Friday, October 13, 2017

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Gantry Row' (1998)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Produced for Australian TV, ghost story 13 Gantry Row is about as musty as the old house in which it takes place. Yuppie couple Peter (John Adam) and Julie (Rebecca Gibney) buy the vintage row house in Sydney for a bargain after its elderly resident dies alone, so you know it's going to be totally haunted. An opening prologue shows a Jack the Ripper-style killer from the Victorian era taking refuge in the house, and his spirit starts possessing Peter via a straight razor that the killer used on his victims, which Peter discovers and begins carrying around. The process is slow and dull, though, and involves lots of scenes of house renovation as Peter and Julie and their friends literally peel away the layers on the walls, eventually reaching the part that holds the evil spirit (I guess?).

The movie is shot in bright, ugly video (which makes sense for '90s TV but still looks awful), and director Catherine Millar tries to liven things up by framing various shots through windows or blinds or, her favorite move, from a low angle that appears to be under a table or other surface. It's more distracting than artful, though, and it doesn't add anything to the plodding progression of the story. The dialogue is functional at best, and the acting is similarly mediocre, with Adam and Gibney expressing almost no romantic chemistry despite a handful of steamy-for-Australian-TV sex scenes. The most notable thing about the cast is the inclusion of character actor Nicholas Hammond, who has the distinction of playing both one of the Von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music and Spider-Man in the short-lived 1970s TV series (here he plays Julie's helpful gay co-worker).

As Peter becomes more and more consumed by the spirit of the killer, he fixates on stealing from the investment bank where he works, and the transition from masked serial-killing to armed robbery is a serious downgrade. The whole subplot about the bank is dreadfully misguided, taking over entire scenes in the movie's third act, as we watch cops interrogate Peter over whether he stole a case full of cash (he fabricates a fictional attacker to account for the missing money and a dead security guard). The violent incidents get dismissed far too easily, and there's never any clear sense of how to defeat the evil spirit (or even whether the characters will bother putting in the effort). The ending, which is meant to be sinister and surprising, is just anticlimactic, without a definitive vanquishing of the evil spirit or a triumph for its murderous agenda. It sort of persists, maybe, although what exactly it wants to accomplish (aside from stealing some money that will help Peter and Julie further renovate the house) isn't ever clear either. As hauntings go, it's not very effective, and that applies equally to the movie.

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