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The 2001 Dark Castle horror 13 Ghosts, also referred to as Thir13n Ghosts or Thirteen Ghosts, is a highly underrated cult movie. 13 Ghosts centers on the Kriticos family and their attempts to escape the 13 Ghosts held by ancient glyphs in the presumed-dead Cyrus Kriticos’ glass mansion. Every ghost in the movie has a complete origin story and unique aesthetic design, making it possible for each ghost to be a horror movie villain in their own right. All the ghosts differ from how they look to how they kill, and the Black Zodiac was an innovative character concept that was wildly ahead of its time when the movie was released in 2001.
13 Ghosts gained a cult following largely because of the creative prosthetic special effects seen in the film. The set designs in 13 Ghosts are truly unique and the costume design of the 13 Ghosts themselves ensures each has a clear origin story and M.O. that sets them apart from the rest, from the First Born Son to the dreaded Angry Princess. The movie itself only expands a little on the 13 Ghosts’ backstories, but future projects from Dark Castle Entertainment could finally expand on what’s known about all 13 Ghosts. This is an incredibly exciting prospect for 13 Ghosts fans since what’s already been revealed about the spirits of the Black Zodiac is terrifying, unnerving, and ripe for a sequel or spinoff.
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The Black Zodiac: Why There Are 13 Ghosts In 13 Ghosts Explained
13 Ghosts’ culminates when Cyrus Kriticos’ “Basileus’s Machine” begins to open up the Ocularis Infernum, which would grant Cyrus powers from Hell. The only way Cyrus could get the machine to work is if the spirits of the Black Zodiac were made complete. Cyrus had gathered all 13 ghosts in order to achieve his goal since the Ocularis Infernum would only open if the machine was powered by the spirits. Their presence not only powers Cyrus’ machine itself but also helps power the mansion. All 13 Ghosts are connected through their tragic pasts and deaths, dying in a way that fulfills a certain set of criteria which is represented in their names such as The Juggernaut and The Withered Lover.
In 13 Ghosts, the 13 ghosts gathered by Cyrus represent individual members of the Black Zodiac. The reason there are only 12 ghosts despite the movie’s title being 13 Ghosts is also revealed by the ending. Cyrus’s initial plan was to force Arthur to sacrifice himself and become the 13th ghost called The Broken Heart. The 13th ghost in 13 Ghosts can only be created by a person sacrificing themselves in an act of love, which Arthur was prepared to do for his family. Luckily, he didn’t need to, and the entire Black Zodiac is unleashed to roam free once again.
The First Born Son
Of all the ghosts in 13 Ghosts, The First Born Son has one of the most sympathetic and tragic backstories. It would be unfair to label him as being an outright malevolent spirit like some other ghosts in the Black Zodiac. The First Born Son was a boy named Billy Michaels who had an unhealthy obsession with pop culture involving cowboys and Indigenous Peoples. Any attempt to rip him away from his fantasy life would earn rage, but that didn’t protect Billy from a real arrow fired into his head by another boy during an ill-conceived duel. Billy is a relatively harmless child ghost and is one of the least harmless of the 13 ghosts, but he does scare them into the path of more violent demonic-like spirits.
Out of all 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts, The Torso is the only one whose name directly describes what he is, a disembodied torso wrapped in cellophane. Prior to dying, the torso was part of a compulsive gambler named Jimmy Gambino. Gambino was also a bookie but his own gambling prevented him from being able to pay out the winnings of a “made man” in the mob. Goons killed Jimmy and dumped his remains into the ocean. Aside from having one of the most interesting backstories, The Torso is easily one of the most disturbing ghosts in the Black Zodiac with such a striking and unique design that he feels like something directly out of a more modern horror franchise.
The Bound Woman
The Bound Woman is one of the Black Zodiac that 13 Ghosts devotes notably less screen time to and gives less exposition on. The Bound Woman was named Susan LeGrow and had a privileged upbringing. She was a rich, popular cheerleader who dated the captain of the school football team. That was until the captain found her with another boy on prom night and had a rather horrific reaction, bludgeoning his romantic rival to death and strangling Susan with his own tie. Like the First Born Son and the Torso, she’s more frightening than an actual threat and is perhaps the most tragic of all 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts.
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The Withered Lover
The Withered Lover is one ghost in 13 Ghosts that’s not a threat to the Kriticos family once they get trapped inside Cyrus’ house of horrors due to her particularly tragic backstory. Cyrus found his ghost for The Withered Lover segment of the Black Zodiac from his own family. She was Jean Kriticos, wife of protagonist Arthur and mother to his children Kathy and Bobby. Jean died in a house fire that the rest of her family survived, and it’s the only one of the 13 ghosts’ backstories that’s shown on-screen in 13 Ghosts. Her inclusion as one of the initial 12 spirits wasn’t a huge twist, but it still helped add some personal stakes to Thirteen Ghosts’ interesting premise.
The Torn Prince
The threat of the Torn Prince’s can be missed when compared to the likes of The Jackal and The Juggernaut. The Torn Prince was a high school baseball star in the late 1950s, explaining the ever-present baseball bat weapon that he’ll happily use to attack any of 13 Ghosts’ living characters. Named Royce Clayton in life, The Torn Prince died during a drag race, after losing control of his car in a horrific accident. He shouldn’t blame himself though since his opponent had secretly tampered with his brakes. Though not the most dangerous of all 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts, he definitely causes some havoc with his weapon.
The Angry Princess
Like The First Born Son and The Bound Woman, The Angry Princess’s backstory is tragic and makes her a figure of empathy as much as fear. Born Dana Newman, The Angry Princess was an incredibly beautiful woman by all standards but her own. Sadly, she was unable to be happy with her looks, seeing imperfections others didn’t and constantly trying to improve her appearance through surgery. After a self-administered but botched facial surgery left her disfigured, Dana died by suicide. In 13 Ghosts, the slimy lawyer character Ben Moss makes a rude comment about her nude ghostly appearance and pays for it accordingly.
Named Isabella Smith, The Pilgrimess was a victim of the Salem witch trial hysteria that gripped New England in the late 1600s. A local outcast, Isabella was accused of witchcraft, and when an attempted burning didn’t work, the perception that she was evil only increased. In the end, The Pilgrimess was left to slowly die of starvation in the stocks her ghost remains locked in when she becomes one of the Black Zodiac in 13 Ghosts. She’s one of the oldest ghosts trapped in the mansion and feels right out of American Horror Story: Roanoke. Of all 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts, The Pilgrimess is the only one whose arms are bound. While she is threatening, there isn’t really much she can do other than look scary.
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The Great Child & The Dire Mother
The Great Child and The Dire Mother are among the most creepy of the 13 Ghosts. Margaret Shelburne was a woman with dwarfism who worked in an American Horror Story-style carnival show. Her enormous son Harold was the result of a sexual assault by the carnival’s tallest member of the freak troupe. Some of the other freaks later murdered Margaret, leading Harold to go crazy with an ax and kill most of them before he himself was killed by an angry mob. These ghosts in 13 Ghosts, especially The Great Child, are striking to behold, and arguably among the most memorable.
The Hammer is among the most terrifying of the 13 ghosts that 13 Ghosts contains. Born George Markley, The Hammer wasn’t a bad person, working as a blacksmith in a small town. That was until he was falsely accused of theft by a white man and his family was brutally murdered. In a grief-fueled rage, George took his trusty sledgehammer and bludgeoned their killers. Of course, the townspeople blamed him and killed him by driving railroad spikes into his body. This is probably the only racial commentary made in the film, as 13 Ghosts and other early ’00s horror movies weren’t known for commenting on social issues, and horror films having a clear message is a relatively modern trend.
Easily the most volatile and unpredictable out of all 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts, The Jackal was born Ryan Kuhn in 1887 and grew up to be a sick and twisted man. The Jackal is also one of the few of the 13 ghosts who was just as violent and sadistic before they became a spirit. Most of the 13 ghosts’ names and stories hint at a tragic past, but this isn’t the case with The Jackal. A vicious and compulsive sexual predator and killer, Ryan did actually seek help for his affliction, checking into an asylum. Before long he had completely lost what was left of his mind. He eventually died and became one of the 13 Ghosts when the asylum burned down.
Horace “Breaker” Mahoney, aka The Juggernaut, is definitely the most dangerous out of all the ghosts in 13 Ghosts. He can be considered almost a “final boss” of the Black Zodiac. A mountain of a man, Horace was a serial killer who would pick up hitchhikers or offer rides to the stranded, only to take them back to his junkyard and tear them apart with his bare hands. He’d then feed their bodies to his dogs. The Juggernaut is the first ghost that 13 Ghosts introduces thanks to a flashback of Cyrus and Matthew Lillard’s Dennis capturing him for the Ocularis Infernum machine. Along with The Hammer, The Juggernaut sadly decimates friendly psychic character Dennis Rafkin.
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Who Is The 13th Ghost In Thirteen Ghosts?
The thirteenth ghost in 13 Ghosts was supposed to be Arthur (Tony Shalhoub), at least according to Cyrus Kriticos’ (F. Murray Abraham) master plan. By dying in the house, Arthur would have become The Broken Heart. This would activate Basileus’s Machine, a device “designed by the devil and powered by the dead,” the purpose of which was to grant Cyrus near-limitless power. However, Arthur survives.
While the 13th ghost in the Black Zodiac, The Broken Heart, never appears, the ghost of Dennis manifests after he’s killed. This means that, technically, Matthew Lillard is the 13th ghost in 13 Ghosts. The movie does tease early on that Cyrus himself might be the 13th ghost, but then pulls an almost M. Night Shyamalan-level twist. Cyrus faked his own death and doesn’t actually die until the movie’s climax, after which he doesn’t come back as a ghost.
Thirteen Ghosts Original vs. Remake: Ghost Differences Explained
2001’s 13 Ghosts is a remake of a 1960 movie of the same name, but they’re totally different especially when it comes to the ghosts. 13 Ghosts 1960 doesn’t expand much on its titular ghosts and doesn’t name the spirits in the house inherited by the Zorba family. They’re also considerably less violent, both in terms of their actions and how they died. The spirits in the 1960 13 Ghosts don’t look nearly as harrowing by modern standards, but this is to be expected.
There’s no Black Zodiac in the original 13 Ghosts, although Cyrus is both present and the protagonist. The 12 ghosts in the remake also need someone to die in the house and create a 13th to free themselves. The inspiration this gave for the 2001 Thirteen Ghosts/Thir13n Ghosts/13 Ghosts, in which Cyrus needs 13 ghosts to activate Basileus’s Machine, is obvious. However, that’s effectively where the similarities end.
Why 13 Ghosts Is Still Being Discussed
13 Ghosts is a cult gem of a 2000s horror movie, and its Black Zodiac of 13 ghost characters has gained a lot more attention in the age of streaming. The early 2020s have seen great success with horror reboots, with everything from Scream to Hellraiser getting some type of new movie. These endeavors have proven to be incredibly victorious, seeing great box office returns, and 13 Ghosts could follow suit. Despite being a box office failure, 13 Ghosts has garnered quite a cult following over the years making it a unique entry into the horror genre at large.
There simply wasn’t a market for a movie like 13 Ghosts in the early 00s, but this very much isn’t the case in the 2020s when audiences are eager for fresh and interesting concepts in their horror content. The production design in 13 Ghosts was ahead of its time and all 13 ghosts were horrifying to behold. 13 Ghosts deserves its resurgence in popularity, and the flexibility of the age of streaming feels like the perfect time to explore 13 Ghosts in a dedicated project.
A 13 Ghosts TV Reboot Is On The Cards
The backstories of the 13 ghosts in 13 Ghosts are fascinating. They’re the key reason the 2001 movie has managed to garner such a steady level of interest in the decades since its release. Dark Castle Entertainment may be resurrecting 13 Ghosts with the specific intent of exploring the names and stories of the 13 Ghosts. As reported by DreadCentral in August 2023, Dark Castle Entertainment is developing a 13 Ghosts TV series. The show will be written and developed by Patrick Mediate (Primordial Pictures) and Aaron McLane (Fear the Walking Dead). It’s expected will take an almost anthology-like approach with each episode dedicated to the story of a different ghost from the 13 Ghosts original film.