Tuesday, July 7, 2020

THIRTEEN GHOSTS (2001) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory

Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes
Region Code: A
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Steve Beck
Cast: Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Alec Roberts, JR Bourne, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Harrison, Jacob Rupp

Dark Castle's 2001 remake of William Castle's 13 Ghosts was a state-of-the-art take on the original film that managed to incorporate the Illusion-O ghost viewer that accompanied the original theatrical version of the film in the '60's. Castle was known for his larger-than-life personality, sort of the Alfred Hitchcock of schlock, and for the gimmicks he used during his films. Appropriately the remake, directed by Steve Beck (Ghost Ship) a former visual effects art director at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), packs the film with big visuals and some fantastic ghosts design by Howard Berger (ex-KNB) and his effects team.  

A financially struggling family lead by widow Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub, Men In Black) move into an elegant steel-and-glass construction mansion that they've unexpectedly inherited from their eccentric ghost-hunting uncle Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus). The mansion is completely walled with glass panels elaborately 

inscribed with Latin phrases. Things are looking up for the family, until a psychic named Dannis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard, Scooby-Doo) who worked for Arthur arrives at the house and tries to warn them away. 

Before they can leave the glass walls of the home begin to move in accordance with a clockwork mechanism, prohibiting them from leaving the premises. As they begin to search for a way out they find a set of spectral glasses that reveal that house was built to imprison twelve ghosts that Arthur captured, the Latin inscriptions on the glass are ancient imprisonment spells. As the glass walls of the ghost-powered house continue to move they end up releasing the imprisoned spirits, all of whom pose a threat to the family.  

I saw this at the cinema back inthe day, and it mostly delivered on the popcorn thrills I was looking for at the time, from the opening scene features an irrigation truck spraying blood I was all-in. We get a great cast, but the real star of this thing is the fantastic glass-walled house with it's clockwork inner workings. 

The other stars of it are the imprisoned ghosts, which as you might have guessed from the title there are thirteen of. A lot of thought was put into each of them, these aren't slapdash generic creations, of them my favorites are The Hammer (Herbert Duncanson), The Jackal (Shayne Wyler), The Juggernaut (John De Santis) and Shawna Loyer as The Angry Princess. They are a sight to behold, and Howard Berger and his team did fantastic work on them, if I had been younger when I saw this movie I would have had nightmares for weeks after seeing it. 

As the villain of the film F. Murray Abraham is the perfect mix of big personality and somewhat pulpy villainy, aside from the ghost gimmick of the film he is the single most William Castle-esque element of the film, he's right up there with Geoffrey Rush from The House On Haunted Hill remake. At just ninety-minutes it's moves briskly, and while I thought some of the cat and mouse game of the human trying to evade rte various ghosts wore a bit thin at times I liked the twists and turns it took as certain characters are revealed to have hidden agendas, plus those cool-looking practical ghosts effects look amazing, and for a popcorn horror flick that's more than enough for me, this is quite an entertaining romp.  

Audio/Video: Thirteen Ghosts (2001) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in 1080p HD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen. This is not advertised as a new HD scan so I assume it's an older HD master, that said
it looks strong in motion, the grain field is natural looking an unobtrusive, fine detail is pleasing and the blacks are solid. Colors pop when called upon, it's not overflowing with color but it definitely has some pleasing splashes of color, like when the irrigation tanker starts streaming torrents of blood in the opening scene, that brought a smile to my face. 

Audio comes by way of both English DTS-HD MA stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. The stereo track is fine, well-balanced and clean, but the surround option is the way to go, this is a bonkers surround track with plenty of fun activity throughout, suiting the gimmicky pedigree of the film. 

Onto the extras we begin with a brand new audio commentary with director Steve Beck moderated by Justin Beam, this being recently recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, with them recording this over Skype, but the audio quality is still pretty decent, Justin Beahm does good work keeping the conversation on-track and interesting. 

Up next is the 10-min 'Haunted in Canada' with actress Shannon Elizabeth who recalls meeting with producer Joel Silver, and how big a fan she was of Xanadu which he worked on, though she says he seemed less than happy to be reminiscing about it. She says she's never seen the original William Castle film to this day, and that she liked working with director Steve Beck who was collaborative and fun it was, the rewrites and re-shoots on the shoot, working with Tony Shalhoub who like her Lebanese and a father figure to her on set, and what it was like spending time as a young adult alone in Canada. Shannon also gets into working with Mathew Lillard, the fantastically elaborate sets of the glass-walled house, working with the actors who played the ghosts, attending horror cons and the fan-love for this film.

'The Voice of Reason' is a 14-min interview with actor Matthew Harrison (Garage Sale Mysteries) who played Damon the doomed "ghost reclimant" in the film, first getting into the audition process, what he liked about his character and the realization that he got to say the title of the film in a bit of dialogue, and getting nervous when he realized he'd probably be in the trailer because of that. He talks about his awe of F. Murray Abraham, and how relaxed Shalhoub was on set despite the pressures. He also tells a fun story of Mathew Lillard and how energetic he was on-set including a story of how he pumped himself for a take. He also touches on the make-up process and how some icy-cold fake blood enhanced his performance. 

In the 13-min 'The Juggernaut Speaks' 6'9" actor John DeSantis (Incident On and Off a Mountain Road) opens with the movies he saw as a kid that made him want to work in films, stuff like Aliens and Star Wars, joining the military and then getting work as a background actor before landing larger roles, including Lurch from The New Addams Family (1998). He gets into the backstory of his serial killer characters, the make-up appliances, and shooting the fight sequence with Lillard, as well as his opinion of the film and fan reaction to it.

'The Hammer Speaks' is a 6-min interview with actor Herbert Duncanson who played the ghost "The Hammer". He gets into landing  the role after another actor dropped out, the character's origins as a slave who was accused of raping a white woman, and how the spikes protruding from his body and head were nailed into him as punishment, also saying that it took about five hours to apply it and about three to get it off. He also gets the re-shoot of the ending which allowed for a happier ending for the ghosts, and how that was shot on 9/11, which made for a strange day of shooting.

Producer Gilbert Adler give a 6-min interview in 'Sophomore Spookshow', he talks about the formation of the Dark Castle production company during the run of HBO's Tales from the Crypt with Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver, the first film from them being the remake of William Castle's The House on Haunted Hill, and being concerned about making a film that would please the William Castle estate. He gets into production designer Sean Hargreaves and what a great vision he had for the film, even though he was hesitant about him at first. Saying that he and director Steve Beck didn't always see eye to eye, but that conflict is not always a bad thing if it makes for a better film, and noting how difficult it was to work with all that glass for a myriad of reason.  

I was a bit sad we didn't get new interview with producer Joel Silver, director Steve Beck (Ghost Ship), production designer Sean Hargreaves, Howard Berger from KNB FX Group or actors Mathew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub or F. Murray Abraham, and Shawna Loyer who plays the "Angry Princess" ghost, but they are represented in the vintage 18-min featurette 'Thirteen Ghosts Revealed' which has a bunch of behind-the-scenes video detailing the making of the film, including applying the prosthetic and make-up FX on the ghosts, it might be vintage but it's a very high quality featurette.

The archival 14-min 'Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles' is an extensive series of character bios for the films ghosts, it is surprisingly detailed and thorough, all narrated by F. Murray Abraham. 

Also included is the 43-minute original EPK which looks to be raw, unedited footage used for the 'Thirteen Ghosts Revealed' featurette with extended interviews and behind-the-scene video footage. The disc is tidily buttoned-up with an archival audio commentary with director Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargreaves and special makeup effects artist Howard Berger, a 2-min trailer and 3 min of TV spots. 

The single-disc releases comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration  by Joel Robinson and the original theatrical artwork, the disc itself features the new artwork, as does the limited edition slipcover.

Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary with director Steve Beck moderated by Justin Beahm
- NEW Haunted in Canada: Interview with actress Shannon Elizabeth (10 min)
- NEW The Voice of Reason: Interview with actor Matthew Harrison (14 min)
- NEW Sophomore Spookshow: Interview with producer Gilbert Adler (8 min)
- NEW The Juggernaut Speaks: Interview with actor John DeSantis (13 min)
- NEW The Hammer Speaks: Interview with actor Herbert Duncanson (6 min)
- Thir13en Ghosts Revealed (19 min)
- Ghost Files: A Haunted Houseful of Poltergeist Profiles (14 min)
- Original Electronic Press Kit featuring interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage (43 min)
- Audio Commentary with director Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargreaves and special makeup effects artist Howard Berger
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- TV Spots (3 min) 

Scream Factory do right by Thirteen Ghosts, it looks solid and the extras are excellent. Of the late 90's and early 2000's remakes this still ranks pretty high for me, a very entertaining popcorn fright flick. 

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: