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There is no such thing as a typical horror movie these days. The late eighties and early nineties were littered with gory horror films, but gradually the trend has changed. Since the release of ‘Scream’, the typical horror movie has been redefined and is based less on gore and more on the unseen. ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ has tried to turn the tide again with a match of action and gore. The only problem is that it is based on a remake of the same name. Remaking horror movies is not generally considered a good idea. Recent efforts like ‘The House on Haunted Hill’ were expensive flops at the box office, and never really captured the elements which made the originals so successful. Now with the region two release of ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ we have the chance to see if the gory horror genre can be successful again.

Thirteen Ghosts
The Kriticos family have had a tough couple of years. Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) is the father of the household with two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts).  The children’s mother died recently and the family are still mourning her death. Money is tight and Arthur is finding it hard to look after his family. Bills are not paid, and the pressure of living in a small house is starting to affect their mood. Arthur realises that the family needs somewhere bigger to live, but they simply cannot afford anything larger.

A knock on the door one day proves to be the unlikeliest of solutions to their problems. The family are visited by the lawyer of their uncle Cyrus. Arthur hasn’t seen his uncle Cyrus for a long time, so is shocked by the news he is about to be told. The lawyer explains that Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) has recently passed away, and the family are the beneficiaries of his mansion. At first Arthur thinks this is a little weird since he didn’t really know Cyrus and had always thought of him as being a bit spooky. However his children have different ideas and persuade their father to go and visit the house. When they reach it they are greeted by an electrical engineer (Matthew Lillard), who has apparently been sent to fix an electrical problem in the house. At first sight the house looks impressive. Its walls and ceiling are made entirely of glass, with Latin writing inscribed into them. The house is full of valuable items which are also left to the Kriticos family.

Gradually it dawns on Arthur and his children that the house is actually theirs, and they start feeling at home. This is when they realise that they are not alone in the house. We learn that Cyrus in fact has been building a house in which he can store ghosts. The basement of the mansion contains several cells which are home to twelve spooks. The ghosts can only be seen with special glasses, so at first the family are not aware of them. However, one by one the ghosts are released and start to wreak havoc in the isolated house.  As strange things start happening in the house, the family realise that the electrical engineer is not just that. He is in fact a past employee of Cyrus, and is owed money by his ex-boss. His name is Dennis Rafkin, and he helped Cyrus catch the ghosts originally. Rafkin is persuaded to help the family try and escape the mansion. Each ghost that is released is more powerful than the last, so the longer the family stay in the house, the less chance they stand of escaping. Armed with little more than their fists and some glasses, the group are forced to run for their lives, in order to avoid the spirits that are after them.    

Thirteen Ghosts
From the first minute of the film, right through to the closing credits, we are treated to a non-stop action horror movie. The film starts off at a quick pace, with an exciting and scary opening scene. Apart from a little character building, the movie is full of tense, exciting scenes which should keep even the most ardent of horror fans happy.  The plot is a little suspect at times, but there are enough exciting and creepy moments to make you forget about the gaps in the storyline. Some of the scenes are pretty intense and certainly not for the queasy or faint hearted. I was quite surprised to learn that the movie only has a 15 certificate. Considering that some of the ghost are quite ghastly looking, the rating should really have an 18 certificate. When first released ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ received mixed reviews. Many people presumed that because it was a remake, it would automatically be bad. The acting may not be the best, but that’s not what the movie is about. The aim of this movie is to scare and to thrill. Based on that, I can thoroughly recommend watching it.

‘Thirteen Ghosts’ is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I am going to stick my neck out here and say that this transfer is reference quality. Most new releases these days are near perfect, and this one is no different.  The image is clear and sharp, with the level of detail being spot on. Colours are also true and precise, with skin tones presented accurately. Black levels are as you would expect them to be, which is essential considering that a lot of the movie is shot in the dark. Compression artefacts are nowhere to be seen, and thankfully there was also no sign of edge enhancements. This is a truly excellent transfer, which has to been seen to be believed. If you are looking for a disc to show off you home cinema, then you could do a lot worse than what’s on offer here.

We are provided with two Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks on this disc. They are English and Italian tracks. This review concentrates on the English track which is superb. Recently I have watched a lot of old releases on DVD which have not really made use of my sound system. Thankfully the same cannot be said for this disc. The track is atmospheric and tense, but also deals well with quiet periods. Dialogue is always clear and precise, but we really see the full potential of the track when there is action onscreen. The movie consists of a lot of flashbacks, which the rear speakers are used for. They make the scenes more powerful and shocking. The rear speakers are used early on in the movie, and this continues throughout the film. Due to the nature of the film there are times when there is a lot happening on the screen. Every speaker is used in scenes like this to create a tense atmosphere. It was also nice to hear my subwoofer pounding away towards the end of the film. Overall, an excellent track which compliments the movie well.    

Thirteen Ghosts
Columbia Tristar have provided a reasonable number of extras on this disc. First up is the Director’s Commentary. By calling it this they have actually under sold it, because we actually get three people talking. The production designer and effects designer join the director in discussing the film. The production designer starts off by explaining his role in the movie, and this leads onto the effects designer outlining his part in bringing the film to the screen. This commentary is very detailed, with all those involved adding useful information about the movie.  At various points in the movie we are given detailed information about each of the ghosts, and how they were designed and brought to life. One of the most interesting sections is the chat about the house. We are told that it was a complex set, which took a lot of hard work to bring to the big screen.  While listening to this commentary it became apparent that the movie took a lot of organising.  Overall the commentary is very informative and fascinating. There are enough interesting topics in this commentary to keep fans of the movie happy. I am not a great fan of commentaries, but this one kept my attention for its duration and compliments the movie well.

Next in the list of extras is a ‘Making of thirteen ghosts’. This documentary runs for just over eighteen minutes. We get to hear from the main actors/actresses in the movie, who all provide useful information. We are told that the original movie was made so that the audience had to wear 3D glasses to see the ghosts. The people responsible for this remake decided to change the story a little so that the characters could only see the ghosts if they were wearing glasses. This documentary is split into three subsections. The first section explains how the special effects makeup was created and used. Apparently the makers did not want to use blue screen characters, so every ghost was played by a real actor. What impressed me with this documentary is the amount of behind-the-scenes footage that we actually see. Some documentaries don’t actually take you far behind the scenes, but this one allows you to see quite a lot. We get to see the actorsactresses in the makeup room. Seeing this documentary made me realise exactly how complex each ghost was to create and this took three hours for some of the characters. The second section in the documentary is called product design. This details exactly how the house was created. The makers of the movie liked the idea that you could see through every wall in the house. We get an explanation of the layout of the house, including the Latin sketching on the walls.  Apparently it was the first set in the history of cinema to be constructed entirely from glass.  As the walls were made of glass, it was interesting to find out how careful everyone was while filming. Actors had to wear dark clothes in case they were caught on camera when they were not supposed to be. The final section is called visual fx and shows before and after shots of scenes from the movie. This section is for anyone who likes to see how special effects are brought to life.

Thirteen Ghosts
One of the most interesting extras on the disc is called ‘13 Ghosts Revealed’. This is, as the title explains, a brief documentary about all the ghosts covered in the story. It is shot in the form of a real life documentary. We are given background information about the lives of the individual ghosts. This feature is very well made, but is not for the faint-hearted. The total running time is thirteen minutes.  Also provided on the disc are a few extras in the form of notes. We are given detailed information about William Castle, the director/producer of the 1960 version. For anyone who is interested in members of the cast, there is also a section provided entitled ‘Cast and Crew’. Finally there is a section called trailers. This section has a trailer for ‘Thirteen Ghosts’, ‘Hollow Man’ and Spider-Man. The ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ trailer is actually very good.  It runs for just under two minutes and typifies the atmosphere of the movie. It starts off by being quite creepy and then bursts into action showing flashes of the movie. This trailer does a good job of selling the movie, and is likely to attract more viewers rather than putting them off.

‘Thirteen Ghosts’ will certainly have its critics, but personally I found it to be a good night’s entertainment. Yes, the storyline may be weak, but the action scenes go a long way in making up for any gaps in the plot. It has been a long time since a movie has kept me on the edge of my seat. Columbia Tristar have done a good job with the disc as well. The visual side is superb, whilst the Dolby Digital track is guaranteed to make you jump. As for extras we are given a good selection which should keep fans happy.  As a film which is supposed to scare, enthral and entertain, ‘Thirteen Ghosts’ is a pretty good movie and well worth purchasing.