Behind-The-Scene Details From The Making Of ‘Thirteen Ghosts’

In 1999, producers Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, and Gilbert Adler got together to form Dark Castle Entertainment. The goal? Work behind the scenes to produce remakes of classic horror films like 13 Ghosts by schlockmeister William Castle. They only produced two movies before pursuing other endeavors, but one of those two was the 2001 cult classic Thirteen Ghosts (stylized as Thir13en Ghosts).

While the movie wasn't exactly a juggernaut at the box office, it did inspire a loyal following. Fortunately, for those who can't get enough of Thirteen Ghosts, the movie was just as interesting behind the scenes as it was in front of the camera, and there are plenty of dark corners to explore.


  • The Crew Actually Built The Puzzle Box House

    The design of the house in Thirteen Ghosts was inspired by the architecture of the New York Science Museum. Constructed indoors on the Bridge Studios lot in Vancouver, the house involved more than three miles of etched glass, all of which had to be made by hand.

    Rather than actually etching the 8,500 square feet of glass used in the construction of the set, production designer Sean Hargreaves rendered the "etchings" of Latin spells and incantations on a plastic overlay which was then stuck to the surfaces of the glass. Besides all that glass and plastic, the crew hired bridge welders to connect all the parts of the house together. It took almost five tons of steel to get the job done.

  • The Director Wanted Each Spirit To Be 'The Great White Shark' Of Ghosts

    "They all look like Spirit Halloween decorations come to horrifying life," John Squires wrote, describing the eponymous 13 ghosts, "and I say that as a total compliment."

    The remarkably visceral specters haunting Thirteen Ghosts were created by the makeup artists at KNB EFX Group. Originally founded by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger, KNB EFX had developed a reputation for a particular kind of gore after working extensively with Quentin Tarantino. While Kurtzman later left the group, the various members worked on numerous horror films and TV shows, including Masters of HorrorThe Walking DeadHostel, and many more.

    "The ghosts, we've tried to get a lot more edgy with them and so they're not just these semi-transparent things," director Steve Beck explained to IGN, describing the production process behind the creation of the film's gruesome ghosts, brought to un-life via practical effects. "We've tried to make all of our ghosts the great white sharks of ghosts."

  • The Famous 'Ghost Viewers' Gimmick Let Audiences Choose When To See The Ghosts

    The Famous 'Ghost Viewers' Gimmick Let Audiences Choose When To See The Ghosts
    Photo: 13 Ghosts / Columbia Pictures

    Thirteen Ghosts is, of course, a remake of William Castle's 1960 original, which was stylized as 13 Ghosts. By the time 13 Ghosts came around, Castle was already famous for his gimmicks, having employed them to great effect in films like MacabreHouse on Haunted Hill (which Dark Castle had remade just two years before Thirteen Ghosts), and The Tingler. For his latest idea, he needed a gimmick to end all gimmicks, and he eventually hit upon the "ghost viewer": a pair of old-fashioned two-color 3D glasses that allowed the audience to decide whether or not to see the ghosts.

    It was the first of Castle's gimmicks to be baked into the celluloid itself, as Dan Whitehead explains in the essay that accompanies the Indicator Series Blu-ray edition of 13 Ghosts. Though the original film was in black and white, the scenes with the ghosts had a blue filter, while the ghosts themselves - added in post-production - were red. If the audiences looked through one window in the "ghost viewer," they could see the ghosts. If they looked through the other, the ghosts were invisible.

    The "ghost viewers" weren't Castle's first idea for a gimmick for 13 Ghosts, however. As he recounts in his autobiography, Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, "It was in France that I got an idea for a gimmick for my next picture." Castle describes buying a boarded-up house that "looked haunted". What was the gimmick? "Have 20 million keys made - all but one with the same number. That one key fits the lock on this door. Keys will be passed out in theaters all over the world during the picture, and the lucky person with the right key owns this haunted house."

  • 'Thirteen Ghosts' Was Originally Going To Hand Out Glasses, Just Like The Original

    "That's the one thing Joel Silver said to me when we started," director Steve Beck told IGN. "'We've got to keep the glasses.' We had meetings about them, you know, wouldn't it be cool maybe to have the audience have glasses in the theaters too."

    Unfortunately, while the "ghost viewer" goggles still found their way into the script of 2001's Thirteen Ghosts, the idea of the audience members getting their own "ghost viewers" didn't get very far. "In the end," Beck said, "we have them in the movie and we've tried to make them as cool as possible."

    Ironically, Thirteen Ghosts hit multiplexes just a couple of years before 3D films began to fill cinemas, starting with James Cameron's IMAX film Ghosts of the Abyss. Dark Castle founder Robert Zemeckis got in on the game in short order, releasing his CG-animated film Polar Express in 3D in 2004.

  • 'Thirteen Ghosts' Made Roger Ebert's 'Most Hated' List

    Roger Ebert didn't care for 2001's Thirteen Ghosts. He wrote in his review: 

    The experience of watching the film is literally painful. It hurts the eyes and ears. Aware that their story was thin, that their characters were constantly retracing the same ground and repeating the same words, that the choppy editing is visually incoherent, maybe the filmmakers thought if they turned up the volume the audience might be deceived into thinking that something was happening.

    In fact, Ebert disliked Thirteen Ghosts so much that it landed on his list of "Most Hated" films. The film is in good company, though, with cult classics like StargateHalloween IIIFlashdance, and The Usual Suspects all making the list.

  • The Ghosts All Have Elaborate Backstories

    Though the original 13 Ghosts had plenty of weird specters - including a flaming skeleton, a homicidal chef, and a headless lion tamer - none of them were really explored too thoroughly. While the same is mostly true of the ghosts in the remake (at least on-screen), each one of the new film's ghosts was a member of what the movie calls the "Black Zodiac," and their history was revealed in-depth in a special feature included with the home video release on DVD and Blu-ray.

    This feature, called "Ghost Files," was narrated by F. Murray Abraham himself, and provided the in-universe history of each ghost, as well as how they fit into the so-called "Black Zodiac."