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“Thirteen Ghosts: Black Zodiac Explained”

The 2001 Dark Castle movie Thirteen Ghosts introduced the Black Zodiac, a dark reversal of the standard zodiac, and here’s its significance. While they still occasionally make movies, in the early-mid 2000s, Dark Castle was a prolific producer when it came to glossy, biggish budget theatrical horror. The Dark Castle name is an homage to legendary horror producer William Castle, and several of the company’s biggest successes were remakes of films that had been made by Castle, including Thirteen Ghosts.

As far as remakes go, Thirteen Ghosts actually sticks fairly close to the basic plot of the original, although features mostly new characters, and a much more modern high-tech setting. The remake centers on Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub), a widower who is surprised to inherit a mansion from his recently deceased uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), then moves into the place with his kids and their nanny. Of course, this is no ordinary house, and is being used to imprison twelve angry ghosts in the hopes of using them to complete a complex spell.

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Thirteen Ghosts wasn’t a box office hit, but it quickly earned a following on home video, and that cult has only grown over the years. Much of this is due to the really cool titular ghosts, the splendid production design on the labyrinthine glass house they reside in, and some of the film’s cooler concepts. One such concept is the Black Zodiac.

As previously mentioned, Thirteen Ghosts’ Black Zodiac is a dark version of the standard zodiac used in astrology, and also contains twelve main signs, in this case corresponding to the twelve ghosts. However, the Black Zodiac adds in a thirteenth sign, which refers to the thirteenth ghost of the film’s title, which Cyrus had yet to capture. The thirteen signs of the Black Zodiac are The First Born Son, The Torso, The Bound Woman, The Withered Lover, The Torn Prince, The Angry Princess, The Pilgrimess, The Great Child, The Dire Mother, The Hammer, The Jackal, The Juggernaut, and The Broken Heart. Notably, the concept of a dark counterpart to the standard western zodiac isn’t unique to this film, but the actual signs and ghost rules applied here are all unique to Thirteen Ghosts.

Before his death – which he turned out to have faked to lure in his nephew – Cyrus had captured and contained twelve ghosts that served to represent the first twelve signs on the Black Zodiac. The thirteenth ghost, The Broken Heart, can only be created after the other ghosts have assembled, and must be born out of an act of pure love. Cyrus intended his nephew Arthur to serve as this, sacrificing himself to save his family. Once all thirteen signs on Thirteen Ghosts’ Black Zodiac are represented by their corresponding ghosts in one place, they can be used to activate Basileus’s Machine, opening the Ocularis Infernum, aka The Eye of Hell. This was Cyrus’ goal, as he believed using the eye would grant him godlike powers. Thankfully, Arthur manages to survive, foils his uncle’s plan, and the other ghosts, including his own wife (used for The Withered Lover) are free to move on.

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