During the late ’90s and early ’00s there was a big resurgence in remaking horror films from the 1950s and 1960s. Many did incredibly well at the box office and ended up being pretty well regarded by critics and fans alike. The 2 I remember hearing a lot about were 1999’s ‘House on the Haunted Hill’ and 2001’s ‘Thir13en Ghosts’ (Which for the purposes of the review we’ll just call 13 Ghosts). I ended up watching House On the Haunted Hill and absolutely loved it (apart from the ending) but somehow this film completely fell off my radar until today.
The basic gist of the film is that Arthur Kriticos and his 2 children inherit a unique mansion from his dead uncle which is almost entirely made of glass covered in scripture. Weird! Not even an hour into being shown the house things start hitting the fan and it’s revealed the uncle was collecting ghosts(specific ghosts) to power a machine to make a gateway and the house is that machine! SHOCK! HORROR! The rest of the film is the family aided by a ghost catcher (played by Matthew Lillard) pretty much trying to survive the ghosts and to escape the ever-changing labyrinth of the house.
From the gripping opening to the pretty good ending, the film just kinda works. It would have been easy to have just remade the film as a basic ghost story but what’s here is a nice fresh revamped take that brings the story into the modern age with better visual effects and more interesting technology in the film. The film moves at a swift pace which you can’t really fault. There are times when I wondered if knowing more about each of the ghosts would be good, but then realised it would mess with the pacing too much. I would like to see an alternate slower cut that does explore who the ghosts were and one that gives each a little more screen time, as a couple you only see during the finale.
The direction from first-time feature director Steve Beck is great and the fact he came from a background in visual effects really shines. The way he captures the house almost makes it feel like it’s own character (Which it kind of is). His skill behind the camera is enhanced by some great performances from the great cast. For me Lillard truly steals the show and is just so watchable. It’s one of his less wacky roles and really highlights that he’s a great actor. In fact, there’s very little humour if any in the film which heightens the pretty dark story. The script, for the most part, is serviceable but never truly wows. It’s one of those films you kinda know where it’s heading near the start and kind of see how it gets there. You still get those sully moments where characters split up, with one character being absent for 75% of the film. The special effects hold up pretty darn well with some of the ghost designs working far better than others. The only time I felt the visual effects hadn’t aged well was during the finale of the film as there is some pretty dated CGI.
It may not be the best horror film in the world but there’s something about it which stays with you in a good way. I would say it’s a really fun joy ride and one which I’d happily watch again and again.
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