Haunted Movie Review:
Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

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Steve Beck


Robb White … (story)

Neal Marshall Stevens … (screenplay) and
Richard D’Ovidio … (screenplay)


Tony Shalhoub … Arthur Kriticos
Embeth Davidtz … Kalina Oretzia
Matthew Lillard … Dennis Rafkin
Shannon Elizabeth … Kathy Kriticos
Alec Roberts … Robert ‘Bobby’ Kriticos
JR Bourne … Benjamin Moss
F. Murray Abraham … Cyrus Kriticos


Robb White is at it again with another scary story that will make your hair rise. “Thir13en Ghosts” is a story that documents one man’s quest to construct a machine that will allow him to see into the eye of hell. The catch? The contraption requires the spirits of twelve specific ghosts that serve as a power supply for the machine. But if only twelve ghosts are required to run the machine, why does a rumor of a thirteenth ghost smack of ill fate?

Known for his mastery of the ultimate “scary story”, this time Robb White brings the truly compelling tale of “Thir13en Ghosts” to life with the help of director Steve Beck. The film begins with an introduction to Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) and his sidekick, psychic medium Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and their ghastly quest to enslave the twelfth ghost for Cyrus’s maniacal machine. Despite the protestations of Kalina (Embeth Davidtz), and Dennis, Cyrus enslaves the mighty juggernaut ghost, whereby his attempts incite his death.

Flash forward to the Kriticos family (post the death of beloved mother and wife Jean) and their daily routine that involves a humble breakfast and a report of the daily obituary section from young Bobby (Alec Roberts). As Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Maggie (Rah Digga) help keep the house in order, Arthur (Tony Shalboub) greets the guest at the door. The guest, Cyrus’ attorney, Benjamin Moss, has come to the Kriticos’ in hopes they will honor Cyrus’ last will and testament which has bestowed Arthur and his family full rights to Cyrus’ property out in the woods. Agreeing to take them to the house, Moss sets out with the Kriticos’ just prior to nightfall, where the Kriticos’ will have their first opportunity to look at what could be, a very fortunate piece of real estate. Upon reviewing the property the Kriticos’ and Maggie are instantly taken aback by the ornate beauty and immense size of the house. Clad in post-modern architecture and floor-to-ceiling windows with Latin inscriptions, the house looks like something out of a fairytale. Inside, the house is a cross between a transparent labyrinth and a fun house with mirrored walls that constantly move and realign to alter the internal structure.

Meanwhile the ‘cable guy’, AKA Dennis Rafkin, has come to inspect Cyrus’ property in hopes of retrieving his indebted money. Once there however, Rafkin quickly learns that Cyrus’s house has become none other than the refuge of the twelve ghosts he helped him to catch. Discovering the ghosts to be locked down in the basement, Rafkin must determine the ghost’s purpose before they threaten the lives of the Kriticos family. But as nightfall progresses, strange events begin to happen, including the death of Benjamin Moss, and the gradual release of the ghosts from their ‘play pens’.

One by one, the invisible haunts torture the Kriticos’, Maggie and Rafkin. Only detectable by special spectral viewers, the victims must rely on the glasses to help them perceive the ghosts in time to escape their wrath. Battling a changing house and vindictive spirits, Arthur quickly learns through tentative explanations from Rafkin that the house is pure evil. The disappearance of his two children attest to the truth of Rafkin’s claim, which is clarified by the all-knowing Kalina who mysteriously appears out of thin air. Explaining the project of “the machine” Arthur, Maggie, and Rafkin learn that the house is a machine “built by the devil and powered by the dead” intended to open the gates of hell and allow one to look into it’s evil “eye”. To Arthur’s dismay he also learns that his wife’s spirit is trapped in the house, enslaved for the evil intentions of his uncle. Determined to save his kids and his wife’s spirit, Arthur is told that the only way to stop the machine is to sacrifice himself as a martyr to love, whereby he will become the final ghost; the thirteenth ghost.

But the audience quickly learns that perhaps Kalina isn’t entirely genuine in her didactic lessons, and Rafkin’s once slimy character won’t remain noble for long. Meanwhile, Maggie lay unconscious on the floor, leaving Arthur to trust his instincts and confront …Cyrus? Apparently still alive, Arthur must discover a way to undo his uncle’s evil plan, save his children, his wife, and Maggie, before the gates of hell are opened and he is at the mercy of his malevolent uncle.

“Thir13en Ghosts” is a truly intriguing and compelling film that will grip you from start to finish. Though, personally, the cast could have been stronger, the contemporary actors did a credible job, and their notoriety helped the film receive the needed buzz required to sustain its success in the box office. Additionally, the storyline is self sufficient as a solid and psychologically compelling tale.

The construction of the house and the intricate details surrounding the house’s architecture and inhabitants is second to none among horror films. The ghosts are portrayed with a realistic malevolence and yet, all are distinctly different; some are tortured, some crazy, some violent, others are just plain evil. The variance in the ghosts’ characters makes their post-life existence both tangible and believable.

Moreover, the acute attention to detail and the intriguing history behind the machine and its religious connections makes the film distinctly stronger than its contemporaries, which either focus on demons or ghosts, but never (usually) both. “Thir13en Ghosts” is a unique take on purgatory, religion, and black magic brouhaha that helps make this film a truly suspenseful and a terrifying delight. It is absolutely perfect for the upcoming Holidays and the dark and stormy nights of fall and winter.

Main Characters

Shannon Elisabeth is Kathy Kriticos… daughter of Arthur Kriticos, who, after her mother burns to death in a fire, tries to help her dad raise little Bobby on what little money Arthur still has.

Alec Roberts is “Bobby” Kriticos… brother to Kathy Kriticos, and Arthur’s comical son whose method of coping with his mother’s death is to take an indifferent liking to the obituary section of the daily paper.

Rah Digga is Maggie Bess… the lovable but inept babysitter/maid, whose compassion makes up for lack in house skills, and whose humor proves the perfect anecdote for the Kriticos family after the death of Arthur’s wife.

Tony Shalhoub is Arthur Kriticos… husband to the late Jean Kriticos, and nephew of the malevolent Cyrus, who must save his children after they become dangerously entangled in Cyrus’ quest for world domination.

Matthew Lillard is Dennis Rafkin… the ill-fated psychic medium whose gift is as much a burden as a lucrative enterprise for the fickle man whose noble motives will ultimately fall short.

F. Murray Abraham is Cyrus… the twisted man with the intent and desire to unleash the gates of hell via a contraption that requires the enslavement of twelve very deadly ghosts.

Embeth Davidtz is Kalina Ortezia… the cunning red herring of the film.


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