How’s this for a horror film tagline: “The only thing worse than being trapped in a house with a ghost… is being trapped in a house with 13 ghosts.” So goes the ad copy for Thirteen Ghosts, opening today. I could make the obvious joke and say that the only thing worse than being trapped in a house with 13 ghosts is being trapped in a theater showing Thirteen Ghosts, but the movie, though decidedly uninspired, doesn’t quite deserve that. (Incidentally, I also think that a house with, say, 29 ghosts would be worse than one with 13, but maybe that’s just me.)
In any case, the ghosts in question inhabit the elaborate mansion of a wealthy eccentric (F. Murray Abraham). After his death the mansion is bequeathed to his nearest relative, a young widower (Tony Shalhoub) with two incredibly irritating children (Alec Roberts and American Pie’s Shannon Elizabeth). Accompanied by their offensively stereotypical black babysitter (Rah Digga) and an overactive ghost hunter (Matthew Lillard), the family becomes trapped in the mansion and struggles to uncover its secret.
True, Thirteen Ghosts doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a low-budget horror flick released in time for Halloween, but it doesn’t even fare very well at that. Perhaps owing to the film’s (at times intentionally) laughable dialogue and generally unoriginal direction, genuine frights are few and far between. The visual effects and set design do have their moments, but the ghosts themselves too often look like tired haunted house props. And while the story holds the audience’s attention well enough, its supposed surprise twist is rather uninteresting and the ending oddly abrupt.
This version is actually a remake of William Castle’s more satisfying 1960 film of the same title. The older film had an interesting gimmick: Theater patrons were given “ghost viewer” goggles that enabled them to see (or not see) the spirits. Sadly, the remake reserves such highly useful goggles for the on-screen characters, thus forcing the audience to see every last bit of this forgettable film.