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It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie

Reader Review

Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Posted by: Sam
Date Submitted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 at 20:09:40
Date Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:42:58

Some bad movies reek from the very first frame. This is one that creeps up on you. It starts with cheesy dialogue but otherwise fine production values. We see that F. Murray Abraham is in this, which adds some class to the film.

The opening scene is the obligatory violent pre-credits action scene in which Abraham and some hired hands capture the twelfth of thirteen ghosts that he's trying to snare for some reason. A lot of people die in grotesque ways, and all I could think was, how do they explain this to the authorities? When the commotion is over, the camera pans to Abraham, apparently dead, his neck sliced open by flying metal debris.

Cut to more cheesy dialogue. A guy (Tony Shalhoub), who had lost his wife in a fire some time ago, inherits a mansion. He, his two children, and his lawyer go over to investigate, for some reason picking the middle of the night to do so. The set design is the one nice thing about the movie. It's got a great look to it. The house is all glass, with Latin inscriptions (for warding ghosts, we later discover!) and lots of gears and levers and wheels.

There are others in the house, alive and dead. One is an ex-employee of Abraham's, a psychic (Matthew Lillard) who first tries to swipe money he is owed, then tries to help Shalhoub get his family out of the house, which, naturally, does not let them leave.

Obviously they split up. The older kid, who looks thirty, revels in her solitary distinguishing characteristic -- an obsession with bathrooms -- when she stumbles upon one (transparent walls, of course) and spends like 20 minutes adjusting her hair in the mirror with a big old grin on her face. Then she spends another 20 minutes laving water onto her face from the bathtub. The scene is slightly more interesting than it sounds, because also in the bathroom is a ghost and a lot of blood spatter that she can't see. But this does not distract us from noticing this laughably peculiar behavior.

I'll skip most of the middle stuff, which consists of splitting up, creeping around, people disappearing under other people's noses for what turn out to be nonsensical reasons, and having narrow escapes from the ghosts, which are initially contained in inscribed glass cells but freed, one by one (why not all at once?) by the machinations of the house. It's the end that gets crazy and inexplicable.

Before I get to that, here's a lunatic bit of the middle. Shalhoub and Lillard decide to go searching for the children again. For protection, they carry one of the inscribed glass panels with him and, sure enough, use it to ward off ghosts. At one point, though, they come to a turn in the corridor, and a ghost is coming at them from behind. Shalhoub angles the glass pane in the corner, thinking they can both hide behind it, but Lillard says there's no room and faces the ghost alone. But...but...not only is there enough room, why not just place the pane across the hallway and ward it off that way? It wouldn't have worked, because another ghost comes from the other end of the corridor moments later, but they wouldn't have known that.

Now, meanwhile, a woman has shown up, ostensibly to free the spirits in the house but in actuality to explain to the characters and us what's going on. The house is a machine, designed to open up the Eye of Hell or some such nonsense. To defeat the machine, a thirteenth ghost must be created by someone sacrificing himself in an act of love. This must be Shalhoub's character, she says, but I'm not sure why.

Later, she ends up on her own and runs into F. Murray Abraham, who is apparently not dead after all. But guess what? His slit throat makeup is still on. It had to have been weeks since his death, and in all that time he never saw fit to wash up?

So he and she have a discussion, and it turns out that she's in cahoots with him. He gets mad at her, because she doesn't have THE SPELLS. She apologizes and seems confused. Except...she DOES have the spells, so why did she say she didn't? He tells her to put the kids in danger, because that will make Shalhoub sacrifice himself -- see, doing that won't defeat the machine at all but actually complete the opening of the Eye of Hell.

So she does so. She puts the kids in the center of a sphere of circular slicing blades of death, and the Abraham kills her for no particular reason. He stalks away muttering something about the necessity of sacrifices, but exactly what necessitates *her* sacrifice, we never find out.

So we come to a situation where the two kids are huddled in the center of rotating slicing blades of death, and twelve ghosts are rotating around them, and Shalhoub is wondering what to do, and Abraham is standing off to the side, inexplicably letting himself be seen. When Shalhoub catches sight of him, he realizes he's not dead and attacks him for tricking everybody and constructing this insidious deathtrap of a house.

During the fight, Abraham EXPLAINS THE PLAN, thereby pretty much ensuring that Shalhoub won't ever sacrifice himself willingly. Then the ghosts inexplicably pick that moment to attack him. Meanwhile, an expendable character messes with the control room, and the house starts spontaneously combusting.

So what now? The kids are still trapped inside the bubble of rotating blades. The ghost of Lillard appears and says ominously, "It's not over yet." Except, it turns out, it IS over. But for now, he continues, saying something like, "Your heart will tell you what to do next." Apparently, his heart told him, "JUMP INSIDE THE SPINNING BLADES OF DEATH AND HANG OUT THERE UNTIL THE MACHINE BREAKS." Apparently, this was the correct interpretation of Lillard's dubious advice. Yes, laughably, Shalhoub times his moment and jumps between the blades.

Mid-air, I was wondering, what the heck is he going to do once he gets there? It turns out, nothing. It turns out, being inside the spinning blades of death is the safest place to be, what with all the flying rubble. The blades break along with everything else, and they walk away. It's truly remarkable to see a movie go from mediocre to horrible like this one does. I watched some of the bonus materials on the DVD, and there's a lot of self-congratulation on the part of the filmmakers. It amazes me that anybody but the set designers and makeup department can say that they are "proud" of the movie with a straight face.

Rating: 2.5 turkeys.

Scene to watch for: SPINNING BLADES OF DEATH.

Best line: "I sure hope I don't bleed to death, because that would suck."

Things that make you go "Huh?": Why did F. Murray Abraham's character undermine his own plan?

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