Thursday, July 3, 2008

Movie Review: Thirteen Ghosts

Or perhaps I should have written, "Thir13en Ghosts," the way it appeared in all the advertising copy and in the opening credits. You know, sort of the way the movie Seven was advertised as "Se7en." It's a crying shame the screenwriters don't have half the talent and imagination of the studios' marketing teams. I never saw Roger Corman's original movie, but considering we're talking about Roger Corman here, I'm willing to bet that A) that older movie was pretty bad too; and B) it was a lot more fun to sit through.

The plot, such as it is, involves a widowed father and his two children inheriting a very weird house from his deceased uncle. (Father: "He squandered the family fortune." Daughter: "We have a family fortune?!" Father: "No. He squandered it." Heh.) So they head off to the new homestead, accompanied by the uncle's lawyer, whose only apparently purpose in the film is to be horridly killed so the audience can enjoy the death of a lawyer; and the kids' sassy black nanny, whose presence is harder to explain, other than the need to have a black character, since the family is portrayed as nearly destitute.

The house itself is an extraordinary piece of set design, and if the film had been 90 minutes of the cameras just wandering up and down the halls -- no actors -- the movie wouldn't have suffered much. The house is a polyhedron with glass walls and glass inner partitions that slide back and forth on cleverly designed gears, and with "containment spells" etched into the glass. The spells are for the ghosts - there are 12 of them - who are imprisoned in the basement.

The uncle's evil plan -- as far as I can tell -- was to use the ghosts as fuel for an infernal machine he'd constructed, allowing him to somehow gain access to an artifact that resides in Hell, and thus conferring upon himself great powers. How a machine that looks like the insides of the world's largest pocket watch could do that isn't explained, needless to say. If it were able to be explained, I suspect the screenwriters would be doing something a lot more important than writing movies like this one.

Much like the set design -- and unlike the plot -- much attention and care was lavished on the makeup for the 12 ghosts. (The 13th ghost is the key to the mystery. Somehow.) There’s the Jackal, a gibbering fiend with an iron cage over his head; the Hammer, who has spikes driven all through his body; the Angry Princess, a nude woman covered with razor slashes; the Torso, who is self-explanatory, I trust.

They escape their confinement, naturally, and mayhem ensues, as it frequently does in movies like this one. Also along for the ride are a psychic who is either searching the house for money the uncle owed him, or searching the house for clues to the mystery (it’s poorly explained, and he doesn’t seem to know himself); and a woman who shows up unexpectedly to save the day at one point, but when her true motives are revealed it exposes all her previous actions as self-contradictory.

Since the daughter is played by Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), I was waiting for the scene where various parts of her body are exposed. Sure enough, she is attacked by the Jackal, who for some reason concentrates most of his demonic energy on assaulting her tank top and bra, rather than her person. And yet one is doomed to disappointment; the Angry Princess shows more flesh. Oh well.

Plot points come and go; important things said are either quickly forgotten or contradicted. The lawyer was there to steal money, but why was the money just sitting in a satchel in the basement? On top of the dead-pedal that releases the ghosts from their prisons? For that matter, why was there a dead-pedal at all; if the satchel full of money hadn’t been sitting on it, wouldn’t the ghosts have been released long ago? When the 13th ghost is revealed, and does exactly what the prophecy requires, why does something completely different happen? Why is someone shown gathering explosives to take into the house, when they have no intention of ever using them? Why did I rent this movie?

Oh, right: because it was 2-for-1 day at my video store. It was free.

Not scary, not sexy, not very entertaining. 2/10

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