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13 Ghosts  

The link between the natural and supernatural has always had a fascination from some scholars. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the links between Heaven and Hell were studied and pondered in art, religion, debate, and writing. In the classic Dante's Inferno, a decent into Hell is documented and the imagery transcends from the printed page to the mind in a gripping and graphic fashion where readers can almost hear the screams of the tortured souls and smell the brimstone.

In the modern age, films have become a large medium for the supernatural as many of the great books of our time and past ages have been adapted to the silver screen. Films such as the "Hellraiser" and "Evil Dead" series as well as "Event Horizon" have dealt with the passage of spirits and demons into our realm and the chaos that they bring with them.

The fall season is upon us, and with it comes new horror films to our local video stores and new films to our cinemas in an effort to generate big bucks by putting a scare into the audience. The new film "13 Ghosts" is the latest film to arrive in time for Halloween, and relies on the old formula of the haunted house to drive the story and generate scares.

The plot of the film revolves around Arthur (Tony Shalhoub), a widower who is struggling to raise his family in the aftermath of losing his wife to a house fire, and battling his inner turmoil that he could not save his wife. Grief is not the only problem facing Arthur, he is having financial problems and is growing frustrated with the hand life has dealt him. His children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), do their best to help their father through his difficult time, but Kathy longs for a larger home for them and Bobby has become fascinated with reading crime scene reports and recording the grisly details into his tape recorder much to the dismay of their housekeeper Maggie (Rah Digga), who dispenses wisdom with an attitude.
The family fortunes take an unexpected turn for the better when it is revealed that Arthur is to be the sole heir to his late uncle Cyrus's estate. It seems that Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), was a brilliant investor and he has left a very lavish home to Arthur and his family.

Before long, Arthur and his family arrive at the house and marvel at the windfall that has fallen into their laps. The house is a modern marvel of glass and moving parts and comes complete with a centerpiece room that has moveable tiles spin and combine archaic symbols at random intervals.
While Arthur is preparing to sign the paperwork for the home, he is met by a frantic young man named Rafkin (Matthew Lillard). Rafkin explains that Arthur and his family are in grave danger and must leave the house. Before Arthur can act on this advice, the group becomes trapped in the house with no way out. It seems that the basement holds twelve spirits and the house was designed based on an ancient text to harness the spirits to provide a portal between the realms, thus insuring absolute power to those who control the portal.

All of this is of little interest to Arthur, as his only goal is to get his family safely from the home, but his children have gone missing, and Arthur is forced to venture amongst the unleashed spirits to save his family.
It is at this point that the film starts to unravel as an interesting premise quickly dissolves into the cast running around the house at random trying to avoid one ghost after another. There is little plot, and the tension that should be evident is nonexistent.

One would think that a person in a similar situation would have enough insight to avoid the old horror film trap of splitting up a group when in a hostile location. This was done on several instances in the film to the loud groaning of the audience. Worse yet, cast members vanish only to appear later with little to no explanation of where they were, and there is very little in the way of sympathy generated for the characters, as we do not really care what happens to them.

What could have been an interesting premise became nothing more then the a group of people in a house trying to avoid ghosts that pop up now and then in an attempt to provide menace to the characters. The makeup for the ghosts is not bad, but there is a heavy sense of been there, seen that amongst the film. It seemed to borrow heavily from "Hellraiser" and "The House on Haunted Hill" as the houses, or the mysterious puzzle cube are supposed to be a conduit of evil. Instead, what we get is nothing more than a
series of uninspired sequences from a cast that looks embarrassed to be a part of this film and are far less lively and inspired then the ghosts they are fleeing. One can only hope that this film will take a clue from its spectral subject matter and vanish.

1 star out of 5

Gareth Von Kallenbach

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