What does it take for a horror film to reach cult status? It’s an interesting question. You can (and people have) studied that very subject. It seems like horror films in particular sort of go through a period where they’re derided for being bad, then achieve that cult status. Thir13en Ghosts is a film that follows that very path. The film made it on the officially unofficial THS October Movie Marathon list. Over the years it’s been included on more and more “best of the rest”, “underrated”, and other lists.
The real question, that can’t be answered in about 1000 words, is why? Why would a film with a 30/100 score from Metacritic see such a popularity boom? I think there are a couple of answers that I can give you. But first, let’s go through what exactly Thir13en Ghosts is.
It’s A Remake Of 13 Ghosts (1961)
13 Ghosts is a William Castle film. He was one of the masters of the gimmick film in the 50’s and 60’s. This film was no different. Films of his like The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, and 13 Ghosts all relied on gimmicks like skeletons flying over the crowd, 3D glasses, and special seats with vibrating mechanisms to scare audiences. In 13 Ghosts, you had glasses that the audience would wear like the characters on screen. With the glasses you could “see” the ghosts that were on screen. Outside of those glasses and the general premise of the film, they’re both pretty dissimilar. 13 Ghosts is incredibly campy and not really meant for modern audiences. If you’re a horror superfan or a fan of Castle’s work, then go for it.
Besides the name connection and the glasses, the two tones of the films could not be more different.
The 2001 remake, was directed by Steve Beck, who’s other credit is the also underrated, Ghost Ship. Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio co-wrote the script based on a story by Robb White, who wrote the original film. It’s got quite the eclectic cast with Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, and F. Murray Abraham rounding out the stars.
It’s A Time Capsule Into Horror Of That Era
We’ve now reached a point where the late 90’s and early 2000’s is part of that “almost retro” area. Like video games, the Playstation 2, Gamecube, and Xbox are all “retro” consoles now. Movies from this era that used to scare the crap out of us as kids, are in vogue now. I never saw Thir13en Ghosts when I was a kid, but I can only imagine those that did, were scared. I happened to be scrolling Instagram one night, and saw a clip from the film. The art style of one of the Ghosts of the film was immediately apparent. Also it happened to be a clip from a pretty pivotal scene in the film involving Dennis (Lillard) and Arthur (Shalhoub).
The entire film does have that early 2000’s feel with lots of industrial music, sort of over-the-top characters, and great practical effects. It was still when CGI was expensive for films of this budget to overuse, so all the Ghosts in the film are practical and look great.
It’s a viscerally fantastic film to look at. The whole entire look of the film is really the star. I mentioned the effects above, but it’s really a visually pleasing film. I’m not here to review the film, merely to comment on how the film has gained a cult following in the past couple years. But I would be remiss to at least mention some of the faulty qualities of the film.
A Quick Aside About Matthew Lillard
I love Matthew Lillard. The man has gone from Scream, to Scooby Doo, and been everywhere in between. Here’s to hoping his illustrious career continues and he finally gets the recognition that he so much deserves. Some might say that he overacts in this film, but his performance and especially his final moments in the film are what drew me to it all that time ago.
As A Time Capsule To That Era, You Get The Bad Of It As Well
That era of horror was… not good. That’s putting it simply. Like I’ve said in previous installments of Fright-A-Thon, horror had it’s “golden age” in the 80’s and then then 90’s were a clap-back on that era. If it was cool and hip in the 80’s, it got thrown out in the 90’s. Much like how Grunge completely changed the landscape of music in the 90’s, films like Scream, The Blair Witch Project, and others shaped what it meant to be scary.
This film ditches atmosphere, even though it has a fantastic look, for pulse-pounding action and scares. It uses slow-motion effects a lot, and the script is not amazing. The only thing that I wish they would have kept from the original, besides the glasses, is the setting. Yes, it’s set in Arthur’s uncle’s old house, but you lose the setting of a “haunted house” film. Instead, it’s given a sci-fi sheen with trap doors, and contraptions.
What It Really Is, Is Pure Thriller/Horror Fun
The film might not be the best horror flick out there. But for people like me, who grew up in this era, it’s home. It’s a reminder of going to Blockbuster on a Friday night and checking out the movies that just came out on video. You walk past the display for new movies, as a kid, and you always wanted to check out the horror section. I wasn’t too much into horror myself as a kid, I stuck with Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark. But this movie poster always stuck with me.
So going back and rewatching it a couple of times really brings back those feelings that have been lost in time. You don’t get an experience like that these days. You hop on whatever streaming platform you’re checking out, and you pick a movie. There’s no pressure to pick the right one, because you can just turn it off and move on to the next film. The era of Thir13en Ghosts isn’t one that some other horror fans remember fondly. It doesn’t live up to some other lofty eras like the 80’s or the 70’s. But what it does add is a movie now and then like Thir13en Ghosts.
What do you think of Thir13en Ghosts? Are you a fan of the film or not?
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