`Thirteen Ghosts' are unwelcome guests

Review: The remake casts a creepy spell despite all the horror cliches.

October 26, 2001|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

As scary Halloween movies go, Thirteen Ghosts' "Oh, please" factor is pretty darn high.

When relatives suddenly inher- it a house from a mysterious uncle and walk in to realize it's made entirely of glass and has creepy looking Latin phrases etched on all its doors, they're not suspicious. They're not scared. The bux- om daughter even makes herself a solid candidate for the First to Perish award when she bovinely bats her eyes and says, "I sure hope the bathrooms are in the basement!"

And, at a crucial point, as the group searches the labyrinthine basement for a lost boy, whaddya know, someone utters the fateful, plot-moving words of many a subpar horror flick: "This is going to take forever. ... We'll meet back here in five minutes."

But if you can put aside such eye-rollers and bring a strong suspension of disbelief - at the characters' colossal cluelessness, that is - Thirteen Ghosts isn't a terrible horror movie. In fact, with its cool special effects, skin-crawling occult mumbo-jumbo and terrifying ghosts that hurl themselves at humans with Freddy Krueger claws and Jet Li moves, this film likely will inspire even the less than faint of heart to wince and shut their eyes in more than a few scenes.

This remake of William Castle's 1960 film finds Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children, Kathy (American Pie 2's Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), and their nanny Maggie (rapper Rah Digga) living in the poorhouse after a fire razes their home and kills mommy dearest (Kathryn Anderson).

The slashing and screaming begin when Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) leaves them a glass-and-steel manse that turns out to be a machine built to open up the Eye of Hell and make him the most powerful man on Earth. The machine is powered by the energy of 12 ghosts that Cyrus has imprisoned in the basement, and it gains momentum as the angry spirits are released one by one.

To escape, the Kriticoses have the help of a psychic ghost-catcher, Rafkin (Matthew Lillard from Scream), who joins the fun when he swings by to collect money Cyrus owes him, and Kalina (Embeth Davidtz), sort of a PETA activist for the netherworld, who is determined to free the ghosts.

Rah Digga, who appeared in MTV's Hip Hopera: Carmen, makes her big-screen debut here and has the funniest, most scene-stealing lines in the movie. It's just too bad she gets to say so little.

And, the ghosts, which filmmakers (including producer Joel Silver of The Matrix fame) carefully fleshed out, have distinct personas like "The Angry Princess" or "The Withered Lover." They have gruesome, often blood-spattered and open-wounded appearances, ugly tempers to match and are horrifying and fascinating to behold.

Just be sure to take along an arm to squeeze in the dark.

Thirteen Ghosts

Starring Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz and Matthew Lillard

Directed by Steve Beck

Rated R for horror violence/gore, nudity and language

Running time 88 minutes

Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and Columbia Pictures

Sun score * * 1/2

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