Thir13en Ghosts was one of the better horror films to come out in 2001, and easily my favorite offering by Dark Castle. It sports a strong cast, including Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Matthew Lillard (Hackers, SLC Punk), and Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie, That 70's Show). The story is inspired by the original 13 Ghosts by Castle Films, though it has almost nothing to do with the original.
Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) is a wealth adventurer and collector who hunts ghosts, particularly violent ghosts. At the beginning of the film, a mishap while hunting a very violent spirit leaves Cyrus dead among several other victims of "The Juggernaut", though the ghost was successfully captured. Cyrus leaves his home and fortune to his nephew, Arthur, a man he barely knew.
Arthur Kriticos (Shalhoub) and his family are suffering from financial hard-times. His wife died in a fire, and he now resides with his son, daughter (Elizabeth), and housekeeper in a cramped apartment. News of the inheritance seems like the windfall the family has needed, and they quickly take possession of Cyrus's unique home, a structure made entirely of glass etched with strange markings and filled with antique treasures.
When they arrive at the home, guided by Cyrus's lawyer, they are greeted by Cyrus's ghost-hunting assistant, Dennis (Lilliard), disguised as a technician from the power company claiming that this house has caused an outage for the entire grid. The group enter the house, and quickly split-up, despite Author's insistence that they stay together. Dennis discovers that the 12 ghosts he helped Cyrus capture are imprisoned in the basement of the house in the containment units they were originally trapped in. He warns Arthur to get his family out of the house, dropping the electrician-disguise and revealing himself. While he and Arthur discuss leaving, the lawyer sneaks off to the basement of the house to retrieve a satchel of money. Doing so, he triggers the houses mechanisms which seal the house and release the violent ghosts.
During the course of the film, it is revealed that Cyrus was deeply into the occult and was obsessed with the legend of the "Oculus Inferna", a machine empowered by spiritual energy that allows the user to see anything and everything, essentially giving them ultimate knowledge and therefore power. The family struggles to make there way through the shifting-maze of the house while the ghosts who wonder its halls seeking victims and their own escape.
One aspect of the film that is of particular interest are the glasses designed to allow the wearer to see the ghosts, who are otherwise invisible. This is a nod to the original film, which had theater-goers wear "special" glasses which allowed them to see the ghosts in the film. castle was known for not only making horror films, but for also creating sensory experiences for theater-goers. This is really the only connection, other than the title, that the new film has with the original.
I was very impressed with this film, especially with the mythology created to support it. The film itself is solid in regards to special-effects and story without relying to heavily on "stings" to maintain the viewers interest. The acting is far superior to that of similar films, with minimum camp while still having some humorous moments. The ghosts costumes are each a work of art, each wonderfully executed. For those who do not know yet, "The Angry Princess" costume is a complete body-suit, not a nude-actress.
The mythology of a "Black Zodiac" and the "Oculus Infernum" as well as the techniques for dealing with ghosts are well-thought out and have the feel of being drawn straight from ancient, occult texts. The book describing the "Black Zodiac" is wonderfully illustrated, although it is clearly modern in style. The special features of the DVD are a real treat for those interested in occult lore, even fictional information. I would have enjoyed a film dealing more with these aspects of the story, rather than using them as simple plot-devices, even more.
Pop some popcorn and turn out the lights. Thir13en Ghosts is one film horror fans should have in their collections.