Release Date(s)2001 (July 28, 2020)
Studio(s)Dark Castle Entertainment/Columbia Pictures/Warner Bros (Scream/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
The second film of the newly-formed Dark Castle Entertainment—following House on Haunted Hill from two years before—Thir13en Ghosts was released to dismal critical and audience reaction. Though praised for its production design, nearly everything else about it was picked apart, including dialogue, performances, editing, and sound design. Despite the initial backlash, the film did well on home video and has since become a minor cult favorite.
Arthur (Tony Shaloub) is a recently widowed father saddled with two kids, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), a nanny named Maggie (Rah Digga), and vast financial difficulties. They are called on by the lawyer of the late Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham), an eccentric and wealthy man, as well as a distant uncle to Arthur. They’re informed that they’ve inherited his house, but upon their arrival discover it is made almost entirely out of glass—with Latin phrases etched into the doors and windows. They also meet Dennis (Matthew Lillard), who reveals that malevolent and murderous spirits are being stored in the basement. A mysterious woman named Kalina (Embeth Davidtz) also shows up to free the spirits from their confines and return them to the outside world. However, when the house begins shifting, opening and closing doors at random, they’re all separated from each other and the vengeful ghosts are loosed inside.
Thir13en Ghosts, while enjoyable on a surface level, is not a good film overall. Its major fault lies in its direction, which trickles down to almost everything else, including performances and presentation. It’s clear what first-time director Steve Beck was more interested in, which was the production design and special make-up effects as they’re on full display. The characters are almost an afterthought. If it had been a film about a family moving into a haunted house after a tragedy, wouldn’t the tragedy be the main focus in the beginning of the film? Instead, we’re shown how Cyrus captures these titular ghosts which, to be honest, is neither interesting or necessary. It’s merely present to add to the body count and establish Dennis’ psychic abilities. Meanwhile, the tragedy is shown in a brief flashback during the opening credit sequence. Nevermind the seizure-inducing editing choices or the overloading of sound effects and music.
That all said, you can’t fault the film for its look. The house itself is incredible, if not totally impractical. A minor earthquake would decimate it easily. Impossibilities and impracticalities like this could be overlooked if the main elements outshined it, and they don’t. The ghosts themselves are also well-imagined. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much about them, and we’re instead educated on their backgrounds through a home video supplement (which is far more interesting than the film itself). Having highly imaginative monsters—the chief reason we’re watching the film—and not exploring them to some degree is just sloppy. What it comes down to is that the film’s production designer, Sean Hargreaves, and special make-up effects technicians Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman, are the stars of the show. For some folks, that’s the whole ballgame. For others, that’s not even leaving the dugout.
Scream Factory presents Thir13en Ghosts on Blu-ray for a second time in a new Collector’s Edition package, utilizing a 10-year-old high definition master, but given plenty of disc space and a high encode. It’s unsurprisingly dated sitting next to modern hi-def transfers of films from the same era, but is at least given the best possible circumstances to shine. Grain is muddled and detail is soft, with older CGI elements sticking out the most. The color palette offers a nice variety of hues, but doesn’t appear particularly bold. Blacks are deep, though not entirely solid. Brightness and contrast levels could be boosted, but only a fresh scan would get more out of the images. Everything is stable and clean, and whether artificial sharpening was utilized or not is difficult to tell. It’s a highly watchable presentation, but certainly needs a thousand mile service.
The audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 track is about as active as you could hope for, despite the fact that the film’s soundtrack is hyper and over the cliff with ghostly sound effects and explosions. Dialogue exchanges are fairly clear and precise, while the score and music tracks have added bump in the surrounding speakers. Ambient activity is tenfold while the bass has an abundance of window-rattling aural muscle. The 2.0 track is similar, but with less space to move around in.
The following extras are also included.
- Audio Commentary with Steve Beck and Justin Beahm
- Audio Commentary with Steve Beck, Sean Hargreaves, and Howard Berger
- Haunted in Canada: Shannon Elizabeth on Thirteen Ghosts (HD – 9:57)
- The Voice of Reason: Matthew Harrison on Thirteen Ghosts (HD – 14:43)
- The Juggernaut Speaks: John DeSantis on Thirteen Ghosts (HD – 13:14)
- The Hammer Speaks: Herbert Duncanson on Thirteen Ghosts (HD – 5:56)
- Sophomore Spookshow: Producer Gil Adler on Thirteen Ghosts (HD – 8:32)
- Thir13en Ghosts Revealed (SD – 18:40)
- Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles (SD – 14:10)
- Original Electronic Press Kit (SD – 43:24)
- Trailer & TV Spots (HD – 8 in all – 5:20)
The new audio commentary with director Steve Beck and moderator Justin Beahm is basically an interview session, but is a good one nonetheless. The original audio commentary featuring Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargreaves, and special make-up effects technician Howard Berger has been cut together from separate recordings. It’s definitely an informative commentary, despite none of the participants being in the same room together. Actress Shannon Elizabeth talks about meeting for the part, being a fan of horror movies, working with the cast and crew, working with the ghosts, having fears off the set, and the film’s release. Actor Matthew Harrison discusses how he got involved with the film, working with F. Murray Abraham and Steve Beck, meeting Matthew Lillard, his death scene, and the film’s release. Actor John DeSantis speaks about being in the military, getting into acting, being cast, his make-up, his character, 9/11 happening on the day of re-shoots, and seeing the film when it was released. Actor Herbert Duncanson discusses initially being a stand-in only before being cast in the film, putting on the make-up and the wardrobe, working with the cast and crew, working with John DeSantis, and not knowing about the film’s cult appeal. Producer Gilbert Adler speaks about the formation of Dark Castle Entertainment, getting William Castle’s family’s blessing over the script, the film’s production design, working with the cast and crew, and the film’s legacy. Thir13en Ghosts Revealed is a vintage making-of from the film’s original DVD release. Ghost Files was an interactive feature on that same DVD, but is now presented in straight video form. The Original Electronic Press Kit is lengthy, but features interviews with all of the main players. The DVD also contained a music video for the song Excess by Tricky, which hasn’t been carried over here.
Thir13en Ghosts half-assedly asks us to care about a widowed father and his children, but throws cool images and loud noises at us instead. It’s a mildly entertaining film, but there isn’t much to get out of it other than what’s on the surface, which is otherwise quite good. Scream Factory’s presentation of the film, as well as the extensive supplementary package, certainly allow it to be more fully appreciated for what it is without judgment.
– Tim Salmons