended to sound a bit too similar. I would have liked even more ambience and more subtle detail between the more agressive sequences. "House On Haunted Hill" certainly had its own highly intense moments with the audio, but there were a lot of little details placed in the surrounds during the quieter scenes to add a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. The score - which added little to this film - had mild presence, while dialogue remained clear and crisp. This is a loud soundtrack, but I just felt that it could have been a little more creative and that I've heard this kind of soundtrack done better in other recent films.
MENUS: An agressive animated sequence leads into the main menu, which isn't animated, but has audio from the film in the background.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Steve Beck, makeup effects artist Howard Berger, and production designer Sean Hargreaves. Oddly enough, it was difficult to tell if the three have been recorded together or separately. Berger and Hargreaves seem to be discussing the film with one another and at times, Beck and at other times, not. Anyways, this was a pleasant enough affair, as I was surprised that the production designer and makeup artist (who did the majority of the talking) were able to provide enough information to cover most of the running time. When the three are not praising the film or it's crew, they provide good information about how the sets were constructed (which is more interesting than it sounds), the film's special effects and even some of the plot threads that were changed or abandoned.
Also: Largely promotional 18-minute "making of", bios, trailer and music video.
Final Thoughts: "Thirteen Ghosts" is visually impressive, but it's completely unsuccessful at generating any sort of thrills. Warner Brothers' DVD offers excellent video and respectable audio with some decent supplements. Not recommended.
The Film *