Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) is a teacher and single father struggling to bring up his kids when he unexpectedly receives an inheritance from his rich uncle Cyrus, who he has only met twice. He has been bequeathed a huge house and all its priceless contents - Cyrus was a great collector, you see, and the things he liked to collect most of all were ghosts. Dangerous ghosts. Ghosts that have been trapped inside the house along with the family...
Thirteen Ghosts (or Thir13en Ghosts if you prefer) was scripted by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D'Ovidio, based on Robb White's screenplay for the original William Castle film of the same name. It was the second remake of Castle's gimmicky horrors from producers including Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, and after the disappointing House on Haunted Hill, this works a little better.
The premise is the basic haunted house plot with a family in danger from supernatural evil, as we've seen to varying effect in The Amityville Horror or The Shining. There's the father, his teenage daughter and pre-teen son, plus the nanny (the film doesn't explain how, if Arthur is so poor, he can affford a nanny, but never mind). Along for the ride is a jittery psychic (Matthew Lillard) who regrets helping Cyrus ensnare his ghost collection, and a ghostbuster in the shape of Embeth Davidtz, who knows the terrible secret of the house.
The ghosts themselves are a motley lot in the Hellraiser manner who blink on and off like dodgy fluorescent lights, although the characters have to be wearing special glasses to see them. There is a spiked bruiser carrying a hammer, a naked plastic lady, a massive baby man and his tiny mother, a little boy with an arrow through his head, a bloke carrying a baseball bat, and a fellow wearing a cage, amongst others.
One of those others is Arthur's dead wife, the theme, such as it is, being the sacrifices you have to make for your family (unlike Cyrus who wants to make a sacrifice of his family). It's an uncomplicated shocker, really, full of jump cuts and "I'm coming to get you!" moments, but the design is excellent and it has a glossy, slick look. Not really scary, but reasonably diverting all the same. Music by John Frizzell. How come no one has remade Bug?