THIR13EN GHOSTS

Okay--remember how much I liked the remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL? How I thought Dark Castle had nailed the formula for a contemporary William Castle remake? Well, we've waited long enough for the follow-up, and I'm pleased enough to say that THIR13EN GHOSTS (Good Lord, do I hate these cute "official" spellings) is well worth seeing, although it's not quite up there with its predecessor.

 

The update is handled perfectly--the original William Castle film is still fun if you watch it with the Ghost Viewers, but really, it's just too mild a story to retell today--it suffers especially with an all-too-obvious villain and motive. The makers of the new movie were smart enough to recognize this, and while the story essentially begins the same way, the original "bad guy" character is taken care of quite soon--and via one terrific, shocking effect, I might add.

 

The shocks are plentiful, in fact. I am not exaggerating one little bit when I tell you that I haven't seen an audience scream like this in over twenty years. Sure, they're mostly younger than me--sure, you could never get me to act like that again. But what of it? There's so much effective, machine-gun paced ghost/gore action happening just the way it ought to be--the audience is constantly screaming and jumping out of their seats (and NOT just because the sound is up too loud, Mister Eternally-Uncomprehending-Pulitzer-Prize-Winning-Horror-Illiterate-Film Critic (gee, wonder who I meant by that?). And as you could already tell by the trailers, the production design is once again first rate--this house is every bit alive as the last one was, but it looks completely different.

 

I'm also tired of one-line "I can pull a better film out of my ass" reviews that fail to delve into things--but I'll be the first one to point out this new movie's failings. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL '99 worked so well largely because of the central performance of Geoffrey Rush--a Vincent Price tribute that was NOT a Vincent Price impersonation. True, we've got an Oscar-winner on board this time around, too, but F. Murray Abraham's necessarily-limited screen time keeps the same effect from occurring. It's also true that Castle's 13 GHOSTS didn't have a magnetic lead actor/character to aspire to... but the remake commits a severe error by importing an entire character over from HOUSE. Remember Watson Pritchett? The twitchy, nervous one who knew all there was to know about the evil house? Well, now Watson Pritchett appears in a film that does not call for a Watson Pritchett (okay, they changed the character's name). The real trouble with this is that, while I wouldn't likely give you two bucks for CORKY ROMANO, I liked Chris Kattan in the Pritchett role one hell of a lot more than I liked the excruciating Matthew Lillard in this one. Lillard behaves the same way and ultimately duplicates the entire function of the Pritchett character right to the very end. Big mistake. Also disappointing was the character of the babysitter (the substitute for Margaret Hamilton's "witch" in the original). In HOUSE, Taye Diggs served as a strong hero without ever stooping to "homeboy" comic relief--and while this approach lasts forOkay--remember how much I liked the remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL? How I thought Dark Castle had nailed the formula for a contemporary William Castle remake? Well, we've waited long enough for the follow-up, and I'm pleased enough to say that THIR13EN GHOSTS (Good Lord, do I hate these cute "official" spellings) is well worth seeing, although it's not quite up there with its predecessor.

The update is handled perfectly--the original William Castle film is still fun if you watch it with the Ghost Viewers, but really, it's just too mild a story to retell today--it suffers especially with an all-too-obvious villain and motive. The makers of the new movie were smart enough to recognize this, and while the story essentially begins the same way, the original "bad guy" character is taken care of quite soon--and via one terrific, shocking effect, I might add.

The shocks are plentiful, in fact. I am not exaggerating one little bit when I tell you that I haven't seen an audience scream like this in over twenty years. Sure, they're mostly younger than me--sure, you could never get me to act like that again. But what of it? There's so much effective, machine-gun paced ghost/gore action happening just the way it ought to be--the audience is constantly screaming and jumping out of their seats (and NOT just because the sound is up too loud, Mister Eternally-Uncomprehending-Pulitzer-Prize-Winning-Horror-Illiterate-Film Critic (gee, wonder who I meant by that?). And as you could already tell by the trailers, the production design is once again first rate--this house is every bit alive as the last one was, but it looks completely different.

I'm also tired of one-line "I can pull a better film out of my ass" reviews that fail to delve into things--but I'll be the first one to point out this new movie's failings. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL '99 worked so well largely because of the central performance of Geoffrey Rush--a Vincent Price tribute that was NOT a Vincent Price impersonation. True, we've got an Oscar-winner on board this time around, too, but F. Murray Abraham's necessarily-limited screen time keeps the same effect from occurring. It's also true that Castle's 13 GHOSTS didn't have a magnetic lead actor/character to aspire to... but the remake commits a severe error by importing an entire character over from HOUSE. Remember Watson Pritchett? The twitchy, nervous one who knew all there was to know about the evil house? Well, now Watson Pritchett appears in a film that does not call for a Watson Pritchett (okay, they changed the character's name). The real trouble with this is that, while I wouldn't likely give you two bucks for CORKY ROMANO, I liked Chris Kattan in the Pritchett role one hell of a lot more than I liked the excruciating Matthew Lillard in this one. Lillard behaves the same way and ultimately duplicates the entire function of the Pritchett character right to the very end. Big mistake. Also disappointing was the character of the babysitter (the substitute for Margaret Hamilton's "witch" in the original). In HOUSE, Taye Diggs served as a strong hero without ever stooping to "homeboy" comic relief--and while this approach lasts for a while here, too, I was quite sorry to hear the profanity start flying and the muttered references to being stuck in the house with a bunch of "white people" popping up. The damn thing ends with a rap song, too.

I'm certainly not going to blast the movie--I had a great time and it blows the hell out of just about anything I saw in the year 2000--and many of this year's releases, as well. But though many disagreed, HOUSE, as I saw it, was the perfect William Castle update. This one shows that there's plenty of potential left under the Dark Castle banner, but that the characters need to be as vivid as the effects for it to work at the desired level.

But there's still no excuse to skip it!  a while here, too, I was quite sorry to hear the profanity start flying and the muttered references to being stuck in the house with a bunch of "white people" popping up. The damn thing ends with a rap song, too.

 

I'm certainly not going to blast the movie--I had a great time and it blows the hell out of just about anything I saw in the year 2000--and many of this year's releases, as well. But though many disagreed, HOUSE, as I saw it, was the perfect William Castle update. This one shows that there's plenty of potential left under the Dark Castle banner, but that the characters need to be as vivid as the effects for it to work at the desired level.

 

 

But there's still no excuse to skip it!

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