With gory remake, '13 Ghosts' becomes standard scare fare

William Castle, king of the cinematic gimmick, would have been proud of the updated version of "13 Ghosts." Not because of its content, mind you, but the simple trickery used to get people into theaters.

"Warning!" the television ad proclaims as Shannon Elizabeth is subjected to a smack-down. "This film has been rated R for HORROR. VIOLENCE. GORE. NUDITY. And some language."

Blood and guts is fine for a Halloween flick — and trust us, this one has offal and squish by the pile. However, at no point during "13 Ghosts" do you feel the need to jump in your seat or scream; indeed, the only thing that may alarm you is how few things seem truly disgusting anymore. Characters are raked bloody, pummeled and dismembered in various ways, but man and woman cannot shriek on gore alone.

"13 Ghosts"

With Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Lillard, Rah Digga, Embeth Davidtz, F. Murray Abraham. Directed by Steve Beck from a screenplay by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D'Ovidio. 90 minutes. Rated R for horror violence, gore, nudity and some language. Several theaters. Preview

That's what you get when remaking a classic better known for schlock than for creeps. Castle, famous for rigging theater seats to buzz during his movie "The Tingler," included fun glasses with the price of admission to 1960's "13 Ghosts." At various times the audience was invited to put on the specs to see apparitions such as a headless lion tamer.

Today, only the characters in the movie require glasses to see the ghosts, which are much uglier — a spike-impaled homunculus, a gouged, bloody beauty and other furies borrowed from the "Hellraiser" prop closet, like the glass mansion that is the flick's real star.

The story remains virtually the same: Patriarch Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is a recent widower, stuffed in a tiny apartment with his two children and their nanny. One day they learn they've inherited a house from Arthur's estranged Uncle Cyrus. Touring the property, they find the glass walls etched ceiling to floor in Latin. Then a psychic stranger appears (Matthew Lillard, annoying as ever), warning the family of malevolent spirits in the basement before collapsing in a drooling seizure. All signs point to the door — which is, of course, sealed by the time the family decides to leave.

From here it becomes the standard "run for your lives" scare-a-thon as the wraiths are released, one by one. Clever one-liners supplant the lack of frights with cackling — which you might as well do since, by the end of the movie, it's clear that the joke's on you.

Other fright films

*** "Wisconsin Death Trip": Madness, suicide, murder, sheep's-head stew, compulsive window-smashing. And the little town of Black River didn't even have a dot-com industry. Writer/director James Marsh's 1999 gem (new to Seattle, unavailable on video) catalogues the real mayhem that plagued a late 19th-century town during hard times, through photos, newspaper accounts, records from a local asylum and re-enactments in striking black-and-white. 76 minutes. Unrated, but contains scenes of violence. Grand Illusion through Thursday. — Mark Rahner

*** "Audition": The review I'd really like to give for Takashi Miike's absolutely harrowing thriller would be only two words — one an expletive, both italicized. A lonely Japanese widower (Ryo Ishibashi) is attracted to a young, birdlike woman (Eihi Shiina), and for a while "Audition" lulls us with the odd rhythms of their courtship, elegantly shot with just enough creepiness to maintain tension. Then comes the last half hour, a bizarre and astonishingly gruesome tale of female revenge that may have audiences heading for the exits, or for their therapists' offices. I stuck it out, but — yikes. Those who like this sort of gore-o-rama (and, yes, it's beautifully done) will be in heaven; the rest of us will be busy trying to forget. 115 minutes. Unrated; contains graphic scenes of torture. Broadway Market. — Moira Macdonald