Thirteen Ghosts

In the press notes for “Thirteen Ghosts,” we are given the gruesome backstories for all the spirits who appear in the movie, including how they died. Any one of these stories is more imaginative and compelling than anything actually appearing on the screen.

“Thirteen Ghosts” is about a man whose rich old uncle dies and leaves him a haunted house, which he and his family have to stay in.

(Really. That’s REALLY what it’s about. And we’re supposed to take it seriously.)

The man is Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub), and the uncle is Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), a villainous ghostbuster who traps psychotic ghosts and keeps them in cages in the basement of his amazing glass-and-steel, high-tech house.

Arthur arrives with his teen-age daughter (Shannon Elizabeth), morbid young son (Alec Roberts) and housekeeper (Rah Digga). They are accompanied by a grim lawyer (JR Bourne) and greeted by Dennis (Matthew Lillard), a cohort of the late Uncle Cyrus.

Turns out the house is a big machine that has been programmed to set the ghosts free one by one, and to turn into a prophesied thing that can tell the future, or some kind of crap like that. So now there are mean ghosts loose in the basement, contained only by Latin spells written on glass. And you can only see them if you wear these specials glasses that definitely are NOT just safety goggles from a high school science lab.

It all spills out over one night, like a campfire story, and commands about as much respect. The director, Steve Beck, has never helmed a picture before, but has worked in visual effects and art direction a few times. It shows: “Thirteen Ghosts” is miserably directed, but has fantastic production design and some truly ghastly ghosts.

I like some of the creepy ideas and twists — until the end, when nothing makes a bit of sense — but the movie surrounding them is nearly unwatchable. There’s certainly no emotional investment in any of the characters, which makes it hard to be scared for them. It’s yet another example of epileptic editing and gratuitous gore being mistaken for terror and tension.

D (; R, some harsh profanity, abundant violence and gore, some nudity.)