The 2001 Dark Castle horror remake Thirteen Ghosts is a highly underrated cult item, mostly thanks to its great line-up of angry spirits; here are all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts explained. Formed in 1999, Dark Castle was named after B-movie pioneer William Castle and was designed with the goal of crafting crowd-pleasing theatrical horror movies with recognizable actors and studio budgets. Many of their films were remakes of horror classics, some of which had been produced or directed by Castle himself. The tale of the Kriticos family escaping the 13 ghosts held by ancient glyphs in Cyrus Kriticos’ glass mansion in Thirteen Ghosts is one such remake and a movie that deserves way more attention.
While Dark Castle’s horror film output tended to be profitable, the company never did get much respect, either from critics or hardcore horror fans. It’s been years since Dark Castle’s heyday, but some of their earlier works, like Thirteen Ghosts, have gained cult followings and are seen as fun popcorn fodder worth a revisit by old fans and new alike. No one would ever mistake even the best of Dark Castle’s films for a landmark effort like The Exorcist or a genre-redefining movie like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but that doesn’t mean many aren’t worth watching. Thirteen Ghosts merits a viewing for the costume design alone, as the titular 13 ghosts each have their own backstory and unique look to match.
Thirteen Ghosts was Dark Castle’s second movie produced, after 1999’s House on Haunted Hill. It’s very much a product of its time, but it’s gained a cult following because of the creative prosthetic special effects. Thirteen Ghosts has got a great central concept, one that would make a great horror movie spin-off TV show akin to Bates Motel or Chucky. It’s not just the Black Zodiac premise that gained Thirteen Ghosts a small-but-dedicated fanbase though, as it had incredible production design, and some of the coolest ghosts ever created for the big screen. Plus, it stars equally-cult icon Matthew Lillard of Scooby-Doo fame – although Shaggy and the gang would likely retire if they met even one of the ghosts in Cyrus Kriticos’ incredibly haunted mansion. Here’s the full rundown of all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts.
All 13 Ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts Explained
Thirteen Ghosts’ plot isn’t the easiest to follow towards the end of the movie, but the ending of the film basically features a Nikola Tesla-like machine that is supposed 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. Therefore, he needed all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts in order to achieve his goal. His initial plan was to force Arthur to sacrifice himself and become the 13th ghost, The Broken Heart. This ghost 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 spirits were set free.
In the horror remake, the 12 spirits represent individual members of the Black Zodiac. Their presence not only powers Cyrus’ machine itself but also helps power the mansion. The thread that connects all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts is their tragic pasts and deaths. Each spirit must have a death that fulfills a certain set of criteria which is represented in their names (The Juggernaut, The Withered Lover, etc.). Like in Bly Manor, some of the ghosts are frightening yet harmless, others are previous serial killers and sex offenders. Cyrus took great care to find each of these specific spirits in order to complete his complex spell, though he ultimately failed in the end, since Arthur didn’t have to sacrifice himself. Arthur was supposed to be the 13th ghost, but since he isn’t, what follows is that the 12 spirits were eventually set free.
1. The First Born Son
The first ghost in Thirteen Ghosts is The First Born Son. In life, The First Born Son was a boy named Billy Michaels who had an unhealthy obsession with pop culture involving “cowboys and Indians.” Any attempt to rip him away from his fantasy life would earn rage, but that rage and a toy gun didn’t protect Billy from a real arrow fired into his head by another boy during an ill-conceived duel. Unlike Damien from The Omen or Samara from The Ring, Billy is a relatively harmless child ghost. He doesn’t attack anyone directly in Thirteen Ghosts, but he does scare them into the path of more violent demonic-like spirits.
2. The Torso
Out of all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts, The Torso is the only one that is exactly what it sounds like: a disembodied torso wrapped in cellophane. In life, 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, and the criminal didn’t take it too kindly. In an act of brutality reminiscent of The Sopranos’ best episodes, mob goons killed Jimmy and cut him up, dumping his remains into the ocean. The Torso is one of the most visually striking of the thirteen ghosts, and seeing double-amputee actor Daniel Wesley bring him to un-life is truly the stuff of (very inclusive) nightmares.
3. The Bound Woman
In Thirteen Ghosts 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 said 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 (a story that sounds straight out of a Netflix True Crime documentary). Like the First Born Son and the Torso, she’s more “scary” than an actual threat.
4. The Withered Lover
The Withered Lover is one ghost that’s definitely not any kind of threat to the Kriticos family once they get trapped inside their presumed-dead relative Cyrus’ house of horrors. Of course, that’s due to her particularly tragic backstory, as she was Jean Kriticos, wife of protagonist Arthur (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Tony Shalhoub) and mother to his children Kathy and Bobby. Jean died in a house fire that the rest of her family survived.
5. The Torn Prince
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 Thirteen 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 (similar to Ken Miles in Ford v Ferrari). He shouldn’t blame himself though, as his opponent had secretly tampered with his brakes. Though not the most dangerous of all the ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts, he definitely causes some havoc with his weapon.
6. The Angry Princess
The next ghost in the early 2000s horror remake is The Angry Princess. 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 via surgery. A string of abusive relationships did nothing to help her self-image. After a self-administered (but botched) facial surgery left her looking like The Joker in Batman: Death of the Family, Dana took her own life, opening her wrists in a bathtub. In Thirteen Ghosts the Slimy lawyer character Ben Moss makes a rude comment about her nude ghostly appearance and pays for it accordingly.
7. The Pilgrimess
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 during Thirteen Ghosts. She’s one of the oldest ghosts trapped in the mansion and feels right out of American Horror Story: Roanoke’s story. Of all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts, she’s the only one whose arms are bound and while she is threatening there isn’t really much she can do other than look scary.
8 & 9. The Great Child & The Dire Mother
In Thirteen Ghosts, The Great Child and The Dire Mother are other cases of the ghosts being exactly what they sound like. Margaret Shelburne was a little person who worked in an American Horror Story-style carnival freak show, and 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. As American Horror Story: Freak Show characters, these two would fit right in, just like The Pilgrimess with Roanoke, showing the subtle influence Thirteen Ghosts has had on modern horror.
10. The Hammer
These final three ghosts are definitely the most dangerous to the Kriticos family and Thirteen Ghosts’ other human characters. Born George Markley, The Hammer wasn’t a bad person at all, 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 this horror movie, as Thirteen Ghosts and other early 00s horror movies weren’t known for commenting on social issues, and horror films having a clear message, like Get Out’s meaning, is a relatively modern trend.
11. The Jackal
Easily the most volatile and unpredictable out of all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts, The Jackal was born Ryan Kuhn in 1887 and grew up to be a sick and twisted man. A vicious and compulsive sexual predator and killer, Ryan did actually seek help for his affliction, checking into an asylum. Not that it did him any real good, as before long he had completely lost what was left of his mind. He eventually died when the asylum burned down, although unlike Freddy Krueger (another sexual predator burned to death who returns to haunt the living), no burn scars can be seen on The Jackal.
12. The Juggernaut
Horace “Breaker” Mahoney, The Juggernaut, is definitely the most dangerous out of all 13 ghosts in Thirteen Ghosts and can be considered almost a “final boss” of the group. A mountain of a man, Horace was a serial killer who would pick up hitchhikers or offer rides to the stranded (similar to Holden’s psychopath buddy Edmund Kemper in Mindhunter), 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. Along with The Hammer, The Juggernaut sadly decimates friendly psychic character Dennis Rafkin (who plays a similar ill-fated role to Dick Hallorann in The Shining).
Who Is The 13th Ghost In Thirteen Ghosts?
The thirteenth ghost 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 appears after he’s killed. This means that, technically, Matthew Lillard is the 13th ghost in Thirteen Ghosts. The movie does tease early on that Cyrus himself might be the 13th 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. He doesn’t come back as a ghost.
Thirteen Ghosts Original vs. Remake: Ghost Differences Explained
Thirteen 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 (as the 1960 version is titled) 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 (the shower scene in Psycho, while iconic, doesn’t prompt anywhere near the fear it did when it was screened in 1960, either). There’s no Black Zodiac, although Cyrus is both present and the protagonist, and 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, in which Cyrus needs 13 ghosts to activate Basileus’s Machine, is obvious. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, however.