The original Thir13en Ghosts was directed by William Castle in 1960 after which it was remade into a fabulous remake by Dark Castle and directed by Steve Beck in 2001. The remake presented its viewers with several unresolved mysteries, one of them being the Black Zodiac which was a darker take on the traditional zodiac.
The remake mostly remains loyal to the original Thir13en Ghosts plots although the characters are new and presented in a relatively modern and high-tech setting.
This film is premised on a widower, Arthur Kriticos who learns an unexpected news that he has inherited a mansion from his late uncle Cyrus. Arthur moves in with his children and nanny but unbeknownst to them, the mansion houses 12 ferocious ghosts that need to be used to complete a spell.
The Black Zodiac, a perverse version of the original horoscope, contains twelve signs that represent each of these spirits. While Dark Castle may not have been the unique in using the ‘evil counterpart of the zodiac’ concept, its portrayal including the signs and the ghost’s rules remain unique to Thir13en Ghosts.
After the Ghosts that represent all the lack Zodiac signs have been assembled they can be activated to use Baileus’ Machine which opens the Ocularis Infernum, aka the Eye of Hell. While this film might have had a disappointing run at the box-office, it gradually acquired a cult status.
This video will showcase each one of the ghosts from the remake, explaining their original tale.
The Firstborn Son
Thomas Wheeler, in his novel ‘The Arcanum’ depicts the Firstborn Son as a young boy with a split head. The Firstborn son named Bill Michaels was the first ghost to be captured by Cyrus Kriticos and subsequently the first in the Black Zodiac. This young boy had panache for western cowboy movies.
He made his dislike for everyone clear and often disagreed with them. The voice of F. Murray Abrahams as Cyrus Kriticos describes Billy Michaels as “simply a stubborn brat,” who got what he wanted whenever he wanted. One time Billy’s friend challenged him to a duel with a real steel arrow that he found in his closet.
Clearly Billy, dressed in a cowboy suit brandishing two toy guns, was no match for the arrow and unfortunately it killed him instantly when it hit the back of his head. As a ghost, Billy remains in the cowboy outfit with an Indian feather on his head, holding a tomahawk with the arrow protruding from his head. Kriticos claimed that his refusal to accept defeat and a rebellious attitude made him a perfect fit for the circle of angry spirits.
The Torso is a long-haired human figure without a lower body forcing him to walk on his hands. The Torso and its head are separated from each other, and both are wrapped in plastic. Earlier known as Jimmy “The Gambler” Gambino, he was the son of an addicted gambler who spent his childhood on the horse tracks.
His love for gambling made him the owner of a casino. One day he was challenged by a wealthy businessman who sealed his fate. After betting heavily on a boxing match and losing, he tried to retrieve his money and flee. Unfortunately, for Jimmy, the businessman and the winning boxer caught up with him, chopped Jimmy into pieces, and wrapped them with cellophane, throwing the parts into the ocean. He now lurks within the mansion, forever screaming in agony.
The Bound Woman
Bound Woman is the third ghost in the Black Zodiac. She is a sour-looking woman adorned in Elizabethan ruffles. A woman named Susan LeGrow was picked up by Kriticos for this role. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she was the daughter of the wealthiest couple and enjoyed popularity in high school as a cheerleader.
Susan was notorious for her ability to seduce men and later discard them. Susan was dating the football team captain Chet Walters on her prom but Chet wanted revenge on her for cheating on him with another man. A few days later, Susan was found buried under the 50-yard line in the local football field.
She was bound with ropes and strangled to death. Her spirit roams in mansion in her prom dress and a crown. Her arms remain ties to her back and her body hangs from the belt used to strangle her while she continues to laugh sadistically. The Bound Woman was first seen luring Arthur’s son into the mansion’s basement.
The Withered Lover
Arthur’s loving wife and the mother of his children Bobby and Kathy is brought by her uncle Cyrus to be the Withered Lover. The loving Jean succumbed to burns she sustained while rescuing her family from a horrible fire, meeting with an untimely demise. It was then that Cyrus captures his spirit.
Jean’s spirit resides in the mansion’s basement. In the film, she is seen wearing a hospital gown with a rolling IV stand which confirms she died at St. Luke’s Hospital and not in their home. She is seen to be communicating with her son Bobby on several occasions in the movie, warning him not to follow the Bound Woman into the basement.
The Torn Prince
Royce Clayton was the Torn Prince and one of the primary antagonists of Thir13en Ghosts. Born in 1940, Royce was a baseball player and a major in his league that lived a “miserable small-town life.” However, he was incredibly arrogant and showcased a superiority complex.
He was offered huge sums of money by many schools across the country to play on their team. In 1957, he was challenged by a greaser called Johnny to a car race. Due to his ego, he accepted the race. Unfortunately, his car flipped over and exploded during the race, sending tire shards to the right side of his body and tearing it to shreds.
His ghost carries his favourite baseball bat, which is also his weapon. He wears a leather jacket and jeans with his right side completely torn to shreds. The background of his containment cube portrays his destroyed race car.
The Angry Princess
Dana Newman, who represented the Angry Princess, was an exceedingly beautiful woman who failed to recognize her own beauty and suffered from insecurities and a low self-esteem which was further exacerbated by her abusive relationships. As a result, she received various cosmetic surgeries like breast implants and nose jobs.
One night as she was alone in the clinic, she attempted to perform surgery on herself because of an imaginary imperfection she found on her face. The procedure went horribly wrong as a result of which she was left blind in one eye. Subsequently, she committed suicide by slashing herself with a butcher knife in a bathtub.
She appears as a pale, unclothed woman living in the mansion after Cyrus captured her. Her body is still covered in deep cuts, and her hair is soaking wet while she lives in the mansion’s basement. She was the first ghost to be released when the estate lawyer Ben Moss accidently had activated the machine.
Isabella Smith, an English woman is a minor antagonist, chosen by Cyrus Kriticos to be the Pilgrimess. She plays a significant character in the 2001 version of Thir13en Ghosts. Prior to her death, Isabella travelled across the Pacific and settled in New England during the colonial period.
She was an outcast in her town, isolated and ignored. When the town’s livestock began mysteriously dying, she was accused of witchcraft by everyone who chased her to an old barn and set it on fire.
However, somehow she emerged between the ruins, unharmed. She was then sentenced to the town square, within the stocks where she died of starvation. She wears a long, black dress, and her skin appears to be severely messed up. Even as a ghost, she is still locked in the stock.
She only makes her appearance in the film before the end. Unlike most ghosts in Thomas Wheeler’s The Arcanum, there is no Latin beside her name, just the symbol representing her in the Black Zodiac.
The Great Child and The Dire Mother
The Great Child, also known as Harold Shelburne, was born to Margaret Shelburne after being raped by the Tall Man. Harold’s mother had spoilt him to the extent that he had become infantilized and had to wear diapers his whole life. The duo’s life was harsh as the mother and son were often subjected to mockery and tormented at every phase of life.
Even the other freaks in the circus teased them. One day some of them decided to play a prank on him by kidnapping his mother. Enraged, he ran after them but unfortunately, his mother had died of suffocation inside the bag that she was in. On seeing his beloved mother dead an enraged Harold finally lost his mind, and brutally murdered everyone by chopping them with an ax and destroying the entire carnival.
He displayed whatever was left of them so that the remaining paying customers could see. The carnival owner Jimbo, was outraged on hearing this and ordered a massive crowd to kill Harold. Even after death, his ghost is never apart from his mother, who is always by his side. He has pale white skin, wears a bib stained with food and a big diaper. He has a small tuft of blond hair and still wields the ax he used to kill the crew.
Margaret, the Dire Mother, was a 3 feet tall midget since her childhood and dressed like a doll by her mother. She joined Jimbo’s carnival, looking for sustenance. After being raped by the Tall Man and giving birth to Harold, whom she loved more than anyone else, she was often mocked for her poor parenting skills.
Besides being seen continuously with her son even as ghosts, Margaret is seen constantly either feeding Harold or holding his hand. She is dressed in worn-out doll clothing and is much smaller in size than Harold. Her face is wrinkled due to old age, and she is harmless on her own. It is her affiliation to The Great Child that makes the duo dangerous.
The two never effectively attack anyone; they just scare them off buying enough time for someone to do the job. Besides being the only pair of spirits in the movie, they are also the only ones with alternate histories.
According to the film’s commentary track, Harold originally died due to choking on his vomit and then landed on his mother when he fell over. The filmmakers did not think this back story to be very shocking for the mother-son duo, so they created a new one.
George Markley was chosen by Cyrus Kriticos to become the Hammer. He plays a major role and is one of the prime antagonist. George was an honest African-American blacksmith that lived during the 1890s. After being wrongfully accused of theft by a white man, he was threatened with exile, but he refused to leave town.
The same white man led a gang that kidnapped his wife and children and burnt them to death. An enraged George killed the culprits by beating them with a sledgehammer. Following the slaughter, the townsfolk dragged him to his shop and inflicted him with severe forms of torture.
He was bound to a tree with ropes and had railroad spikes driven into him. As a final touch, they chopped off his hand and replaced it with the hammer. George’s ghost is one of the most aggressive ones in the film.
His entire body is impaled with the spikes, and he is the only African-American ghost in the movie. Unlike the others, the audience can understand George’s motives given his tragic past. In the Black Zodiac, the Hammer is portrayed as a muscular, bearded man wearing a blacksmith’s apron carrying tongs and holding a massive hammer.
Ryan Kuhn is the Black Zodiac’s Jackal. He is one of the major villains in the film and represents the 11th ghost. Born in 1887 to a prostitute, Ryan was born with a dangerous mental illness that inflicted him with the lust to kill.
He admitted himself to Borehamwood Asylum for treatment, where he was locked in a padded room with a straitjacket after horribly attacking a nurse. After several desperate attempts to escape, he was permanently put in a straitjacket tied so tightly that it permanently damaged his limbs.
In his attempts to escape, he also lost his fingernails but finally managed to rip the jacket until the doctors locked his head in a metal cage and sealed him in the basement. He was driven entirely insane, growing to hate any human contact and screaming in agony. Ryan soon died in a fire outbreak in the asylum, unable to escape.
Many years later, Cyrus captured him and locked him in a containment cube in the mansion’s basement. Ryan is an incredibly frightening ghost with the metal cage still on his head, with the front bars ripped outwards. His skin is severely scarred, and he has long, black hair.
He is dressed in a ripped straitjacket and is the most frequently encountered ghost in the movie. He is also the only one whose position within the Black Zodiac is explained by one of the characters as “the sign of Hell’s Winter.”
Horace Mahoney is the ghost who becomes the Juggernaut. Horace was completely deformed at birth and grew up to a height of 7 foot in his adulthood. He was an outcast throughout his life, ostracized by nearly everyone. After birth, his mother abandoned him, and his father forced him to work in a junkyard.
When his father died, he was all alone and soon went insane. He began killing people, and his first victims were two female hitchhikers whom he took to his junkyard and tore apart with his bare hands. After killing several more people, Horace caught an undercover female cop who called for backup, and the SWAT team surrounded the junkyard moments later.
After his arrest, he broke free and killed three police officers. The SWAT team opened fire on him, which ultimately led to his death. Horace’s ghost is disfigured, and his body is covered in bullet wounds all over.
His clothes are ragged, torn apart, and stained with his victims’ blood. Juggernaut is the only ghost that viewers see being captured by Cyrus at the beginning of the film. He was also called the “Breaker” because he liked to break his victims into as many pieces as possible. In the Black Zodiac, only his face and shoulder are depicted.
The Broken Heart
The 13th ghost in the Black Zodiac is the Broken Heart. The Broken Heart symbolises the sacrifice of life and is the only ghost to be created out of an act of pure love. The 13th Ghost can be made only after the first twelve have been assembled. The protagonist, Arthur Kriticos was meant to be the final ghost in the Black Zodiac.
The Broken Heart is also a failsafe that is required to stop the process. It must be a willing human sacrifice that stands in the way of the Eye during the final configuration. As the Eye opens, the spirit uses the power of life to “short-circuit” the system. However, at the end of the film, the 13th ghost is necessary to power up the Basileus’ Machine.
Cyrus chooses Arthur for this sacrifice, knowing that he will willingly give his own life to protect his children. In the Black Zodiac, the Broken Heart is depicted as a knight who pierces his chest with his sword.
The Latin inscription beside his symbol reads Corda Tacita, which means “silent heart.” The Broken Heart’s sign also appears on the key Arthur uses to unlock the mansion door at the beginning of the movie.