I think its pretty cool that the classic William Castle spookfests are being re-imagined for modern audiences. Personally, I really enjoyed the update on HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, which was a pretty solid special effects laden thrill ride. Nearly as much fun as the updated HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, is the modernized take on THIR13EN GHOSTS ($25). However, unlike William Castleís 13 GHOSTS, which required the audience to wear special glasses if they want to see the ghosts, the remake allows the audience to see the inhabitants of the spirit realm whenever the characters in the movie don their special ghost viewers.
The rather slim plot of THIR13EN GHOSTS concerns a wealthy eccentric named Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham), a ghost catcher of some sort, whose interest would appear to lie in the most malevolent and deadly of spirits. Unfortunately, Cyrus is killed in the early moments of the film, during an attempt to capture a ghost more lethal than any other in his menagerie. With Cyrusí death, the assets of his estate are turned over to his only living heir- a nephew named Arthur (Tony Shalhoub).
The unexpected windfall couldnít come at a better time for Arthur, who is nearly destitute due to a fire that destroyed his home and claimed the life of his beloved wife. Along with his daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), his son Bobby (Alec Roberts) and Maggie (Rah Digga), the nanny he can ill afford, Arthur is shown the main asset of his inheritance- his uncle Cyrusí very unique home. Situated in the middle of nowhere, the house has been fabricated out of glass and steel, allowing one to see through much of the structure. In addition to the curious building materials, the house seems to have been constructed in the fashion of a puzzle box, with the ability to change configuration.
When Arthur, his family and an estate lawyer show up at this very unusual residence, they find Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard), a former ghost catching associate of Cyrus, waiting for them. Although there initially to collect money promised to him, Dennis is soon warning Arthur and his family to get out of the house, which imprisons the twelve deadly ghosts that Cyrus captured. Unfortunately, Dennisí warnings donít come soon enough, as the group finds themselves trapped in the house, whose layout begins changing, just as the ghosts are released one by one from their cells. What follows are the expected deaths, destruction, mayhem and gore. The cast of THIR13EN GHOSTS also features Embeth Davidtz, JR Bourne, Matthew Harrison, Kathryn Anderson, Mikhael Speidel, Daniel Wesley, Laura Mennell, Craig Olejnik, Shawna Loyer, Xantha Radley, C. Ernst Harth, Laurie Soper, Herbert Duncanson, Shayne Wyler and John DeSantis.
Warner Home Video has made THIR13EN GHOSTS available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is an absolutely superb looking transfer that one will likely want to show off to their friends- especially those that enjoy horror movies. The image on the DVD is incredibly sharp and extremely well defined. Thanks to the superb transfer, one can truly appreciate the intricacies of the filmís production design and primary set- the beautifully designed and furnished glass house. Color reproduction is wonderfully rich and vibrant, while flesh tones appear completely natural- at least on the living characters. Blacks are completely inky, plus the image produces a great deal of shadow detail and terrific depth. Dual layer authoring completely disguises all traces of digital compression artifacts.
While THIR13EN GHOSTS features plenty of dead characters, the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is completely alive and kicking. This is an aggressive and highly directional mix that makes the most of the Dolby Digital formatís capabilities. Sound effects come from all sides and can easily pan from one point in the sonic field to another. The sound mix is also very creepy and incredibly atmospheric- at no time do the sound engineers let you forget you are watching a horror movie. In fact, the overall effect of the sound mix intensifies the filmís fun factor to the nth degree. Dialogue reproduction is pretty clean and completely understandable. Voices should get a tad muffled as the sound effects hit their peak, but they donít. The bass channel provides enough energy to shake the house in the film down to its foundation- thus giving the subwoofer oneís home theater more than a proper workout. A French 5.1 channel soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís suitably intense interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplement materials. Starting things off is a running audio commentary with production designer Sean Hargreaves, special effects make-up artist Howard Berger, and director Steve Beck. The participants are listed in this order because the emphasis of the track is the technical wizardry required to bring THIR13EN GHOSTS to the screen.
Next up are a couple of featurettes. Running shy of nineteen minutes is 13 Ghosts Revealed, which offers viewers a look behind-the-scenes at the production design and special effects work, as well as offering interviews with the cast and crewmembers. Ghost Files is an interactive featurette that offers a brief back-story for all of the malevolent spirits depicted in THIR13EN GHOSTS. The DVD also offers a biography for producer/director William Castle, who was responsible for the 1960 version of 13 GHOSTS. The DVD also lists a Club Reel, which is a music video for the song Excess by Tricky. A theatrical trailer and abridged cast & crew listing close out the DVDís supplements. DVD-ROM supplements come in the form of a few web links.
Horror fans that enjoy big, loud gore-fests will find THIR13EN GHOSTS to be a thrill ride that they will to want to take. Personally, I enjoyed this flick, although not as much as the remake of that other William Castle classic- HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Warnerís DVD looks and sounds incredible, making THIR13EN GHOSTS a disc that many horror aficionados will want to show off to their friends. In fact, any horror fan looking for a new demo disc will definitely want to give THIR13EN GHOSTS a chance to haunt their home theaters.
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