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!
Over the span of 12 years from the 1970’s to the 1980’s, wannabe architect Jack is an accomplished engineer living in serene of the Pacific Northwest and with a lack of empathy and an internal repository of compulsive and narcissistic traits, Jack is able to be a highly successful and intelligent serial killer who seeks mastering his craft as highly artistic and divine. Over the same period of time while butchering nearly countless people, including his own family, Jack obsessive compulsive disorder not only assists his longevity of his creative expression, but also dwindles down another social expected goal of designing and engineering his own home isolated at the edge of a lake. As the body count rises, Jack compulsive restrictions loosen and he begins taking greater and greater risks of being caught. Jack narrates his voyage of viscera and macabre to a literary listener in a back-and-forth to explain and justify his murderous methods and craft.
Unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, auteur writer-director Lars Von Trier (“Antichrist” and Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2″) crafts his very own artistic expression delineation with the 2018 “The House That Jack Built,” a two and half hour venture into the deconstruction of a serial killer’s personality traits as well as the flourishing experience of murder through years of repetitive brush stroke practice and self-preservation knowledge done in a self-portrait form. Graphically violent and supercharged with coarse and visually stimulating visual effects and editing, all the hallmarks of a Von Trier film, “The House That Jack Built” blends an abundance of fine arts with religion and mythology that develops into a soaring renaissance piece of art in the modern times and would inspire the most closeted psychopath to revel themselves in a heap of aesthetic and picturesque horror.
As if Matt Dillion isn’t already an entertaining and diverse actor, the “Wild Things” and “Crash” star excavates a vile and dumb luck Jack from deep within, crafting the character as so smart, he’s sometimes stupid, but with each murder subsequently gone scot-free, the confidence builds, the trade becomes tangible, and the narcism washes over ever so slightly. Dillion arcs Jack so well that the character no longer becomes the villain but an anti-hero of sorts as rooting for the slaughtering of innocents becomes a painful necessity rather than an empty desire. The titular character converses with a mysterious companion named Vergel in a way as if Jack was anecdotally telling his own biopic. Vergel symbols multiple conceptual and tangible beings, from Jack’s moral conscious to Vergil, the Augustan period Roman poet, Vergel, or Verge as Jack simple calls him, crudely interviews and thoroughly analyzes Jack’s so-called art. Verge’s off-screen presence is heartily brought to life by Bruno Ganz, an actor who once portrayed Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Academy Award nominated film, “Downfall.” Ganz takes an expected backseat to the title carrying Jack, but doesn’t succumb to being underneath’s Jack’s critical and narcissistic viewpoints, making Verge a level playing field character alongside Jack. Ganz, who passed earlier this year, is equally masterful under a relatively underwhelming role paired with pure evil and while the contrast’s magnitude should be starkly poignant, Jack and Verge are equals in the eye of the viewers and that’s how powerful Lars Von Trier’s filmmaking can really be. Jack’s chaptering stories include co-stars such as “Kill Bill’s” Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan (“Men in Black”), Sofie Gråbøl (“Nightwatch”), Riley Keough (“It Comes At Night”), Jeremy Davies (“Ravenous”), and David Bailie of “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
In my experience with film from Lars Von Trier is that those who patron his films have polarizing affections; you either love his work or you absolutely loath his style of film. My experience consists of only one, yes one, of projects and that being “Antichrist,” and while I was not entirely enthralled with the film’s sexual themes, “The House That Jack Built” provided a plethora of philosophies to pick apart and to continue to digest even way after viewing. For those who might forego themes, philosophies, and theologies, many will bore themselves through the filmmaker’s American serial killer thriller for over two hours long, clocking in a 153 minutes, and finding themselves disoriented in a segmented tale that’s chaptered by five incidents and an epilogue over a 12 year span. Others will bang their hands over Trier’s use of repeat scenes, purposefully rolling them slow and in a calm disposition, allowing Jack to deliberate how and why he does what he does in his discussions with Verge, but these soft touches are nice pillow talk touches to the main, punchy action of Jack’s self imposed duresses under his murdering moniker, Mr. Sophistication, that palpably places the narcissistic cherry on top of misanthropic persona. The devil in the details are punchy themselves and a keystone to Trier’s overall narrative to explore the impulses of a killer’s mind. “The House That Jack Built” is a great accompaniment to shows like “Mindhunter” on Netflix or other films like “Silence of the Lambs” where serial killers vocalizes intricacies of their niche trade is very fascinating for morbid loving sympathizers.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “The House That Jack Built” onto Blu-ray home video. The full HD, 1080p, region B, uncut disc is presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and is fully operational in all sense of the phrase with a generous color palate lacing through more natural lighting than assumed there would be in comparison to “Antichrist,” but the raw tone by Manuel Alberto Claro debases the stylized techniques of “Antichrist’s” Anthony Dod Mantle to virtually a hardline and graphic depiction of reality in the 1970’s. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is respectfully verbose and robust. Trier’s loquacious exposition is actually great exposition of the crystal clear kind and the director shows off his depth and range, splicing edits together like a madman that still convey the overall theme without disregarding audio accounts. While technically sound, the Umbrella release comes regretfully with no bonus features. Brilliant, musing, and intense, “The House That Jack Built” is a Lars Von Trier legacy film breathed with unadulterated violence and sharp with superb writing potent that’s potent on every level. Trier just gets better and better with every film and look forward to his next project!