Dark Castle Entertainment, spearheaded by movie moguls Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, started things off with a band in their first film, the remake of the William Castle classic HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Here they are at it again, updating another noted Castle flick with modern tweaks nd a lot of high tech camerawork and special effects. But while HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was, for the most part, an pretty enjoyable ride, 13 GHOSTS is anything but.
Most of the blame for what goes wrong with 13 GHOSTS should probably go to a variety of factors -- most notably the script. While the premise that 13 GHOSTS presents is quite good and offers a lot of potential, the storyline devised by screenwriter Neal Stevens doesn't really exploit its potential, instead offering up basically the same plot that HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL had, only without any of the spunk. Portions of the story just don't seem to fit; revelations come across as trite instead of moving. The dialogue is so bad it hurts, and everything that transpires, rather than seeming logical, comes off more as just a means to an end -- and a poor end, at that. Fingers should also be pointed at director Steve Beck, though not without some hesitation. There are some great moments here and there in 13 GHOSTS, which give you the impression that Beck did indeed give some thought to the film he was helming. One sequence in particular (involving a phantom in a bathtub which the audience can see but the character involved cannot) is truly inspired, but all too often Beck shuns the tension in favor of speeding up the action and moving the film along at such a brisk pace that it's nearly impossible for the viewer to catch up.
Another big issue detracting from the film is the fact that there is really no one in the film to sympathize with. Part of that is the result of the ridiculous pacing, which never allows actors enough time to create an endearing presence. They're yanked along by the film and thrust into room after room of this big elaborate (but not nearly as impressive as everyone seems to think) set to scream again and again, but the audience finds it hard to share their feelings. In fact, it gets to a point where some viewers might just rooting for the ghosts.
Speaking of ghosts, the ghouls devised for 13 GHOSTS are among its only redeeming offerings. KNB has put together a wide and chilling assortment of ghosts for the film, and they are presented in a number of scary scenes. Even more impressive are the film's death scenes (one of which has to be the best big-budget horror movie kill in years), which are played out with gleeful delight and plenty of gore. Once again, however, there's just too much too fast. Too many shots where we see what's there when we shouldn't. By the time the third act begins, we've grown accustomed to the spooks; once we know they are coming (and more importantly, why they are coming), the tension dies, the scares subside, and we're left with little more than a hokey villain and a sappy wrap-up that makes one wonder why they even bothered.
While it's true that Hollywood has given us far worse this year, 13 GHOSTS does little to sate the hungry horror fan. A handful of good kills and one or two creepy scenes are not enough to sustain this hyper-speed bore. It's like watching a movie on a plane that never takes off from the ground. Once it's over, you find yourself feeling drowsy and tired, and yet you've gone absolutely nowhere.