One Can’t Just Pray Away EVIL in “The Banishing” reviewed! (Shudder – Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Set in a backdrop of Great Britain on the very brink of world war against Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a small English community has nearly lost it’s entire faith in the Catholic church after the last priest suddenly and mysteriously died.  When a young vicar is offered a generous stipend, the village parish, and a large estate by the region bishop to restore a congregational foothold, he brings with him his new wife and stepchild to make the house their home, but the house has a dark history that might have played a role in the previous vicar’s death and a lone, eccentric occultist urges the family to vacate the premises immediately before the house swallows them into grave danger at the haunted hands of sadistic monks, ghastly visions, and a tormented soul roaming the corridors. 

If the prim-and-proper social class structure of Julian Fellows’ “Downton Abbey” collided with the volatile and tormented spirits of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” then Christopher Smith’s pre-wartime staged haunted house feature, “The Banishing,” would be the outcome.  The period piece horror marks the latest installment into the genre from the Bristol, English-born Smith who made a name for himself with 2004 dark subway corridor heartstopper, “Creep,” and went on to make cult favorites amongst genre fans with the workplace violence satire, “Severance,” and the medieval bubonic plague film, “Black Death” starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  “The Banishing,” a term used as the practice within the supernatural ambit of dark magic to ward off negative spirits, is a UK feature co-written between David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines.  Maya Amsellem and Sharon Harel-Cohen serve as producers under the London-based WestEnd Films production banner with “The Banishing” marking their fifth completed feature film product and with the nearly worldwide distribution rights landing with AMC Network’s popular horror streaming service, Shudder, in partnership with Vertigo Releasing in the UK.

“The Banishing” revolves mainly around Marianne, the newly-wed vicar’s wife with a young girl along for the ride, played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Victor Frankenstein”). Findlay endows Marianne with vitality as a woman who must meet the vicar’s standards of Godliness, but still be a strong mother to her child despite disreputable social standing. The priest Linus (Essex-born John Heffernan) lacks experience in the field of his cleric position, lending to question why the region bishop would appoint him to a muster a flock of faithful Christian followers during turbulent times. The husband and wife dynamic between Linus and Marianne is marred by dissonance backgrounds of a priest who doesn’t know to be with a woman and a woman who can’t escape her socially unflattering past. Heffernan and Findlay ignite as repellants of the same magnetic currents when the harder they try to extend their relationship, they push each other way, with Findlay giving a fervent performance. Speaking of performances, Sean Harris bares the most intriguing and rollicking local occultist. The “Mission Impossible: Fallout” actor parades around as Harry Price, a likable, straight-shooting outcast and a believer in the supernatural with extensive, and ghastly, historical knowledge on Linus and Marianne’s new home. As Price aims to extract the hapless from danger, he butts heads with a headstrong region bishop, a stern and solemn role secreted with distrust from John Lynch who has worked on a Christopher Smith film previously in “Black Death.” “The Terror” actor juxtaposes starkly against Harris as a character who dons a likeness to the clown prince of crime in costume than a dull agent man of the cloth…with secrets to uphold. “The Banishing” rounds out with a supporting cast in Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Jean St. Clair, James Swanton, and Anya McKenna-Bruce as Marianne’s daughter, Adelaide.

Set convincingly in a quaint, 1930s English town, Christopher Smith transports the audience back in time to the predated anxious moments before World War II that would upheave turmoil across all across Europe, but though that fretted lingering of war is set as the backdrop for “The Banishing,” and is coiled around every man who served in the first Great War that brought up more than once, the root of the narrative ultimately becomes the house Linus and Marianne have come to call their home.  Haunted house films surmise the house as a built-in principal character because of either the way the architecture affects the mental or physical wellbeing of it’s flesh and bone counterparts or if the abode is actually possessed and set to harm the inhabitants in a personification of pure evil, as such with various films of this caliber (“House,” “The Haunting,” etc,). Yet, Linus and Marianne’s estate failed to become a part of the narrative limelight despite the immense grounds that compromised of a large greenhouse and a robust library complete with fireplace and the disconcerting labyrinth of a dungeon-esque basement full of barred enclosures and close quartered corridors.  Nearly every interior shot felt like a new section of the house hat kept extending upon, what would be assumed, a grand mansion that had a longer rap sheet by reputation in being a former religious torture chamber run by sadistic monks hellbent on whipping the sin out of the mentally tormented. Smith always had an eye for the unsettling visuals and sustains that feng shui by allowing time and space to be the inner horrors of a funhouse, but doesn’t evoke clean, unadulterated terror that continues to profusely bleed into the film’s climatic cause-and-effect unraveling. There is a lack of a transformative realization and a small hurtle of sedated possession to figure out that the main presence in the house, amongst the other more malevolent presences, wants something and the characters are spoon fed each and every morsel to get them up to speed. The final scene of the bishop meeting with the Nazi regime intended to leave the story open for supernatural possibilities, but felt like a more poignant and compelling crux leading into Nazi occultism, hinted by the eccentric resident occultist Sean Harris.

Morosely dramatic and haunting, “The Banishing” is an aggressive salvo of facing shame head-on, creeping into UK cinemas and digital platforms on March 26th courtesy of Shudder and Vertigo Releasing. Director of photography Sarah Cunningham has an remarkable ability to engulf the actors in the space of the shot, making them seem diminutive to the rooms that feel like a giant hand looming overhead, and with the bare, hard lighting, the cinematography is really where “The Banishing” shines as gothic cladding without a stodgy spot to speak visible. Cunningham adds all the hallmarks of a horror film with titled angles, brilliant reds, and tight shots on tense faces to garner a more anxiety that never actually pans out by the end. The organic electro duo TOYDRUM score the 97 minute film with a single note droning hums at various pitch levels that can really get inside your head. The “Prevenge” composers set up scenes with a ill-founded fears when nothing presently visible is intended to fright. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but one scene to note is Sean Harris waltzing with an uncredited woman during the opening credits that seems out of place but speaks to the aberrated decorum of his character. “The Banishing” works tirelessly to discredit shame by confronting truth and while we’re being beat over the head by the message, the overlay of horror is lost despite some brilliant and engrossing performances from Findlay and Harris who usher us through to the imperfect conclusion.

Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

Youtubers EVILlog a Malevolent Presence Inside Their Home! “8ight After” reviewed! (PovertyWorks / Digital Screener)

Vlogging husband and wife, Vince and Deanna, digitally showcase their married life to the world from their vacation travels to exotic coastlines to the day-to-day, mundane tasks that includes home renovations.  When they demolition a wall in order to install a French door in the master bedroom, they discover a mysterious box containing a Portate (carrying) cross hidden within the wall.  Every night since then, Godfearing Deanna has felt a profound presence in the house, experiencing supernatural phenomena, such as grabbing at her feet and possessing her body, almost on a nightly basis, especially 8 minutes after 1:00 AM.  The compilation of footage from Vince and Deanna’s vlog cameras around the house capture the seemingly malevolent events, but Vince, being the ever agnostic skeptic, tries to invalidate any paranormal occurrences, passing them off as more feasibilities explanations.  Yet, the bumps in the night continue to place Deanna in inexplicable danger, forcing Vince to reconsider his position on God in order to save his wife.

CCTV horror has been quiet over the last few years, but 2020 has seen a fair share of the stale, declining genre that’s become more repellant than a draw for audiences; yet these new ventures into CCTV horror have splashed into a Lazarus pool, rejuvenating a slither of lifeforce within genre, with limited theatrical and VOD releases into the volatile cinema market.  Vincent Rocca’s written and directed multi-camera spectral thriller, “8ight After,” is a found footage horror-comedy that is an analogue releasing on the heels of moderate success, following the making-of an active shooter thriller, “Mother of Monsters,” and the hellish hotel imprisonment of souls of “Followed,” another apparitional aghast blending CCTV and handheld footage in a vlog style.  Rocca’s sophomore directorial comes nearly a decade and half after his 2006 feature film debut, a comedy entitled “Kisses and Caroms,” and is produced by Rocca’s less-is-more production company, PovertyWorks Productions, that aims to produce funny and profitable films and shorts on a miniscule budget.  In “8ight After’s” case, the production cost totaled a whopping zero being Rocca’s own actual camera footage of and around his home and the use of handheld’s and phone cameras when out and about. I’m also positive he didn’t pay his wife a dime.

“8ight After” fits right into the PovertyWorks’s comedy portion of its business model, especially with Vincent Rocca in the lead role as a practical joker-goofball of a husband (who really has the vocal projection of the late Bill Paxton), leading the charge of the voyeuristically invasive vlogging lifestyle as well as being a religiously laidback soul with an atheist belief set.  In stark contrast to his convictions is his wife Deanna, played by his real wife Deanna Rocca, who brings a knowledge of faith for a subplot of inner family squabbles about their mixed relationship to God.  When I say “8ight After” is invasive, I mean the film is a truism of invasiveness that not only is a near tell all of Vincent’s life as a videophile and Deanna’s vocation as a zoo vet but also fractures into the story their recorded travel escapades from their VinceRocca Youtube channel show, “Life Doesn’t Suck,” that discusses and logs their destination highlights of various locations from around the world.  The energy from their Youtube channel transcends over into the scenes committed to the necklace narrative with a bout between comedy and horror that peers Vince and Deanna’s religious fervors.  Deanna shoulders more of the in character plights with the subtle, but effective, person plagued by a unremitting presence and has to become possessed, sleepwalk, and look menacing toward her husband when the time is right for the all-seeing camera.  

Compiled like a documentary (or mockumentary?) and presented in a meta format by spinning and weaving the Rocca’s exuberant régime of life and love into an undercurrent of hidden terror, “8ight After” has unique cinematic properties, utilizing his reality television fluff techniques and editing, and tackle themes of family upheaval contentious topics like religion and gun control, to wrap “8ight After” complete on a zilch budget that rides the seams of fact and fiction.  For the most part, “8ight After” tenderly progresses organically with little staged affect as the high school sweethearts play to their most innate strength – 20 years of marital bliss – and chips in sparsely the sarcastic wit of Vince Rocca (did I mention he sounds exactly like Bill Paxton?) through a tech-recorded compiled story that’s well built up initially with convincing acting and strange and spooky incidents that, like most found footage films, point to specifics pieces important to the narrative. There are even a couple of homages to great horror classics like “Jaws” and “Exorcist III.” But then in a turn of sudden events, the revealing climax fizzles like the air wheezing quickly out of an inflated balloon.  The finagled ending stinted completing something uniquely branchlet from the found footage genre and something that had solid momentum and steam of an escalating snowball toward the essence of a presence, but became grounded by the acute conclusion to the matter in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it completely killed the mood, tone, and disposition “8ight After” carried in preponderance.

Become wrapped up in the lives of a pair of vloggers and see them suffer the wrath of a stubborn spirit in “8ight After” that was released October 15th on various digital retailers, including Amazon’s Prime Video. The film is unrated and has a runtime of 97 minutes and has an accompanying English language 5.1 surround sound audio mix with optional English subtitles. There were no bonus material included, but you can live vicariously through Vincent and Deanna’s touristy adventures of swimming with manatees, paddle boarding, and visiting breathtaking waterfalls. Also, you can purchase Vincent Rocca’s journal notes put into paperback, of the same title as the movie and also on Amazon, that goes hand-and-hand with the film; it’s also available as an audiobook. “8ight After” tempers with a well braided blend of found footage comedy and horror from a pair of seasoned Youtubers that then suddenly trails off, leaving us holding the baby in trying to make sense of an nonsensical ending.

Watch “8ight After” on Prime Video!

 

Read or listen to the book on Prime Video!


EVIL Doesn’t Joke Around. “Let’s Scare Julie” reviewed! (Shout Studios! / Digital Screener)


After the sudden passing of her father, Emma stays with her cousin, Taylor, along with her aunt and drunkard uncle. Taylor pressures Emma to be part of her prank habitual group of friends, trying to convince Emma how this is how things will be from now on while also trying to be a compassionate shoulder to her reserved cousin. With Taylor’s uncle passed on the sofa downstairs and her mother flying in from out of town, an impromptu sleepover encourages the group of girls to connive a break-and-entering prank to scare a new neighbor, a teenage girl named Julie, across the street. Emma half-heartedly participates by producing a way into the house, allowing her cousin and her heedless new friends onward on their scaring scheme, but when only two of the four girls return, the prank has turned terribly wrong as an urban legend about the house across the street might actually be true.

Breaking out from helming television documentaries and into the genre feature realm is filmmaker Jud Cremata debuting with his written and directed bloodcurdling slumber party, “Let’s Scare Julie,” premiering on in home theaters on digital and VOD come October 2nd, 2020. Starting off Halloween with an innovative filming structure and a good ole fashion horror tale, Cremata never eases on the reins of terror from nearly a single, continuous take of his mischievous teenage girls meet malevolent ghost story that occurs over a single night, condensed further to a time frame that’s almost parallel to the film’s runtime. Formerly known as “Let’s Scare Julie to Death,” the Santa Clara filmed, real time hijinks gone awry spook show is the first horror production from the Los Angeles and Moscow based Blitz Films in association with “Becky’s” Buffalo 8 Productions. Jud Cremata and Marc Wolloff produce the feature alongside Blitz Films’ Eryl Cochran and Nick Sarkisov.

Comprised with a small cast of new talent, “Let’s Scare Julie” focuses around a group of five teenage girls and one elementary grade school girl concentrated more so around a life rebounding Emma played by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, making her introduction into feature length films. What makes this a phenomenal role and performance for Johnson is the fact that the young actress has to maintain in-character for the entire length of the film with the camera rarely parting away from her in every moment of the nearly continuous take and she has to adjust her dynamics with a variety volume of characters ranging in temperament from meek, to obnoxious, to terrifying, to drunk, and to the perpetuance of adolescence behavior from her protective, yet peer pressuring cousin Taylor (Isabel May), the obnoxious goof Madison (“Ladyworld’s” Odessa A’zion), the unassertive duddy Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum), and the confident showoff Jess (“Unearth’s” Brooke Sorenson). Individually, the characters are well developed, hinting more towards unravelling their true selves with each progressive moment their on screen, but not overly enough to have each figured out and that leaves their hopeful futures in ruin, offering more substance to their potential demise. Rounding out “Let’s Scare Julie” cast is Dakota Baccelli, Blake Robbins (“Rubber,” “Martyrs”), and Valorie Hubbard (“Resident Evil: Extinction”) as the evil spirit, Ms. Durer.

Uncomplicated with less fancy footwork adorned, “Let’s Scare Julie” is all about the story and less about the effects hoopla usually associated with vindictive phantasma creepers, especially ones like Ms. Durer who like to seep into her victim’s personal bubble using voodoo black magic dolls while wearing nothing more than her dirty nightgown and scathing glare on her face. The simplicity of the movie is almost refreshing in the inherent campiness of the anecdotal urban legend spieled by the girl living next to the house of ill repute, but one thing about the story that irks me is the marketing of “Let’s Scare Julie” being shot in one continuous take; yet, there are a few edits that not necessarily cut to a different scene, but rather just jump seconds of a frame and continue the moment. Whether the edit’s intent was because of timing, reducing frames in a scene to meet a certain runtime, or to give the actors a slight break, the expectation wasn’t fully met when the handful of edits are slipped in condemning that anticipated single take to just a still impressive compilation of long takes. Chuck Ozea’s maneuvering cinematography seamlessly tells the tale without so much of a hiccup as the veteran music video DP choreographs somewhat of a dance around Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson to capture her slow simmer into terror. “Let’s Scare Julie” does more with less as a round about ghost story, building up suspense above the guise of guilt-riddled themes without placing the perspective in the middle of the supernatural action.

Sometimes, pranks backfire and, in this case, this prank is to die for in the Shout Studios distributed “Let’s Scare Julie,” scaring up into home theaters on Digital and On Demand at the beginning of Halloween season on October 2, 2020. Being a brand new film, there were no psychical media specs to report nor would there would be any A/V if specs were available since this review copy is a digital screener of the film. As a digitally recorded production in this day and age, expect the found footage-like video and sound as faultless as expected, but the quality will be determined by your internet connection and streaming platforms. There were no bonus material with the screener nor were there any additional scenes during or after the credits. Five teens’ prank spree ends on a dark and stormy night of terror where urban legend trounces cruelty over shenanigans in the crafty and solid shiver-inducing “Let’s Scare Julie.”

Pre-order “Let’s Scare Julie” on Prime Video.

To Be EVIL, You Must Capture EVIL! “Thir13en Ghosts” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Scream Factory)

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A maniacal and obsessed ghost hunter, Cyrus Kriticos, traps 12 tormented and violent spirits with the help of an avaricious, but anguished psychic, Dennis Rafkin, but when trapping the last ghost, the worst of the worst, a barbaric mass murder in life and in death named Juggernaut, Cyrus is killed in the process. His death leads to the inheritance of a one-of-a-kind house to his widowed nephew, Arthur, and his two children who are barely scraping by after the unexpected fiery death of their beloved wife and mother. When they enter what seemingly feels like a godsend house, immaculately structured entirely out of glass and metal, they find themselves trapped inside after tripping a series of mechanism that turn the isolated and elegant abode into a labyrinthic machine. Stuck inside with Arthur and his family are Dennis Rafkin and a ghost friendly liberator, Kalina Oretiza, who explain that the house is actually an evil machine with a goal of opening the eye to Hell and that the ghosts, imprisoned in the basement, are components that are being set free one-by-one in order to fulfill the ritual.
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In the world of remakes, only a select few ever surpass the original. In fact, on rare occasions, do remakes actually replace the original due in part to being beyond respectful as well as masterful amongst critics and genre fans that have bestowed the reimagining an untouchable rendition to which no one can find anything wrong with it; this films include John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” and Chuck Russell’s “The Blob,” with Zack Synder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” receiving well-deserved honorable mentions, because let’s face it, topping George Romero’s original work can be said to be blasphemous slander. What about those remakes in between? Those just above the pile of awfulness that generally makeup remakes? I consider Steve Beck’s “Thir13en Ghosts” to be one of this mid-level remake films that registers well with fans, but on the flips side of that coin, doesn’t ascend to total prominence over its predecessor. Written by longtime Full Moon Entertainment writer Neal Marshall Stevens (“Hideous!” and “The Killer Eye”) and Richard D’Ovidio (“The Call”), “Thir13en Ghosts” is a 2001 near-total rework of the 1960 William Castle directed and Robb White scripted “13 Ghosts” that used gimmicks like 3D specter glasses to draw audiences into the theater. “Thir13en Ghosts” was the second film after another William Castle remake, “House on Haunted Hill,” of the newly formed, William Castle nod-to, Dark Castle Entertainment, a division of Joel Silver’s Silver Productions formed by Silver, Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”), and Gilbert Adler (“Bordello of Blood”) that honed initially on producing stylishly modern takes on classic gothic horror, such as “Ghost Ship,” the remake of “House of Wax,” and “Orphan.” What came out of this collaboration between Steve Beck and Dark Castle Entertainment is a complete dismantling of the wood paneling and lament flooring story for a modern marvel to emerge of unique terror that hasn’t been duplicated since.
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“Thir13en Ghosts” has an impressive, if not all-star, cast with diverse range of styles and experiences that it’s almost dumbfounding on how the filmmakers were able to contract some of these talents, including F. Murray Abraham, who has had an already eclectic credit list with “Amadeus,” “Surviving the Game,” and Mimic, and Tony Shalhoub who hand standout performances in “Addams Family Values,” “Men in Black,” and “Galaxy Quest.” Abraham and Shalhoub bring a sense of classical and methodological structure in a stark contrast between rationality and irrationality built upon an indifference of solitude and a sense of family. Then, there’s the comedic relief in the midst of danger, Matthew Lilliard (“Scream”) as the suffering psychic who uses his wit tongue to spur others and introducing hip-hop artist, Rah Digga, in one of her only motion picture performances to alleviate suspension with more tongue-and-cheek moments. Lilliard and Digga offer up two different comic styles while sustaining the underlying severity of being trapped inside an evil machine full of violent ghosts. Shannon Elizabeth, who we all know by now as the stunning “American Pie” girl, Nadia, or as I know her as the unfortunately raped and murder victim of a killer snowman in “Jack Frost,” plays Arthur Kriticos daughter, Kathy, who still a fresh faced newcomer to Hollywood despite being a hot commodity after her topless role in “American Pie.” The superb support roles don’t end there with notable roles from JR Bourne (“Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning”), Matthew Harrison, Alec Roberts, John DeSantis, and EmBeth Davidtz, Sheila from “Army of Darkness,” as the ghost liberator.
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It’s hard to believe that “Thir13en Ghosts” is nearly 20-years old. I still recall my 17 year old self sitting in for a theatrical showing, remembering the opening gargoyle growling as the Dark Castle Entertainment logo reveals itself during the opening title credits, and coming out of the maze-like, gory-ghost film having experienced something special, even if then I didn’t understand why, only to years later realize that I’ve never seen something like “Thir13en Ghosts” before in my life. How does a remake reinvent itself so much that it can separate itself from the original film while also beguile with fresh ideas and no take a slew of browbeating chirps from those who holdfast that the original is the one and only? Most remakes cheaply throw gore to the wind, adding buckets of blood in hopes to satisfy horror buffs, but what winds up happening is that we ultimately get bored, having experienced blood and guts from singular storied films. “Thir13n Ghosts’” premise isn’t the only worthwhile experience that deserves praise, but also the spectacular production design by Sean Hargraves that thrusts the glass house concept into new heights with the house actually becoming an interestingly steampunk character itself and the prosthetic effects from a team spearheaded by a trio of the best special makeup effects artists in horror today, such as Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Gregory Nicotero., turning ghoulish encounters to ghastly visions that convey truly a tormented soul in the 12 ghosts. Though the story itself isn’t perfect, flawed at times with static character development and a few plot holes involving the ghosts and sequences of events, “Thir13en Ghosts” remains a cult favorite gaslit by frightening imagery, a solid cast, and unforgetting production design that started 21st century horror off brazenly strong.
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Collect all “Thir13en Ghosts” on the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory sheathed in a cardboard slip cover and has a reverse artwork liner that has the original poster artwork and new vivid illustration by Joel Robinson. Presented in a 1080p, high definition widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, from the original 35mm negative, “Thir13en Ghosts” shares a consistent image and vibrancy layer with the DVD version with an enhanced color stability. No edge enhancement or cropping adjustments rendered or any other blemishes to speak of, but the softer details could have been sharpened to gave a hard edge around the non-spiritual energy. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 boosts the already hefty soundtrack that’s full of explosions and ghostly swooshes and moaning hums, finished off with grand, orchestra soundtrack by John Frizzell It’s been said that audience had to excuse themselves from the film due in part to the overbearing noise coupled with the strobe-like imagery, but the overall audio and visuals are a combined one-two punch of sensory power that works well. The Scream Factory release has new interviews in the bonus material, including sit downs with actors Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Harrison, and John DeSantis and producer Gilbert Adler. There’s also a audio commentary with director’s Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargraves, and special effects artist Howard Berger. There’s also an in-depth look at the creation of the thirteen ghosts in a small featurette, their backstory profiles, and the theatrical trailer. However you want to call it, whether it’s “Thir13en Ghosts,” “Thirteen Ghosts, or “13 Ghosts,” this new century remake still holds up to today’s horror lot with spellbinding phantom pandemonium in a glass box!

“Thir13en Ghosts” on Blu-ray on Amazon.com