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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 66.47)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese
  • Theatrical trailer - Thir13en Ghosts, Hollow Man, Spider-Man
  • Audio commentary - Director, Production Designer and Makeup Effects Supervisor
  • Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • Awards/Nominations - 19 minutes
  • Dolby Digital trailer - "City"

Thir13een Ghosts

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 87 mins . MA15+ . PAL


If you were to suggest that there’s nothing new for filmmakers to do within the horror genre, you’d be pretty close to the truth. Having pretty much exhausted the genre in the 1980s with a sequel frenzy of slasher pics, Hollywood has in recent years been a lot more reluctant to spend big dollars trying to scare the bejesus out of people. The main exceptions have been parodies, more or less – either homage-paying self-referential offerings like the Scream series or out-and-out comedy as seen in the dreadful Scary Movie, which parodied a self-conscious parody and thus completely confused anyone who dared to try and analyse it all.

These days, all the good horror stuff isn’t “horror” at all – it’s now the dark, sinister thrillers and confronting dramas that are capable of making an audience shiver, while the traditional horror film is left with only the art of going “BOO!” as its secret weapon.

Back in the old days, of course, it was all supposed to be fun. It’s only selective hindsight that has people thinking otherwise. Director and producer William Castle knew this all too well; he dreamed up some of the silliest, funniest horror movies ever seen and, in case the audience didn’t quite get the fact that he was playing with them, continually invented utterly silly special effects “processes” to sell them with. Yes, folks, this is the man who put electric shocks through customers’ bodies while they watched The Tingler; for this alone Castle would have been remembered in legend, but he was unstoppable. For his camp and goofy 13 Ghosts in 1960, the process in question was the wonderfully-named “Illusion-O”. It might sound like the product of the mind of a hallucinating pirate, but in fact it was a simple manipulation of the existing two-tint 3D process to add a little audience participation to proceedings.

Uber-producer Joel Silver is obviously a big fan of William Castle. Via his recently-formed company Dark Castle Entertainment he has already re-made the Castle classic The House On Haunted Hill (which had to compete in cinemas with the similar but unrelated The Haunting) and is about to shoot a remake of 1958’s Macabre with Robert Zemeckis; both of those, as well as Thir13en Ghosts, have William Castle’s daughter Terry as co-producer (the company has also just finished shooting a new story, Ghost Ship, in Queensland).

It’s suddenly Spooky Central out there in Hollywood. But would the Castle campiness work in the 21st Century? Well, probably not, and so Thir13en Ghosts has scored a radical updating (in other words, a complete rewrite) for this new version. Character names have been completely changed, and it’s basically a completely different story, framed inside Castle’s, err, “vibe” (the silly alpha-numeric title, by the way, is an attempt to incorporate the numeric title of the Castle version, though undoubtedly the fact that it recalls Se7en wasn’t objectionable either). That vibe, though, is now a slave to the purely visual; for like so much modern horror, Thir13en Ghosts leans heavily on evocative gothic, medieval and renaissance imagery to get its point across.

The story is dead (sorry) simple. Devoted dad Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is still in mourning for his late wife, who burned to death in a fire some months ago. Now struggling to look after teenage daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) he is quite thrilled to get a visit from a lawyer telling him, by way of an Agatha Christie-style “living will”, that he has inherited a lavish house from his estranged uncle (F Murray Abraham). When the family arrives at the house, though, they discover several things. Firstly, its walls are made of inscribed glass and its interior looks like the headquarters of the Da Vinci Inventors’ Society. Secondly, it has its own ghostbuster in it (Matthew Lillard), and a large complement of rather pissed-off ghosts that have met violent ends lurking in the basement. Soon the future of the world is at stake blah blah blah, but Arthur is much more concerned about his family. Oh, and there’s a token black woman there with them as well. She’s the housekeeper. Hey, it is 1960 all over again!

Obviously plot’s not this movie’s strong suit, and the producers and director admit as much. But while this short, slick thrill ride looks delicious and rockets along at a suitably furious pace, it never allows the characters to click with the audience even slightly – you simply don’t give a toss whether they live or die, just as long as any death they might encounter looks suitably cool and has lots of blood spraying everywhere. Arguments along the lines of “this is a roller coaster ride” from the director just don’t cut it – a lot of roller-coaster-ride films have come before it that do manage to develop their characters at least enough that you give a toss about them. As it stands in Thir13en Ghosts, the only character that actually provokes an emotional reaction is one of the ghosts themselves (the “Angry Princess”, played by first-time Canadian actor Shawna Loyer) - and she never actually speaks a line of dialogue.

Director William Castle’s “Illusion-O” colour-filter process allowed the audience to choose whether or not they wanted to see the ghosts during specially-prepared sections of the film. That was never going to play very well on home video for this new version, though, and so the producers have solved the problem by having the characters in the movie do the glasses-wearing, and we see or don’t see the ghosts accordingly. It’s actually a very successful creative device – there’s no faulting this movie’s technical execution, certainly, and director Steve Beck (like David Fincher before him, an escapee from ILM via advertising) knows how to keep things amped up. The production design throughout is utterly stunning, too – in fact, all this film lacks is some real connection between the audience and its characters. It has all the makings of a truly stylish, contemporary chiller - but in trying to pay homage to the Castle flamboyance while aiming for the heart of gothic darkness, it misses both marks almost entirely and ends up being a visually impressive curiosity, a music video without the music that’s never quite willing to dig deep enough into the darkness to be truly chilling.


Thir13en Ghosts was released by Warner Bros in the US, and this transfer would most likely have been commissioned by them. This might explain the fact that while it’s an undeniably nice transfer, it lacks that particular polish and lustre that we’ve come to expect from most Columbia Tristar DVD transfers, which are usually handled by the Sony HD Center (Sony’s DVD Center did, however, do the actual authoring for this version of the disc).

Presented at a ratio halfway between its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect and the video-friendly 16:9 format (and anamorphically enhanced), the video transfer here is very clean and detailed, but sometimes tends towards over-brightness – particularly during the extended night-time scene at the start of the film. This, though, appears to have been a deliberate cinematography decision; it’s much less of a problem once we get into the glass house itself, when the contrast and colour balance become a little more adventurous and consistent with the mood of the film.

This is a very good video transfer, and the fine detail of the production design comes up well throughout. There is not a single annoyance to be found from any of the common compression or telecine problems – no aliasing, no edge enhancement, no gremlins at all. In fact, the big studios are getting so good at the telecine and compression arts that us DVD reviewers are soon going to be getting to the “video quality” prompt and having to tell you wacky stories about grandma’s sparrow collection just to fill the space.

Note, by the way, that the Columbia Pictures logo at the head of the film is almost – but not quite – in black and white; this is deliberate, and the Warner Bros logo on American prints was similarly treated.

The movie is stored on a dual-layered disc despite its short running time; this is a big-bitrate transfer, needless to say, sometimes pushing the limit of the DVD Video standard in terms of sheer data rate. The layer change comes late in the film near the 67 minute mark, and is superbly placed – many won’t even notice it.


Just bought yourself a new Dolby Digital 5.1 system and keep finding yourself with your ears up against the surround speakers to make sure they’re working? Keep trying to impress friends with how good your sound system is only to have them say “so what’s so special about surround sound anyway?” Got neighbours you hate and want to take revenge on? This, without a doubt, is the soundtrack you’ve been waiting for.

This is NOT a subtle sound mix. Ohhhh no. For the entire running time of the film, the sound mixers here are perfectly aware they’ve got a 5.1-channel soundstage and they’re damn well gonna use it. Plonk yourself in the midst of this aural maelstrom and you’ll soon find out whether your surround speakers are up to much; this mix appears to have been done under the premise that all five main speakers are of equal size, power and quality.

Boasting possibly the most active surround channels we’ve heard to date, the audio here initially appears biased towards the back of the room. It’s actually not; what’s unusual is that the surrounds are mixed at the same level and with the same aggression as the front left and right pair, while the centre carries the dialogue (which is mixed unnaturally quietly in comparison, the only major problem here) and anchoring effects. The LFE channel will keep your subwoofer busy and your building shifting north-west, meanwhile – it’s a rare moment when there’s not some kind of sub-bass thrum going on. Frequency response is stunning, and that goes for the rears as well as the front speakers. If you’ve ever wondered what Dolby Digital has done for the fidelity of the surrounds, play the cacophony of breaking glass towards the movie’s climax. Don’t forget to duck.

It’s not even close to being a naturalistic sound mix, and in a film like this it doesn’t need to be. It’s demo material in all the wrong ways, and we love it.


All the extra features from Warner Home Video’s US release are included here except for some pointless Interactual-powered DVD-ROM links and a music video for the song Excess by Tricky that is heard briefly in the movie; also, the Warner disc uses a separate menu and individual video items for the “13 Ghosts Revealed” extra, while here it’s presented as one long featurette.

Audio Commentary: Described as a “director commentary” in the Special Features menu, this is actually a three-person affair. In for a chat along with director Steve Beck are production designer Sean Hargraeves (who, by the way, worked on The Fifth Element in a smaller capacity) and make-up effects guru Howard Berger from KNB EFX. And if you’re thinking this sounds like the line-up for a technical commentary, you’re right (well, it’s not as if there’s any real character motivation to waffle on about). All three (who appear to be in the same room together, but aren’t much for raucous laughter) acquit themselves well and this commentary will be greatly appreciated by those who watched the movie and wondered how they did that... and that... and that... Incidentally, director Beck mentions at one point how he was influenced in part by the early work of former ILM colleague David Fincher on “early” Nine Inch Nails music videos. Only problem is, Fincher never directed any NIN videos; presumably he meant Peter Christopherson, whose visuals usually out-Finchered Fincher effortlessly!

Making Of Thir13en Ghosts: A nearly 19-minute featurette on the making of the film (made by Warner Home Video), this is – surprise, surprise – actually interesting, with almost no self-congratulatory fluff at all (the only exception is the cliché-packed Joel Silver, who doesn’t seem to be able to switch out of Hype Mode). Lots of good behind the scenes footage here, and a nice capsule summary of the effects and makeup work without resorting to endless deconstructions and multi-angle linear frog dissections, as is the usual custom with effects movies on DVD. Well worth the time.

“13 Ghosts” Revealed: Okay, so it’s silly, but this 12 minute featurette gives you the background stories of the 12 (no, not 13!) ghosts in the movie for those who feel the need to flesh out the non-existent story. Ironically this is the most Castle-like thing on the whole disc. Each ghost gets its own chapter.

William Castle: A seven-page text bio of the man with a filmography.

Cast and Crew: A single text screen listing some of the cast and a few of the filmmakers, with no links to anything whatsoever. You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Warner disc...!

Trailers: We may miss out on the Tricky music video, but Columbia Tristar more than make up for it here. Because along with trailers for Thir13en Ghosts and Hollow Man, you’ll find in this section the new full-length (2 minute 20 second) trailer for Spider-Man! Take THAT region 1! All three trailers are offered with 16:9 video and full Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, ‘cos Columbia Tristar is a class act.

Dolby Digital City Trailer: Well, at least it’s still skippable. We reckon the Sony DVD Center people are doing this deliberately and laughing at our pain.


It ain’t rocket science. Hell, it ain’t even science. If you like your horror films dumb, obnoxious and dripping with visual splendour, this along with The Cell could make for the Superficial Double Feature O’Doom that you’ve been waiting for. There’s not much here for fans of either old-fashioned campy horror or the contemporary don’t-kill-my-favourite-character variations, but if it’s eye candy you want, then it’s eye candy you shall have, and plenty of it. And ear candy to match.

Columbia Tristar’s DVD is predictably flawless and while the special features are a bit sparse for an effects-flick disc, what’s here is good.

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      And I quote...
    "...never quite willing to dig deep enough into the darkness to be truly chilling... Columbia Tristar’s DVD is predictably flawless"
    - Anthony Horan
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