It’s been well over 20 years since the memorably freaky horror film Thirteen Ghosts was first released. It was pretty underwhelming at the box office and fared horribly with critics, not even managing 20% with its critical rating. Given these disappointing metrics, it would be easy to give this one a pass if you’ve never seen it. However, for those who did watch the movie when it first came out, despite all the skewering it received from critics, many audiences will attest to the fact that there was a certain uniqueness about it that made it enjoyable.
Sure, it was cheesy at times and had some bad acting. However, what sometimes resonates with pop culture isn’t always acclaimed, and so it was for Thirteen Ghosts. It seemed largely forgotten for a long time, until surges in Halloween popularity, and pop culture horror films saw horror fan pages and content creation platforms across social media begin featuring all manner of content that brought the film’s very recognizable scenes vividly back to memory.
A remake of a classic horror from the ’60s, the 2001 version of Thirteen Ghosts has since become a sleeper hit. Now a cult favorite, It was recently announced that the film is set for a spin-off series. Billed as a show that will give each of its spooky characters more attention this time, in preparation, here’s a reminder of what the film was about, and some background information on all the ghosts of Thirteen Ghosts.
15 The Plot
Thirteen Ghosts sees a man named Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) inherit a house from his uncle. In a precarious financial state, Arthur decides to move there with his children (played by Shannon Elizabeth and Alec Roberts) and their nanny. The house is unique but creepy since it’s made of multiple glass panels, that are marked with Latin inscriptions.
It soon emerges that Arthur’s uncle, Cyrus Kriticos, and his psychic partner, Dennis (Matthew Lillard) were ghost hunters. Cyrus and others were killed as they attempted to capture a particularly powerful ghost. The house, as it turns out, is actually an elaborately designed prison to keep the ghosts trapped.
Dennis meets the family at the house and realizes the Latin inscriptions are barrier spells that keep 12 captured ghosts sealed in their cells. However, a mechanism that keeps the seals intact is inadvertently released, allowing the angry ghosts to roam free and cause havoc. The family is later joined by Kalina (Embeth Davidtz), a ghost liberator, who helps them fight for their survival against the terrifying ghosts that can only be seen with specialized spectral glasses.
14 The Black Zodiac
As the film went on, we learned that Cyrus actually built an occult device that powered the entire house and was meant to open a gateway called the Ocularis Infernum. His goal was to use it to gain powers from hell, but needed to capture the ghosts, who all needed to have died under specific circumstances, in order to open it.
Their existence and their order were all part of a dark inversion of the astrological zodiac calendar. Known as The Black Zodiac, like the common zodiac, this one also features 12 signs. Only, whereas our zodiac is represented by the likes of Pisces, Sagittarius, and the others, commonly associated with their corresponding star constellations, the signs of the Black Zodiac are represented by the 12 ghosts from the film — with a 13th one that is meant to complete it.
The hook of the film therefore came from the novelty of there being so many unique spirits in it, but also that each ghost had tragic backstories that made them all interesting in their own way. So, in anticipation of the upcoming series, here’s what you need to know about each of the ghosts of the Black Zodiac.
13 The First Born Son
Billy Michaels was probably one of the most tragic ghosts. He was a little boy who liked to play cowboy games. That was until another child challenged him to a duel. While Billy used a harmless cap gun, his assailant used a steel-tipped arrow.
While Billy appears as the young boy he was, his appearance is frightening since he still has the arrow that killed him lodged in his head. He isn’t particularly harmful, and mostly will just say, “I want to play.” However, while he might not attack you himself, his frightening appearance is enough to scare you toward others who will.
12 The Torso
The stuff of nightmares and a cautionary tale for lovers of vices, The Torso is an aptly named ghost since that’s exactly how he appears. Jimmy “The Gambler” Gambino lived during the early 1900s. His fondness for gambling would be his downfall when he made a boxing bet with members of the mafia. Unable to pay, he was hacked to pieces and had his body parts wrapped in cellophane.
He therefore appears as a shocking dismembered torso, often with his head somewhere close by. He can’t actively attack you, but just the sight of him is terrifying enough.
11 The Bound Woman
Susan LeGrow may have been the epitome of a mean girl, but she still never deserved what happened to her. She was the quintessential rich girl, popular, desirable, and with many admirers. However, Susan was also narcissistic and thrived on the attention she received from boys.
Her flirtatious ways led her to toy with many of the boys from her school, and even men, seeking romantic encounters with many of them along the way. Naturally, she left many lovelorn boys in her wake. Her malicious games came to the fore on her senior prom night when Chet Walters, a star football player, caught her cheating on him.
In a jealous fit of rage, Chet took revenge. Her lover was later found bludgeoned to death and Susan disappeared. Her body would later be found buried under the 50-yard line of their school’s football field; strangled with a tie. Like the first two ghosts, Susan isn’t very dangerous, but can still scare the wits out of you.
10 The Withered Lover
If Jean Kriticos’ last name sounds familiar in the film, that’s because she’s a ghost with a personal connection to the main family depicted in it. She was the wife of Arthur and the mother of his kids. Jean sadly died in a house fire while everyone else survived, leaving Arthur heartbroken.
Cyrus Kriticos, rather than caring about his relatives’ grief, realized the circumstances of her death made Jean an ideal match for one of the ghosts he needed to complete The Black Zodiac. Jean appears with burns on her face and wearing a hospital gown. However, she tries to actively help her family rather than terrorize them.
9 The Torn Prince
Royce Clayton once had it all going for him. He lived during the ’50s and was a gifted baseball player as a teenager. His talent and fame caught the attention of colleges across the country and his future seemed set.
However, being young and famous also gave him a taste for reckless thrills. Back then, people of the lower classes were sometimes known as ‘greasers’ and one of them took a challenge for a drag race against Royce too seriously. Cutting his brake lines, Royce suffered a horrific death in the ensuing crash.
Still bearing his scars from the accident, his ghost carries a baseball bat, forever doomed to never fulfill his legacy as a star player. He may not be the most dangerous ghost, but won’t hesitate to take a swing at anyone who gets too close.
8 The Angry Princess
By far one of the most popular of the 13 ghosts for obvious reasons, Dana Newman was a beautiful woman who lived up until the late 20th century. Despite her looks, she suffered abuse that tragically caused her to only see her perceived flaws but never her beauty.
Her obsession with plastic surgery took a dark turn when a clinic botched an experimental one. Left with a mutilated eye, Dana could not bear the sight of herself and killed herself in a bathtub at the clinic by stabbing and slicing up with a huge knife.
Her added cult popularity among the other ghosts from the film came from the fact that she was played by beautiful actress, Shawna Loyer. It’s also pretty hard to miss her since she moves about with all her wounds on display. Her scars, the knife she carries, and her striking look should have made her far more frightening. Except, it’s hard to focus on her frightening qualities alone since she’s also a well-endowed woman who walks around stark naked in the film. However, pass a rude or racy comment at your peril as she won’t hesitate to attack those who do — as the seedy lawyer in the film learned the hard way.
7 The Pilgrimess
An orphan from England, Isabella Smith traveled to the new world as a colonist. Seeking a new life, she found only rejection as she was ostracized by the close community she lived in. Soon accused of witchcraft, she was blamed when crops and livestock began dying.
Although claiming to be innocent of the charges, she was trapped in a burning barn but survived. This only offered more proof to her persecutors who then confined her to the pillory where she eventually starved to death. She still carries it around with her, giving her a haunting look, though inhibiting her ability to do much harm since her arms are bound.
6 The Great Child
Actually a grown man and enormously built, Harold Shelburne was a person with neurological differences. These stunted his emotional development and left him with the mind of a child.
Even as an adult, he was forced to wear diapers and was spoonfed by his mother, Margaret, who was a little person. After his mother was brutalized, and he was tortured, Harold later massacred most of the residents of the carnival performers they lived with.
5 The Dire Mother
Margaret Shelburne was a part of a previously so-called “freak show” carnival. A little person, after being attacked and sexually assaulted by the tallest member of the carnival, she was left with her son, Harold, but loved and raised her child on her own no matter how difficult their circumstances were.
While Harold was mercilessly mocked and taunted his entire life, Margaret was later kidnapped and murdered by other members of the carnival, and the carnival owner had Harold mutilated. Harold’s rage caused him to use an ax to avenge the atrocities against him and Margaret. A pair of frightening figures, Harold appears in a diaper, covered in slime and vomit, with his mother at his side and his ax at the ready.
4 The Blacksmith
George Markeley lived during the 1890s. He was an honest man, simple, and hardworking as a blacksmith. George was also a family man and lived a decent life. Despite all this, he was later accused of stealing by a man of higher standing named Nathan.
Threatened with exile from his town, George stood up to Nathan and refused to accept the accusations. As retribution, Nathan and his brutal friends later accosted George’s family and brutally murdered them. George was driven to rage and later used his blacksmith hammer to beat Nathan and the others to death.
For his troubles, he was chained to a tree by community members and had spikes driven into his body. His hand was severed, and his hammer was crudely attached to it. Sadly, as kind and gentle as he once was when he lived, George’s ghost is one of the angriest, most vengeful, and most dangerous ones around.
3 The Jackal
Born in 1887, Ryan Khun was the son of a sex worker. He grew to develop a terrifying and morbid taste for women that later led him to sexually assault, brutalize, and murder stray women and other sex workers.
His one redemptive feature is that he wanted to cure himself of his sick perversions and compulsions, so he voluntarily committed himself to a medical facility. However, the doctors there left him in solitary confinement for years, causing his mind to slowly break down.
He was also bound in a straightjacket that was made tighter and tighter whenever he acted out. By his end, his physical deterioration from years of injuring himself and being abused left him with his head locked in a cage to stop him from biting at the jacket. Left alone in a basement, he grew to hate humanity and when the facility later burned down, he chose to stay behind as everyone else escaped.
His ghost still wears the remnants of the jacket and his head is still in the cage. The most violent and aggressive of the ghosts, he will brutally kill anyone in his vicinity without hesitation.
2 The Juggernaut
Horace Mahoney was born with physical differences that left him disfigured and forced him to live as an outcast his entire life. Abandoned by his mother, he was forced to work in a garage by his father from a young age.
He had unusual strength, but after his father died, lost his faculties and went on a murderous spree where he would target hitchhikers and other motorists. Using his strength, Horace would tear his victims apart limb by limb. He was later killed by a SWAT team and left riddled with bullets. Haunting the junkyard where he lived, he’s known for having the highest kill count of all the ghosts.
1 The Broken Heart
After featuring the first 12 ghosts of the zodiac, the film’s finale threw up a huge twist. As it turned out, Cyrus was alive all along and needed one more ghost. Arthur, his own nephew, provided the perfect person to be “The Broken Heart”, since he was left heartbroken by the death of his wife.
However, this ghost was never seen since Arthur survived and Cyrus was unable to complete The Black Zodiac. Although Cyrus does die in the end, he never returns as a ghost.
With all the reinvigorated interest in this cult film, fans are now eagerly anticipating what the spin-off series will be like. While Dark Castle’s plans are ambitious and, frankly, sound great, between the recent strikes in Hollywood and a deal that hinges on Sony, there are still some kinks to work out before we get to see it.
“If Sony and Dark Castle can come to some kind of agreement – either Sony joins forces with Dark Castle on the series or they merely give Dark Castle the green light to do what they wish with the property – the plan on Dark Castle’s side is to essentially use the ending of the 2001 movie as the springboard for a deep dive into the mythology of each of the monsters.”
The concept for now is certainly intriguing. After all the drama with Cyrus and his evil plan is revealed, the film ends with all the ghosts being released and wandering off. With an ending like that, there’s plenty of scope to now build an amazing horror franchise from this once-forgotten movie.