by Hank Yuloff
The best thing about a scary movie is its ability to frighten you into turning on a light in your family room while you watch the video or squirm a little restlessly in the safety of your theater seat.
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The best make you care about the characters and hope for their survival while scaring the heck out of you. Examples are The Exorcist, The Omen, and anything by Alfred Hitchcock.
The worst make you laugh or talk back to the screen like Dracula 2000 or get angry because they just were not scary, in fact, they were just stupid. The best example of this is the Blair Witch Project, which regular readers here will know I think is the worst movie of the last decade.
Falling somewhere on the scale towards the better half of the scary movie genre is the just released 13 Ghosts. Director Steve Beck must really be a fan of these movies because he delivered a story that makes you want to keep watching to see how it ends while leaving you with that check under the bed feeling after it’s over. Pretty excellent for a first time director who’s previous major credit was visual effects for Hunt for Red October.
13 Ghosts is the story of a man who inherits a house from his recently deceased estranged uncle. Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) has just lost his wife in a tragic house fire, leaving him to raise his two children on his own. A few months after, he is visited by his uncle Cyrus’ lawyer who brings them the key to a very unique and beautiful house filled with the treasures of a lifetime of collecting. Except not everything that Cyrus collected is in the visual realm. There are 12 deceased beings kept in confinement areas in the basement. Kind of like the ghost jail in Ghostbusters using spells instead of electricity to keep them enclosed. Most of them are tortured souls who are angry and full of hatred and a need for revenge. Notice I said 12 ghosts and the title calls for one more. Insert creepy music here and proceed into the house.
This was a fun movie from several points of view. The house is exquisite. It is mostly beaufully engraved glass panals with a museum quality feel. Like The Haunting, it is an extra “living” character that is so important to the plot that the story could not be transplanted to another location. The photography is excellent. Beck’s backround in visual effects really shows here. There are a lot of quick cut ins which add to the horror. You know that you saw something creepy (like “Go Buy Popcorn”) but it was too fast to really register. It will be fun to stop the film on the DVD. It was had excellent pacing. I felt tense while I waited to see which characters would “buy the farm” and which would make it out alive.
What keeps 13 Ghosts out of the top level of classic scary movies are the holes in some of the scenes. We wonder very early if Uncle Cyrus is truly dead. That kernel of doubt takes away from the story. One of the unwritten rules in horror flicks is that the little kids don’t die. So when Arthur brought his young son Bobby nto the house, I wondered how they were going to keep him out of harm’s way. And when a couple of characters disappear we wonder what happened to them. It is obvious later but if they were not killed, we should have known what kept them safe from the evil ghosts.
Another thing that makes for a good scary movie is the acting. In 13 Ghosts, we actually care about the “Good” characters while we root against the “Bad” ones. Tony Shalhoub first became familliar to us from his 6 year stint as Antonio Scarpacci on the TV show Wings. In the ensuing years he has played many comedic and dramatic roles with aplumb. He is a gifted actor. Matthew Lillard plays a psychic who helped Cyrus confine the ghosts. Lilliard was tremendous in the role of the sidekick. He has been in this 2nd position in many other movies. In fact, you can find him on the front of the video box of several movies as the guy right next to the star (Summer Catch, Dish Dogs, Wing Commander, SLC Punk). On the Bad Guy side, don’t get too attached to the lawyer. He gets “offed” in a classic manner.
13 Ghosts delivers a good night at the movie theater. It is scary, fun and has just enough humor to keep you sitting in your seat, with your hand ready to cover your eyes.
Hank Yuloff lives in Los Angeles and finds enough things to scare him on the freeways every day.
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