Why “Thirteen Ghosts” is an Underrated Gem: 20 Years Later

The 2000’s saw a wave of remakes of horror classics, and some were more successful than others.  One that flew under a lot of radars in 2001 was the remake of Thirteen Ghosts, starring Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, and F. Murray Abraham.

While it was largely considered a flop, barely recouping its $42 million budget, it’s gained something of a cult following in the years since.  So in honor of its 20th anniversary, we wanted to give this film another look.

Product of Its Time
Watching this movie in 2021, it definitely feels very late 90’s/early 2000’s.  Everything from the choppy editing to the blending of archaic and techo visuals.  While it certainly feels dated in some senses, it avoids many of the cliches and tropes surrounding horror of that time.

Released during the slasher resurgence after Scream, it’s not another pretender trying to emulate the meta format.  It also came out just before the torture porn boom of the 2000’s that kicked off with Saw and Hostel.

Plus we’re treated to a post-Scream, pre-Scooby Doo Matthew Lillard in a role that completely steals every scene that he’s in.

13 Ghosts 3
He’s an absolute joy to watch in this movie.


It exists in this weird space in between trends, but it very much works to the movie’s advantage.  The only thing that didn’t was the fact that it came out a mere 5 weeks after the tragic 9/11 attacks, thus audiences weren’t really in the mood for gory horror at that time.

Amazing Production Design
When looking back at this movie, there are two things that really stand out: the ghosts and the house.  There’s no discussion about this movie without mentioning its intricate and fascinating production design.

Director Steve Beck wanted the house to feel like its own character and it very much does.  The sleek design with the glass walls blended with the clockwork style gears gives life to this house that’s more machine than home (as the movie suggests).

While shooting around the location proved to be challenging (due to the walls being see-through), it’s such a cool location that you could envision yourself exploring.  It’s the perfect candidate for a haunted house attraction or escape room challenge.

13 Ghosts 1
Who wouldn’t wanna explore this place?!


Another impressive feat is the fact that, for the most part, the house was built completely practically.  These days, if a movie like this was made, everything would just be shot on a green screen with the backgrounds added digitally.

Granted, there were a few green screen shots, but those glass walls and detailed set dressing were all really there with the actors.  Not to mention, the ghosts themselves were done practically with  makeup, and it’s the reason why it still looks great even today.

World-Building
If you don’t remember this movie for the house itself, you certainly remember the titular ghosts.  There’s a lore and mythology that the movie barely scratches the surface of that’s lead to something much deeper.

The movie gives us a rundown of all the ghosts, and what their roles are for the demonic ritual.  But it’s in the iconic bonus features that the mythology is further explored.  There’s an amazing featurette with F. Murray Abraham narrating the backstory of each ghost, and after watching that you can even see details from their stories in the backgrounds of the cells they’re trapped in.

13 Ghosts 2
You really feel that each of them is a fully realized character, even if we don’t get it in the movie.


This gives the movie an entire mythos just beneath the surface, and has led to countless cries on social media for a miniseries about the ghosts and how they became the way they are.  While nothing has ever officially been announced about it, we have to admit it would be amazing to see.

Between Lillard’s entertaining performance, the house’s supercool design, and the legendary ghosts that lend themselves to more content, Thirteen Ghosts is a movie that deserves its cult status and makes for a fun rewatch, even 20 years later!

What do you think of Thirteen Ghosts?  Let us know in the comments!

Also, if you’re a fan of 80’s horror, see how you can be a part of the upcoming In Search of Darkness Part III documentary by following this link!

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3 thoughts on “Why “Thirteen Ghosts” is an Underrated Gem: 20 Years Later

  1. I agree. 13 Ghosts was a fun watch. I do feel that Tony Shalhoub was miscast. His character seemed lost to me. But I loved the House and Matthew Lillard both of whom saved the film. The individualized ghosts were a lot of fun, too. 13 Ghosts is solid, underappreciated horror.

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  2. It is a fun watch. I just think the concept of using ghosts to power a machine into hell was kind of a bad reach. It didn’t even step into it subtlety. The lady just pulls this stupid book out and makes a story about ghosts… into the Faustian tale of man achieving greatness. Kind of strange and a point where it loses the viewers.

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