“They wait for you to stick your face right up against the glass! And then give you a big, fat BOO!” – Matthew Lillard, Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
This week, I reached out once more to my readers on social media to vote for one of five horror films on my watchlists for me to watch for the first time. As usual, they delivered. Recommended to me by a coworker last year and recently added to one of my streaming subscriptions, this week’s blog subject is Thirte13en Ghosts (2001) by Steve Beck. I thought I knew what to expect with this movie, and I was very wrong.
The movie begins with spooky mystery movie star Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby-Doo) arguing with a rich guy (Cyrus Kriticos, played by F. Murray Abraham) in what appears to be a junkyard. After a series of events that are not cleared up until the end of the movie, Cyrus ends up being killed. Soon after, we meet the movie’s central characters: Arthur Kriticos (Cyrus’ nephew), his daughter Kathy, his son Bobby, and Bobby’s babysitter, Maggie. The family live in a cramped apartment following a fire in their former house; it is revealed that the mother had died in the fire. Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) now struggles to keep his family afloat while also grieving the loss of his wife.
Cyrus Kriticos’ lawyer comes to the apartment. He has come to inform the family (via a “if you’re watching this, it means I’m dead” video message from Cyrus) that they have been left the contents of Cyrus’ will, including his elaborate mansion. His children are excited to move in right away, but Arthur wishes to see the house first. That evening, they follow the lawyer to the mansion. It is secluded about two hours away in a wooded area; the family are surprised to see that the entire house is made of glass. Dennis (Matthew Lillard) has returned and is posing as an electrician. He claims that a lot of people are without power because of something going on with the house, and he needs to go inside and check it out. They reluctantly let him inside, and he quickly disappears into a deep part of the house.
Arthur goes over the details of the inheritance with the lawyer, and the others disperse to examine their new home. As they explore further and further apart, we see that they are not alone. Arthur’s children are followed by a variety of gruesome spectral beings, but they cannot see them. Dennis catches up with them and informs them of what Cyrus was really up to before he died. He reveals that twelve ghosts are trapped in the home by containment spells inscribed on the “ectobar” glass (which is also soundproof and shatterproof). The family also learn that the only way the ghosts can be seen by the living is through special glasses. What started out as a dream after incredible misfortune soon becomes a nightmare, and the only way out is to make a difficult sacrifice.
The characters discover that Cyrus had collected victims and manipulated them to embody figures of the “Black Zodiac” in their deaths. The twelve figures of the Black Zodiac and the thirteenth ghost are as follows:
- The First Born Son
- The Torso
- The Bound Woman
- The Withered Lover
- The Torn Prince
- The Angry Princess
- The Pilgrimess
- The Great Child and The Dire Mother
- The Hammer
- The Jackal
- The Juggernaut
- The Broken Heart
**these sound more like the figures of the tarot to me than the zodiac, but that’s fine.
I was going to say that this movie seems to feature a lot of inspiration from Hellraiser (1987), especially given the various appearances of the ghosts and the mansion itself resembling a giant puzzle box. However, I found out Thir13en Ghosts is a remake of a 1960 movie under the same name (minus the ’13’ part). Regardless, I was highly invested in the many components of the setting and its role in the story. I had no idea what was going on with the glass house and the Latin written all over it. Finding out the purpose added even more layers of the story.
I tried really hard to avoid spoilers or too many details in case anyone reading has not seen this movie. It was a truly engaging story that, like the glass house, has many moving parts that make it fun to watch and completely unexpected. When I watch it a second time, I am sure I will notice even more.
Until next time,