An analysis of the technical codes in the opening sequence of the 2001 remake of the film 'Thir13en Ghosts'

Essay by emmamayesCollege, UndergraduateB, April 2009

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The first thing we see is the ‘Columbia Pictures’ logo in black and white, which is usually in colour. The fact that it is black and white suggests the Good vs. Evil theme of the film. The screen then fades to black, connoting death, evil (e.g. the dark side), superstition, and fear.

The camera opens with an establishing shot of the location, in this case a scrap yard. It is set at night and the lighting is low key. The main colours are black and grey, perhaps this is because it is a remake of the black and white classic, and it reflects the dark natured characters. These colours are also setting the mood of the film.

The words ‘Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros Pictures present’ flash onto the screen in a black and orange font, which reminds me of Halloween – dark, evil, scary, etc.

The camera then pans through more stacks of scrapped cars, and we can see yellow tape moving in the wind.

The scrapped cars have connotations of death and destruction or decay. The tape looks like ‘Police line’ tape which suggests that something bad has happened here – some sort of accident perhaps? The only sound we can hear is diegetic, the whistling of the wind and the yellow tape fluttering.

The title of the film, THIR13EN GHOSTS, flashes onto the screen in the same font type and colours as before. The number 13 has connotations of the occult, and superstition or bad luck.

It looks as if there is a light shining through the font, which against the dark background again suggests the Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark theme of the film.

As the camera again starts to pan through the scrap yard, you can hear a loud thundering noise, which we then see is a huge truck. The camera is at a low angle, looking up at the truck which puts it in a dominant position. The truck itself is shining silver cutting through the darkness of the scrap yard. The colour silver connotes machinery and is futuristic. The lights on the front and top of the truck are the only light in the frame.

The truck crashes through a closed fence, which suggests the people inside should not be there, they are breaking some sort of rule. Gold sparks fly from the fence as the truck crashes through it and fly over the screen. Gold connotes money and wealth, which to me suggests that the people’s presence here has something to do with money.

Two black cars follow the truck with blacked out windows creating a feeling of suspense as we can’t see inside, and we don’t know what’s going on.

As the car doors open, men get out and low pitched music starts. This suggests the people are dark or evil, and creates an eerie atmosphere. It also suggests whatever they’re doing is doom laden. The music is orchestral, and builds gradually to create tension.

The men in the scrap yard now seem to be on some sort of mission, everything seems very military like and well planned. All the men are wearing the same costume, like a uniform, and are shouting commands.

What looks like a silver sound recorder or old tape player is taken out of one of the cars and set up by one of the uniformed men. Because of everyone rushing around, it seems quite fast paced and gives a feeling of confusion as we don’t really know what is happening.

The music starts to build as an expensive car rolls slowly into shot. It is again dark shiny black. A smartly dressed middle aged man (Cyrus) gets out, wearing a shirt and tie and long dark coat, and carrying a cane with a large diamond on top. This gives the impression he is very rich, possibly a successful businessman.

A younger, more casually dressed man (Dennis) falls out of the car moaning in pain, holding his head.

Cyrus is the more powerful character, not only because of his dress but the camera is low angle when looking at him and high angle when looking down on Dennis. Also, because Cyrus is looking down on Dennis as they are talking in this scene (shot/ reverse shot as they are talking), it suggests he has power over him, he is in his employment.

As they talk, the audience is left disorientated. It is suggested they are looking for someone, but we’re still confused by what all the equipment is needed for in the middle of the night?Dennis is holding a bird’s eye view photograph of the scrap yard, again suggesting this has all been well planned. There is a CU on Dennis as he puts his hand on the floor. The screen flashes bright white, we hear Dennis screaming, and fast editing cuts between shots of Dennis and what he is seeing – although it is hard to tell what it is, we see some dead bodies. This tells us Dennis is psychic, and this is later explained in the film.

When Dennis’s vision stops, he and Cyrus argue about a killer of 40 victims – 9 when he was alive. This tells us they are not looking for someone, but hunting a ghost! This is shocking for the audience, and also makes you wonder how exactly the characters have got involved in this situation, and how they are going to go about capturing the ghost.

The camera then cuts back to the first shot we saw of the cars and tracks quickly through them, disorientating the viewer because of the tilted camera angles. We again see the crane but now it is carrying a silver and glass box with strange markings.

The camera focuses on Dennis’ hand as he reaches out to Cyrus – and although he has another vision we don’t know what of, again confusing the audience.

The huge silver truck is shown again, and the music starts to build up – a low pitch monotone as before to create the dark eerie atmosphere and to build tension/suspense.

Red blood (connoting danger, anger and a warning) is being sprayed from the front of the truck as bait for the killer ghost. As this happens, the camera zooms back in to a CU of Cyrus’s face showing him put on clear goggles and smile evilly. There is then a shot of the blood stained glass box, and a cut to an ECU of a man’s hand pushing a switch next to a skeleton head-knocker. The skeleton has connotations of death, and the fact that we see it as a switch is pushed suggests the person is moving towards death.

The camera then cuts to a shot of the glass doors opening, and the music continues to gradually build as the tape player starts – someone reading spells in a low pitched monotone. It echoes around the scrap yard creating a creepy atmosphere. A blue light shines on the speakers – a colour connoting cold, sadness, or the supernatural.

Evil laughter is heard, but the viewer cannot see where it is coming from, and the men are seen looking upwards in a less dominant position than before. You can see the smoke from their breath, which is an indexical sign of coldness and fear. Black has connotations of death and blue of coldness, so these are used to connote the coldness of their inevitable deaths. This makes you empathise with the characters, even though we have not had time to get to know them.

Cyrus is shot from a low angle, which makes him look dominant. He is laughing and calling out to the ghost, his voice echoing eerily. We look from the point of view of the military-type men up at a stack of cars as they are pushed by an unseen force. This subjective shot makes the audience empathise with the characters.

The camera then cuts to a shot of one car, with screaming coming from inside. Something thuds and red blood is splattered on the windscreen. Red connotes danger, warning, and anger.

The camera then cuts quickly to other men being murdered by an unseen force, and the fast paced editing creates a sense of chaos and confusion.

We finally see the ghost from the perspective of one of the men. He is much taller than the men, and his body and clothing are completely grey, connoting death. We look at him from low angled shots and see him effortlessly throwing men away; he is very powerful and we are fearful of him.

The music is fast paced, and fast editing shows dead bodies scattered on the floor. This is shocking to the viewer, and it is also frightening how effortlessly these men have been discarded by one being.

There is a high angled subjective shot of a man running into the cube from the point of view of the ghost at a high angle. We can see that there are more markings (spells) on the cube than before, and we cut to a shot of the ghost walking towards the man from his point of view, again making us empathise with this character.

The tape is still playing, the ghost’s laughter is echoing and the music is getting faster paced. It also becomes apparent that the goggles allow you to see the ghosts. The man looks up at it, in a vulnerable position. As the doors of the cube close, the viewer heaves a sigh of relief until realising the ghost is in with the man. The man keeps smashing into the walls screaming, with more blood on the glass walls. This s quite shocking and disturbing for the viewer, and increases our fear of the ghost.

Bibliography13 Ghosts (Dir. Steve Beck, 2001)