The Backstory Of Each Ghost From Thirteen Ghosts

Let's get one thing out in the open — "Thirteen Ghosts" (or "THIR13EN GHOSTS" if you're cool) rules. The 2001 remake of William Castle's classic 1960 film of the same name is dripping with Y2K era horror goodness, a wild rogues' gallery of terrifying ghost designs, and a supporting role from horror good luck charm Matthew Lillard. The film was part of the Dark Castle Entertainment boom that included the remake of "House on Haunted Hill," another underrated gem that deserves more love. 

Did "Thirteen Ghosts" make money at the box office? No. Is the plot some deeply meaningful story that will stay with you forever? Also no. Is "Thirteen Ghosts" an absolute blast and a brilliant display of spectacle and special effects from Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman? Abso-f******-lutely.

The original film featured an occultist who captured ghosts from around the world, and for the most part, "Thirteen Ghosts" follows a similar premise. Where the remake shines, however, is the introduction of the Black Zodiac. A twisted inversion of the typical Zodiac that people like to use in place of having an actual personality, the Black Zodiac represents twelve earthbound ghosts that are needed to open the Ocularis Infernum. 

"But that's only 12," I hear you replying to the Facebook post for this article. Don't you worry, my sweet summer child, in time you will learn. 

The titular spirits are a marvel of horror creativity and even include their own terrifying backstories. As my gift to you all, here's the history of each of the ghosts in "Thirteen Ghosts" as told by someone who watched the original DVD special features way, way too many times as a teenager, complete with guidance to find which ghost aligns with your astrological sign.

The First Born Son

Representing the loss of the firstborn male typically seen throughout scripture, ghost hunter Cyrus Kriticos captured the spirit of Billy Michaels. Little Billy loved Western movies and showed excessive rage whenever his parents dared to pull him away from the television. One day, Billy was challenged to a duel by a neighbor boy who had recently found a real steel-tipped arrow in his father's closet, and Billy, refusing to accept defeat, brought a toy cap gun. The kid was a hell of a shot because the arrow struck Billy right through the back of his head and came out through the middle of his forehead. The neighbor boy was arrested and taken to a juvenile detention center.

In death, Billy is seen wearing an embroidered Western-style button-up, a singular feather headpiece (old school ghosts don't know about cultural appropriation), and wields a tomahawk axe. His name is most likely a reference to Old West gunfighter Billy the Kid and is representative of the Aries sign in the traditional zodiac. The First Born Son exemplifies all of the "negative" traits of an Aries, such as being a stubborn, reckless dare-devil, and possessing a sense of youthful immaturity.

The Torso

Loosely based on the victims of the real-life Cleveland Torso Murders, The Torso is the captured spirit of Jimmy "The Gambler" Gambino. With a name that feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Gambino had a terrible gambling addiction, sacrificing his schooling for visits to the racetrack and late-night gambling in dive bars. After a while, Gambino opened his own booking business, but the same way an alcoholic should never be a bartender, Gambino's addiction got in the way of his payoffs. Gambino quickly became known as the man who would never turn down a bet. His reputation put him on the radar of mobster Larry "Finger" Vatelo, who propositioned Jimmy with a bet over a boxing match.

Jimmy's fighter lost the match, and with no money to his name to pay for his losses, he fainted. When Vatelo's men came to collect and found Gambino unconscious and without the means to hold up his end of the bargain, they took care of him the hard way. Vatelo's men cut Jimmy into pieces, wrapped him in cellophane, and gave him a one-way ticket to sleeping with the fishes. 

The Torso seems to be one of the non-violent ghosts, likely because, as a torso, his ability to actually harm someone is a bit limited. He is the Black Zodiac version of a Taurus, explaining his desire for material things, greed, laziness, and boundless rage. Whenever his ghost appears, the endless screams of his severed head can be heard.

The Bound Woman

With a story resembling a typical urban legend shared around a campfire, the Bound Woman centers on the ghost of Susan LeGrow. A privileged teenager, Susan was the daughter of the wealthiest family in town and a proud member of her school's cheerleading squad. Back in the day, this is all it took to solidify that Susan would be the most popular girl in school. Despite her reputation as a "heartbreaker," as was expected of all high school queen bees, Susan spent her senior year dating Chet Walters, the captain of the football team. Unfortunately, as Susan craved more attention, she had been cheating on Chet with another guy, and the two were discovered on Prom Night. Thrown into a fit of rage, Chet clubbed her lover to death and then tied Susan up before strangling her with his tie and breaking her neck.

In a final act of poetic hatred, Chet buried Susan under the 50-yard line on the school's football field. He was put on death row and before his execution delivered his final words: "The b**** broke my heart, so I broke her neck." 

As the third member of the Black Zodiac, the Bound Woman represents Gemini, with her history of cheating depicted as an example of the indecisive nature of Geminis and their reputation for being two-faced. As a Gemini ... rude.

The Withered Lover

If you're looking for a scare, look elsewhere, as the story of the Withered Lover is one of tragedy. Jean Kriticos was the loving wife of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and the mother of their children Bobby and Kathy. Jean was a wonderful mother who was well-loved by her family, but on a tragic night, a stray log rolled out of the fireplace in the family home and ignited the Christmas tree. Arthur ran to save Bobby and Kathy, assuming that Jean would run outside to safety, but she did not, and the left side of her body was horribly burned in the fire. The family took her to St. Luke's Hospital where she sadly died from her injuries.

Despite her violent demise, Jean was likely the only member of the Black Zodiac that was genuinely innocent and kind. When her family took up residence in Cyrus' manor/ghost jail, she did her best to protect them all from danger and keep them safe from the more malicious spirits. The Withered Lover is the traditional Zodiac equivalent to Cancer, represented by her motherly, intuitive, compassionate, sensitive, and emotional nature.

The Torn Prince

Royce Clayton's story sounds like something ripped straight out of an episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" Born in 1940, Royce was a gifted high school baseball player with a bad case of narcissism and a superiority complex. With elite colleges all over the country scouting him and promising to take him away from the simple life in his small town, Clayton felt invincible. All of that changed, however, when a local greaser named Johnny challenged Royce to a drag race. Royce agreed to the race in his prized hot rod, but that pesky Johnny had cut the brake line. 

Royce seemed to do okay in the first half, but was unable to handle a dangerous turn and drove off of a cliff, flipping the car three times before it burst into an inferno. The accident shredded large amounts of flesh from his body, including a massive chunk out of the right side of his face. Royce's future was history. His body was buried overlooking the baseball field, and in death, his ghost haunts the corridors of Cyrus' home, baseball bat still in hand. He represents the inverse of Leo, making him self-centered, egotistical, possessive, and impatient.

The Angry Princess

Another tragic tale, the sixth member of the Black Zodiac is the Angry Princess. In life, Dana Newman was considered by many to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Unfortunately, Dana likely suffered from body dysmorphic disorder. She sought the assistance of a plastic surgeon to aid her low self-esteem unfortunately fueled by a slew of abusive boyfriends. Working for the surgeon, Dana received payment in the form of breast implants, multiple nose jobs, and a laundry list of other needless body modification procedures. After Dana was left working alone one night, she attempted to perform surgery on herself to mend an imaginary imperfection, but the procedure failed and Dana was left blinded in one eye.

With her beauty seemingly destroyed, Dana's self-loathing became too much to bear and she died by suicide in her bathtub. As Cyrus describes it, she was as beautiful in death as she was in life. Dana's insecurities were well on display throughout the home, envious of Kathy's (Shannon Elizabeth) beauty, and enacting revenge on the lawyer Ben Moss who declares "nice tits" and is shortly thereafter sliced in half by a sliding glass door. 

The Angry Princess represents Virgo, known for being overly critical, insecure overthinkers, and perfectionists to a fault.

The Pilgrimess

Another story based on real-life history, the Pilgrimess is the ghost of Isabella Smith. In 1675, the orphaned Isabella immigrated to a small New England town in the hopes of starting a better life. Unfortunately, the established colony didn't take too kindly to outsiders, and she was isolated from the rest of the community. Shortly after her arrival, a mysterious illness struck the town's livestock, and they all died. A local preacher decided to use their deaths as a means to accuse Isabella of witchcraft. Despite her pleas of innocence, the preacher suddenly fell ill, and this horrified the town into believing that she was, in fact, a witch. 

The town chased Isabella into a barn, which was then lit on fire. Miraculously, she survived the incident, walking out of the barn completely unharmed. This shocked the town, who decided this was proof of her witchcraft and sentenced her to a slow and painful death in the stocks. Children stoned her, adults cursed and spit on her, and after a few weeks, Isabella died of starvation. Whether or not she was actually a witch was never confirmed, not even by Cyrus, but the turmoil she suffered made her a perfect choice to join the Black Zodiac. 

The twisted inverse of a Libra, the Pilgrimess is unreliable, impatient, emotionally detached, and vindictive.

The Great Child and the Dire Mother

The eighth and ninth ghosts of the Black Zodiac come in the form of the mother-son duo, Margaret and Harold Shelburne. Margaret was a little person who worked as a sideshow attraction in a traveling carnival but became pregnant after she was sexually assaulted by the Tall Man. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his conception, Margaret was greatly protective of her son, relentlessly spoiling him and giving him everything he wanted. Her constant infantilization of him meant that Harold spent his entire life in diapers, and never developed any skills to take care of himself. They were mocked mercilessly by their fellow carnival workers, and after a group of them kidnapped Margaret as a sick joke, Harold unleashed a furious search for her.

By the time he found her, his mother had suffocated in the bag they were keeping her in, so Harold killed the workers with an ax, as well as many of the other performers who had mocked them in the past. Harold displayed their disembodied remains for paying customers, motivating carnival broker Jimbo to order an angry mob to execute Harold in retaliation. 

The Great Child represents Scorpio, making him insensitive, possessive, aggressive, and vengeful, while the Dire Mother represents Sagittarius, seen as optimistic individuals, almost to the point that it hinders their perception of reality ... like a growing son needing to be seen as something other than a baby.

The Hammer

While the story of George Markley may not be directly inspired by a living person, his tragic demise sounds unfortunately similar to some of the more disgusting events in American history. George Markley was an honest, hardworking blacksmith, but as one of the only Black men in town, found himself suspected of theft by a local man named Nathan. The man threatened to run George out of town, but knowing his innocence, stood up for himself and refused to move to a new town. Furious, Nathan and a gang of his buddies lynched George's wife and children in retaliation, as a means of sending George a message that he'd better leave or else suffer a similar fate. Devastated, George tracked down Nathan and his friend and beat them to death with his sledgehammer. 

When the town got word of what had happened, George was taken by an angry mob to his shop where they tied him to a tree and pounded railroad spikes throughout his body with his own sledgehammer. In one final act of horrific racism, the townspeople chopped off George's hand and replaced it with his sledgehammer, not unlike the hook hand of "Candyman." 

The Hammer is one of the more malicious spirits caught by Cyrus Kriticos and poses a massive threat to Arthur Kriticos' family when the ghosts are released in the house. As the tenth member of the Black Zodiac, he also represents the stubborn, unforgiving, impulsive, and brutal traits found in Capricorn.

The Jackal

Arguably the most easily identifiable and terrifying ghost of them all, The Jackal tells the twisted tale of Ryan Kuhn. Born to a sex worker sometime in 1887, Ryan Kuhn was a raging misogynist with a demented and insatiable lust for women. He spent his life on earth as a serial sexual predator, with a tendency to attack, rape, and murder random women walking home late at night, or the full-service sex workers just trying to do their work in peace. Recognizing that his animalistic tendencies were a severe problem, Ryan Kuhn willingly committed himself to the Borinwood Asylum. Unfortunately, the treatment was unsuccessful; Ryan slowly lost any grasp he once had on reality and was diagnosed criminally insane. He scratched at the walls in his cell so violently that he shredded off his fingernails, and the frequent clawing forced his hands into a deformed position. One day, Ryan attacked a nurse, forcing the orderlies to confine him to a straitjacket, electing to tighten it whenever he acted out.

Well, Ryan acted out frequently, and with every tightening of the jacket, his limbs continued to bend and contort. He eventually gnawed through the straitjacket, forcing the doctors to trap his head in a primitive head cage and keep him locked in isolated darkness in the basement of the asylum. Ryan grew to hate any form of human contact, screaming wildly whenever anyone dared approach him. The asylum eventually caught fire, but instead of fleeing with the rest, Ryan elected to stay within his cell and let the fire take him over. 

He is said to represent Aquarius' extremism, rebellion, and lack of empathy, but it feels cruel to associate any sign with someone as viciously evil as The Jackal.

The Juggernaut

Horace "The Breaker" Mahoney is the first member of the Black Zodiac that we're introduced to in "Thirteen Ghosts," as the opening scene of the film shows Cyrus and his team capturing his ghost in a junkyard after baiting him with a semi-truck filled with blood. Abandoned by his mother and raised by his father, Horace was relentlessly teased as a child due to his abnormal height and facial disfigurements. His father gave him a job at his junkyard chopping and crushing up old cars, which Horace did alone for most of his teenage years. Unfortunately, after his father died, Horace went insane as a result of his isolation and became a serial killer. For years, Horace would pick up hitchhikers and motorists requiring assistance and bring them back to his junkyard, eventually breaking every bone in their body and then ripping them apart with his bare hands to use their meat as feed for his dogs.

As Horace was about to kill his seventh victim, an undercover police officer, the SWAT team arrived to take him out. Horace managed to strongman his way out of his handcuffs and kill three police officers before he was gunned down. In the years that followed, Horace's earthbound ghost continued a reign of terror, with his body count rising to over 40 before his capture. 

As the Black Zodiac representation of Pisces, The Juggernaut avoids taking responsibility, is aggressive, a loner, and extremely sensitive. Probably explains why he went insane the moment he lost the only person who ever cared about him.

The Broken Heart

While the standard Zodiac only features 12 signs, the Black Zodiac required a 13th ghost in order to activate Basileus' Machine which doubled as Cyrus Kriticos' mansion. Said to be "designed by the Devil and powered by the dead," the machine requires thirteen earth-bound spirits to open the Ocularis Infernum (Latin for "The Eye of Hell") allowing the owner incalculable power. Named after the 15th century astrologer, Basileus' Machine was hidden at the core of Cyrus' two-story mansion made of ectobar glass, etched with Latin containment spells to keep the captured ghosts at bay. The machine required a spirit to be sacrificed willingly out of love, in contrast to the other earthbound spirits who died in agony. Hence, the 13th ghost.

Cyrus Kriticos handpicked each earthbound spirit to represent the Black Zodiac, including his nephew Arthur Kriticos. After selecting Jean to be the fourth ghost, he intended for Arthur to be the 13th, The Broken Heart. Cyrus intentionally put Arthur's children in danger in the middle of Basileus's Machine, hoping that he would willingly die to save them, thereby unlocking the power of the Ocularis Infernum. Well, Cyrus' plan failed spectacularly and he was torn to pieces by most of the members of the Black Zodiac, freeing their spirits to pass on, and allowing Arthur to reunite with his children and their nanny Maggie (Rah Digga). 

With no conventional Zodiac counterpart, Arthur serves as a reminder to express unconditional love whenever you can and to immediately call bulls*** if your weird, rich uncle leaves you a glass mansion that comes with a free visit from Matthew Lillard talking to ghosts.