Using the basic premise of the original classic, the retooled "13 Ghosts" combines elaborate visuals, extraordinary sets, violent imagery, and none of the quaint elements that made the 1960 original charming and fun. A few tidbits - like the special glasses worn by the characters to see ghosts - have been retained from the old William Castle production, but horror fans will quickly realize this remake is all eye candy, and lacks a coherent plot - a serious problem with all of Dark Castle's remakes.
Warner's transfer has a consistent balance of the film's key colour scheme, including the amber-brown shades for the intricate Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired shapes and patterns, and much of the CGI effects use these colours for the complex glass house, and the demonic machine that terrorizes the characters. Subtle background designs register naturally, and the moody lighting is similarly sharp with an decent level of defined shading.
The film's 5.1 audio is pretty active, and many of the flash cuts and shocks activate various howling effects, and John Frizzell's minimalist synth/orchestral score maintains ambient tension and suspense.
The disc's extras are easily accessible, including a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek gallery - "Ghost Files" - in which F. Murray Abraham narrates the histories of the film's ghosts; the intermeshing graphics and media, coupled with Abraham's wry delivery, give each ghost file the look and feel of a slick TLC Halloween documentary. The gallery is preceded by a brief prologue which leads to the main menu.
The slickly produced documentary focuses on the film's special effects and set design, and features interviews with the film's main cast, director, co-producer Joel Silver, and the production's visual effects aces. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes material, and several explanations of key CGI sequences (such as the interlocking house exterior, and the demonic machine in the basement). The only irritation is that each production and post-production segment isn't chapter-indexed, so shuttling is the only option to skip over material.
Special effects are really the star of the film, and it's no surprise these aspects are highlighted on the disc's commentary track. Though some are described in the documentary, there's enough fresh material to maintain interest, with sufficient production details regarding the film's low budget and Vancouver locations. Once in while the talk goes overboard in assigning greater meaning to "13 Ghosts" - the nobility of the film's characters, improving one's life via filmic catharsis (sheer nonsense) - but set designer Sean Hargreaves usually breaks the pretentious atmosphere with some practical insight, such as constructing the immense glass and steel set for the terror house.
The last extras are a music video (pretty inconsequential, since it's cut to film clips), theatrical trailer, a page of cast and crew credits, and a short but informative bio of William Castle, with a fairly complete filmography.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan