Wednesday, October 14, 2009

30 Days of Fright - 13: Thir13en Ghosts

As a fan of trivia I enjoy digging out neat little facts about things that I can then regurgitate at the most inappropriate moments. Fun facts about people waking up during operations just before a friend goes into surgery or telling nervous women about the local rat or spider population just before bed are always good for a giggle. The problem with trivia is that there are times when the fun facts around something, be it book, album, or film, are better than the material itself.

Take, for example, the movie Thir13en Ghosts (that’s not a typo by the way, that’s how they write the name of this flick) – the fun little fact about it is that it’s yet another fucking remake, this time, however, that makes this movie ever so slightly more interesting.

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) opens with a ghost hunt. An (I assume) eccentric (maybe just drunk) rich bloke, Cyrus, is out with a bunch of his mates hunting a ghost in a junk yard. Turns out that Cyrus collects ghosts for a particular purpose and he’s after a really mean one. In the process of catching the ghost a number of the hunters, including Cyrus, get bumped off.

We then flip over to the story of Arthur (Tony Shaloub (Monk, from the TV show of the same name)), the daddy of an all American family whom tragedy has seen fit to visit; a house fire has taken the life of his wife and Arthur is not faring out well as the grieving widower. Finally, a little good fortune comes along in the form of Cyrus’s lawyer who reveals that dear old uncle Cyrus has left his house to Arthur.

Arthur and his two kids (the eldest of which is played by Shannon Elizabeth) along with their comic-relief nanny go with the Lawyer that evening to see the house. Cyrus's place is a monument of glass and bare metal and, frankly, a really interesting space in the post-modernest style - in other words it's cool looking. The unusual house entertains the kids but worries Arthur. Waiting for the family is Matthew Lillard, badly disguised as a power company engineer who claims that problems with the local electricity are being caused by a fault in the house. Lillard is actually a psychic and one-time assistant to Cyrus and he's visiting the house for a bit of a nose. Lillard is shocked to discover that the basement is a type of prison for ghosts and where Cyrus kept his collection. Terrified by his discovery he rushes to tell the others, just as trouble breaks out...

Maybe it's a decomposing, rotten, creature of the undead, maybe it's Maybelline

Thirteen Ghosts (I got sick of typing it the other way) is not about scare, though an 18's rated movie it's more like a gory version of The Haunting in that it's all about the house and the dead relative's obsession. Now, I like The Haunting, though it's unlikely it'll ever end up on a 30 Days list, it's a fun movie. Thirteen Ghosts is very similar but with a newer house and more contrived backstory. This is where the interesting little fact comes in. Both Thirteen Ghosts and The Haunting are remakes of movies from the early 1960's. The similarities in these movies is no coincidence but instead an odd reflection of the moods of two different periods.

The source material for the films comes from a time when horror was about haunted houses and ghosts, maybe the occassional vampire, but on the whole very traditional ideas about scary movies.The original Thirteen Ghosts hit cinemas in 1960 while The Haunting followed a few years later, getting released in 1963;  the modern Thirteen Ghosts is a 2001 film while The Haunting got its remake in 1999. The original movies relect the attitudes of the early 60's, along with the then current approach to film making. Thirteen Ghosts used blatent gimmicks to get bums on seats, including 3D style glasses to see (or not see) the ghosts, while The Haunting was filmed in a way that highlighted the atmospherics of the house and built up a feeling of dread. The remakes both used special effects and recognisable names to cover an utter lack of ability on behalf of the director.

Despite the gore and blood, the remade Thirteen Ghosts feels like a kids film, even more than The Haunting which actually IS a kids film. This is possibly due to the original movie being aimed at younger audiences but is more likely down to the fact that the director, Steve Beck, lost the run of himself in trying to please the fickle audience with a hollow script while at the same time never really asking for anything from the actors.

In terms of performances, Shannon Elizabeth is functional as the daughter, in fact all the actors are functional, but with Shannon it's more of a disappointment for some reason; it's like she was shaping up to be good and then just didn't bother. The scene with her in front of the mirror with the ghost behind her demonstrates what I mean, like she's really not trying, and the bit where she's attacked and her clothes are ripped is a severe let down on so many levels! Tony Shaloub is an odd choice for a film of this nature and his casting as the father is just another of the odd decisions the film makers made. Matthew Lillard is playing the same role he played in Scream and Hackers, and like in Scream, he tends to spit a lot, though his character is one of the more interesting ones in the film.

The overall star of the piece is the set design which is amazing - the house is brilliant, made up of glass etched with latin inscriptions and with large mechanical things everywhere. The biggest let down though has to be the Ghosts themselves as they're all rubbish, made up in more of a super-villain style then in a genuine attempt to scare.

Two Thumbs Down for Thirteen Ghosts (and Two Thumbs Firmly Down for the scene where you think you're going to see Shannon Elizabeth's boobies and then don't!)

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