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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
A graduate dream research group experiment on paranormal and sensory deprivation sleep patterns involving controlling their own dreams, even if their terrifying, and examining their own deaths but when they pivot to investigate supernatural activity inside an isolated compound mansion in the midst of an arid desert, the four students and their eccentric teacher conjure malevolencies that include satanic rituals and alien encounters. With their professor spearheading an underlying motive to use them for his diabolical plans, the hesitant and scared group must decide to either force their participation or try and escape their instructors madness, but when the lines of reality blur, friend becomes foe and foe becomes friend with casualties in the middle on all sides as grisly depictions of death and suffering question whether their nightmares are spilling into reality.
Subconscious surrealism on an ultimate terror coaster from writer-director Bruce R. Cook with an unspeakable horror in every corner, from flesh eating extraterrestrials to disillusioned Mad Doctors, in the nightmare-inducing “Nightwish!” The 1989 made and 1990 released “Nightwish” is produced by Paul White and Keith Walley, both of whom collaboratively funded through their Wild Street Pictures production company the early 1990s horror which included another Unearthed Classics release, spine #2, “The Dark Side of the Moon” and, also, put a little cash into the Jeffrey Combs cult favorite, the Brian Yuzna sequel of “Re-Animator,” “Bride of Re-Animator.” However, the real star of the filming crew is none other than Sean McLin. Before going full fledge into being a camera operator, especially around the early days of Power Rangers’ television series, McLin had a short stint as director of photography and his cinematography beyond divine that engrossed to draw audiences into odd angles, mind-boggling depth play, and just colors after colors of spectre ghoulishness. McLin provided a pure motley of mental macabre of the Gregory Nicotero (“Day of the Dead”), Robert Kurtzman (“Lord of Illusions”), and Howard Berger (“In The Mouth of Madness”) powerhouse effects team.
The central characters essentially encompass four graduate students – Bill (Artur Cybulski), Jack (“April Fools’s Day’s” Clayton Rohner), Donna (“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood’s” Elizabeth Kaitan), and Kim (Alisha Das) – along with their stern professor played by the solemn faced Jack Starrett (“Grizzly II: The Concert”). Relatively low on the totem poll names when considering a main cast; hell, I only know Clayton Rohner from his role in the mid-80’s teen transgender appropriation film, “Just One of the Guys” as well as being Admiral Jameson on one episode of Star Trek: TNG. Yet, the combination of crew talent along with the chiseled define facial features of a one Brian Thompson (“Cobra”), the meshed cast suffer no visible calamities or outright fumbles of performance as they each carrier about equal weight into a floating, weightless, construct of boiling human antagonizing fear. The cast rounds out with colorful supporting performances of a muscle head henchmen by Robert Tessier (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”) and the nitwit gate keeper, also animal feeder, Wendall played by Tom Dugan. Yet, Thompson tops the more colorful performances as Dean whose Kim’s ruggedly, manly boyfriend that’s more confident jock without the loss of brain cells. Thompson’s at the height of career, sporing a tank top for most of the film that puts his muscular form on display, but he isn’t the only actor to bare skin as Elizabeth Kaitan and, especially, Alisha Das bare a bit of flesh for the sake of providing a sexual desire to story.
“Nightwish” understandably has a hard chronicle to follow because any film, regardless of genre, incorporating dreams or delving into the state of madness is definitively ambiguous at best, hard to follow, and puts minds into high gear to either understand the just what the hell is going on or to make sense of the chain of events to deduct a reasonable explanation. Sure, over thinking “Nightwish” as a complex construct can be dead wrong. There could be simplicity strewn about and, maybe, we’re too dense or too complicated ourself be aware of the obvious, but Cook certainly knew how to piece together a disjointed storyline that distinctly defines part A of the plot, but parts B and C are so well blend together that the clarity of part A starts to disintegrate and more questions than answers starting whizzing through our think box. “Nightwish” epitomizes the resemblance of nightmare residue and is best left open for personal interpretation.
Spine #3 from Unearthed Films Classics label comes “Nightwish” onto Blu-ray distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray is presented 1080p in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio through a newly restored 4k transfer, but the transfer, perhaps from the best negative possible, has some minuscule wear with faint scratches and dirt impressions; however, the definition and the color palette ultimately overrun the set hard grain with the minor damage also being an after thought. The uncompressed English 2.0 PCM has a better grade in comparison to the video with clear dialogue and a robust soundtrack throughout to which the ambience is nearly overshadows by but does present itself despite the lack of inertia to progress. Special features include a commentary track with Wild Street Pictures producer Paul White and the president and founder of Unearthed Films Stephen Biro. Also available is a photo gallery, trailers, and an extensive cast and crew bio booklet filled also with production notes and a slew of high resolution stills that’s great to flip through. As another judiciously placed classic for Unearthed Films, “Nightwish” is a dream come true for viewers that combines the effects talents of Nicotero, Kurtzman, and Berger with the terrifying ferocity of facing death through in the dark subconsciousness.