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A GHASTLY TALE

THIRTEEN GHOSTS **

STARRING: Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham, Rah Digga, Matthew Lillard

DIRECTOR: Steve Beck

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

RATING: R for gruesome violence, language and breast-baring ghost

THE LOWDOWN: A family inherits a haunted house from an eccentric uncle - and then really wishes it hadn't.

The late horror filmmaker and showman William Castle just might be turning over in his grave with this remake of his 1960 horror film, "Thirteen Ghosts." If that's the case, it wouldn't be the first time the producing team of Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gil Adler had aroused his ire.

As in "Thirteen Ghosts," the trio remade Castle's classic "House on Haunted Hill" two years ago into a slick, special effects-laden derivative minus the essential scare factor that is the true test of any good horror film. That movie, which also capitalized on a Halloween weekend, scored low on the spook-o-meter but high enough in box-office grosses to allow the trio to launch their horror film company, Dark Castle Entertainment.

"Thirteen Ghosts' " storyline concerns distraught Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), a family down on its luck. Enter late, estranged Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), an odd man who bequeathed them his bizarre home.

On their first night in the family's new abode, with housekeeper Maggie (rapper Rah Digga) in tow, they come into contact with troubled psychic Rafkin (Matthew Lillard). He helps them realize their house is not a home, or even a house for that matter, but a machine that lives off the dozen ghosts trapped inside the glass-and-steel premises under not-so-dead Cyrus' direction. It remains for Kriticos to foil his mad uncle's plan and avoid becoming the 13th.

To be fair, "Thirteen Ghosts" has some can't-miss ingredients for a successful horror film, and it partially succeeds. There's a strange, modern haunted house with no way out, a collection of strung-out ghouls, the constant closing and opening of doors and lots of mysterious Latin scrawlings on walls. There's even the kind of flashbacks endured by Rafkin that Lance Henriksen suffered on "Millennium" and warped sounds that conjure up Ozzy Osbourne played backward. But it's a case where the sum of the parts don't come anywhere close to equaling the whole.

Castle's original film had its humor - he promoted "Illusion-O" that allowed audiences to view on-screen spirits by wearing special viewing glasses - and wisecracks do hit their mark in the remake on several occasions, especially by Digga. But when the jokes hit harder than the scariness and it's a horror film, that's a problem.

Note: For filmgoers enticed by the prospect of Shannon Elizabeth displaying the voluptuous attributes that have been used to her advantage in teen flicks "American Pie" and "Scary Movie," fuhgeddaboutit.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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