Thirteen Ghosts (2001) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of Revisited looks back at the 2001 version of Thirteen Ghosts, starring Shannon Elizabeth and Matthew Lillard

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

The Thirteen Ghosts episode of Revisited was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Niki Minter, Edited by Ric Solomon, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Welcome to the early 2000s, when horror was loud, in your face, and not worried about a thing! Horror fans were spoiled with theatrical releases happening regularly, so much so that some weeks saw more than one big horror title opening on the big screen at the same time. Fans were treated to everything, including serial killers, slashers, ghosts, and aliens. There was a bit of everything for everyone, but in pure early 2000s style, a lot of films were all style, all gore, and all fun. This was the only way to follow the late 1990s and their revival of many sub-genres and careers. Thir13en Ghosts (watch it HERE) was and still is, easily one of the most enjoyable entries from 2001, with gory, spooky, sexy ghosts throughout and a fun cast to go with it.

Critics pretty much hated the film if the 18% it has on Rotten Tomatoes is any indication with the audience being just a little more generous with the film. As for me? Well, I LOVE it. It’s a favorite from the era and one that gets rewatched a couple of times per year. It’s a fun one on your own or with a group; it’s silly, it knows it, it wants you to have fun. So fun I had. The film gets a solid 9 out of 10 for me to tell you how much I love this one. Back in the day, I would have given it a 12 out of 10, but the years have made me less extreme while more movies have been watched, like a small thousand per year on average, which means that I am less likely to go crazy for a movie. However, back in the day, I remember clearly seeing this in the second-run theater.

Like I said, the films were coming at us fast and furious that year and there were just too many releases to manage to see them all in their first week. The second run theater in downtown Montreal, yes there was still one in 2001, which they called a move-over theater, was a gift from the horror heavens. They had a steady stream of horror films, and you could easily do a double or triple feature without breaking the bank. So, one day, a friend and I ventured downtown and saw a few films, including Thir13en Ghosts, which made me so freaking happy.

It was back in my early days of reviewing, and I had not been tasked with reviewing it, so I just enjoyed it for the sake of enjoyment. That is something I keep reminding myself to do these days, just watch movies for fun, then write about them.

How do I come to such a high mark of the film now, over 20 years after its original release when I loved it so much, I pre-ordered the DVD right after seeing it for the first time? Well, it’s simple, so keep with me. By the way, that DVD came in one of those snap-closed cardboard boxes, just like its remake best buddy House on Haunted Hill. Similarly to that film, Thir13en Ghosts is a remake of a William Castle film, and it updates the story for current sensibilities, or lack thereof.

That DVD showed up, I had to trek back downtown to pick it up, then home I went to watch the film a few too many times. These days, I still watch it regularly on the very same DVD, but not to the point of knowing all the lines by heart still. I also know full well that it is not a masterpiece, but it’s pretty close if you ask me, hence the 9 out of 10. To me, it is a masterpiece; to some it’s more like a disasterpiece, but as long as it is being enjoyed, it makes me happy no matter what they call it or rate it.

Thirteen Ghosts Shannon Elizabeth

So, what’s the story here? Well, it’s a haunted house, but with a twist.

After losing their wife and mother and house in a fire, a family composed of dad Arthur, daughter Kathy, and son Bobby have added a sassy nanny named Maggie to bring a bit of comedic relief to their lives, or at least the film. One day, as they worry about money and making it while living in what is considered a small apartment, having no money, yet having the budget to have a nanny who does nothing on staff, they receive a visit from a lawyer. Of course, at first, the mature-for-her-age daughter worries about collections or if they are going to lose even more. Turns out, they had a rich, eccentric uncle who just passed away and left them his insane house and fortune.

With a bit of convincing, they all head out to their new home to check out the digs. And what a house it is! Once there, they bump into a man from the opening, except they don’t know that he knew the uncle and had a spectacularly bad time with him in a junkyard catching some ghosts for the uncle’s collection. Soon, this man manages to go in the house with them under the pretense that he’s from the power company and he needs to do his job. The family and lawyer go over some stuff, the father worries about the cost of maintenance, and the daughter worries about how big the bathrooms are. Soon, things take a turn and with the help of the not-from-the-power-company man named Dennis shows his true colors and warns them about the ghosts imprisoned in the house.

Chaos ensues, we get to see a bunch of ghosts, 12 to be exact, and get to wonder when the 13th ghost will show up. These ghosts are not particularly scary, but their appearances are spooky enough, sexy even in one case. As they run through the house with the moving walls, using special glasses to see the ghosts, the lawyer bites it spectacularly and a new character enters the mayhem, a psychic or ghost whisperer named Kalina, who may or may not have good intentions. The mayhem escalates, the film gets louder and more visually violent, and we get to the ending where the 13th ghost is revealed in an almost too-sweet sequence for this viewer. Still, the film ends pretty quick with minimal bloodshed from the leads and a closing song by Rah Digga who plays Maggie in the film.

Now, is that story groundbreaking? Absolutely not! It is fun though! You bet! The story itself has a few issues and a few things thrown in there for convenience, some characters know things just out of the blue and some things are forgotten when it’s practical, but none of this takes away from the fun of it. The opening sequence in the junkyard is awesome, it is based in the evil of the man collecting souls and not letting them rest. It’s violent and even a bit vile in the reasoning for it. It’s one hell of an opening sequence though and it really pulls you in.

Thirteen Ghosts Revisited

The ending has some schmaltzy stuff that is just a bit too sugary sweet for this viewer, but it works in the insanity that this film is. The middle of it, the meat of the film is where the ghosts show up and that is where the fun is. If you are a fan of well-executed practical special effects and crazy character designs, this is the film for you! The ghosts each have a backstory, they have a specific design that is their own, and the film doesn’t shy away from giving them wounds and even from having one being basically nude. This is how you do over-the-top horror; this is how you throw everything at the screen and hope it all sticks. And it does! The ghosts are basically the main reason to see this film, that and the performances for the ghosts and their would-be victims.

The fact that most of the work is practical effects is a very big reason to love this film. Of course, there’s some early 2000s CGI, which has aged like early 2000s CGI. It has its issues, but it’s easy to look past it. Another effect here is the use of quick cuts and fast editing for effects and well, it’s annoying. While it’s dynamic looking and it makes some sense with the visions that Dennis Rafkin has, the quick cuts and flashes are more headache-inducing than excitement creating in my old age. While this was just a part of the film in 2001, watching with my 20-year-old eyes, now, it’s a bit more of a problem. Those sensitive to flashing lights or strobe effects should try and watch this in full light to avoid the issue or may want to just skip the film entirely, which is too bad as it is a big miss to skip this one.

The acting, oh the acting. Is the acting great? Let’s not kid ourselves, there’s no way this would be a best-acting sort of film. Still though, the acting is decent while being over the top. Somewhere between Matthew Lillard’s performance as Dennis and Rah Digga’s performance as Maggie, the film almost goes into schlock and the two of them chew some scenery together so beautifully well, it becomes an art form. The acting from Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Alec Roberts, and JR Bourne is okay.

Where things go full tilt cheesy is with the performance by F. Murray Abraham as the rich uncle, his work here makes it look like he’s just relishing the part and loving the chance at being an eccentric old kook. Embeth Davidtz, unfortunately, doesn’t always seem like she’s in the same film as the rest of the cast. She’s okay, but something about her performance feels off. She does not seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the cast. The cast for the ghosts does good work in their limited time on screen and they bring these characters to life without a word, making it all about the physical performance.

They also clearly understand the assignment here, ghosts, spooky, but not run-the-audience-out-of-the-room scary. More of them would be great… you know, like that treatment other films are getting, something like a series about the ghosts, their lives, how they died, how they became trapped. Sorry, I can’t avoid thinking of the possibilities for awesome here.

Let’s get back to the story here, to its writing. Thir13en Ghosts was written by Robb White, Neal Marshall Stevens, and Richard D’Ovidio. White is credited with the story here and the other two wrote the script. As a remake of the 1960 film 13 Ghosts, this version credits its creator and of course takes some of the original along with some serious liberties to make the most 2001 movie that ever 2001’d. Their work here, along with that of director Steve Beck, created an adaptation that pissed off some people to say the least, but personally, I love it. It’s silly, it has ghosts, it’s loud, it’s in your face, and it’s exactly what it wants to be. It clearly has not won over every viewer out there, but to that I say: So, what? Seriously, just put it on and have fun with it.

Thirteen Ghosts Revisited

Speaking of things that are oh-so-2001, check out the soundtrack for this film. Like seriously, even if you don’t watch the film, check out the soundtrack online, the songs, including the one by Rah Digga that closes the film, are very dated, yet fun. Another song used here is “Excess” by Tricky (with uncredited vocals by Alanis Morrissette), which was reused the following year on the soundtrack to another fantastically cheesy horror film, Queen of the Damned. The score by John Frizzell is almost subdued at times, something that is almost shocking considering the film. The music is close to classical in feel at first, then as things ramp up in the film, the score adds noises that are not exactly music, but help layer the sound and create the exact right atmosphere.

It does highlight and direct the tension at times, creating a sound that brings excitement and spookiness out of the film when needed. This is a score that when taken on its own does not say 2001 as loud as the soundtrack does. It’s effective and it can almost work on its own and a few of the tracks are easy to listen to without the movie on. Of course, the later tracks are meant to spook and to create chaos, so those are not so much something to listen to while you cook dinner or read a book.

Thir13en Ghosts is kind of a cult film at this point, having its fandom truly loving it and having its detractors truly hating it, both great signs for longevity in the horror genre. The film has aged, yes, it is also very much a product of its time, but it’s still so much fun these days, both for a chaotic horror watch and as a party movie where you can easily come in and out of watching it without getting lost in the story.

Could it have been a serious horror film with deeper connections to the viewer, a more profound look at the ethics of what was being done to those poor souls trapped in the house, and even a more subtle approach to scares? Absolutely. Did it need to be these things to be enjoyed? Absolutely not. Thir13en Ghosts is effective and enjoyable as it is. It’s not meant to be a serious film and clearly those involved in making it understood the assignment. The film is a boatload of fun with good special effects, fun ghost appearances, a cast that goes for it, and a filmmaker that knew what he was working with and wasn’t ashamed to make it a blast.

Fans of Thir13en Ghosts, like me, still rewatch it today and were vocal enough to get a super-duper Blu-Ray release of it recently with new artwork and all kinds of goodies on the disc. Now, do I have that version? Not yet. I am still deeply attached to my cheap cardboard box that snaps shut.

Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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