So, first off, William Castle was famous for inventing tons of gimmicks to get audiences into his movies and get his movies talked about. Just to name a few:
- Macabre (1958): Lloyds of London insured each audience member for $1,000 in case they die of fright during the movie.
- House on Haunted Hill (1959): Emerg-O, where a glow-in-the-dark skeleton was suspended over the audience for a climactic scene.
- The Tingler (1959): Percept-O, where he had theaters install electric joy-buzzers in some seats to give people electric shocks during a section where the monster came off the screen and into the audience.
- Homicidal (1961): The Fright Break, immediately before the climax audience members who were too afraid would be allowed to leave the theater and be treated and calmed by a nurse in the lobby.
The brief concept of the movie is largely the same as the original: A rich relative dies and leaves his house to his nephew, who is struggling to financially support his family consisting of an attractive daughter and a son with an odd obsession. In this house are 12 distinct spirits, and the nephew has been branded as the 13th. In the original the supernatural happenings are more or less incidental to the main story arc, which is the lawyer's attempt to find the uncle's hidden fortune. The remake obviously places a greater emphasis on the supernatural aspect making it the main focus and inventing a ghost-powered mechanism. This is pretty obvious as the opening scene in the remake is Cyrus and Dennis in the act of entrapping a ghost named "The Juggernaut", a scene that establishes the uncle's character as a ghost hunter with massive resources and also a lot of the internal mythology invented for the movie. The original opened with a short title sequence and then started the story with a short bit of Cyrus lecturing at an archeology museum.
The characters are pretty similar in archetype, as mentioned above but the remake differs slightly. The original had a "complete" family of Cyrus and Hilda as husband and wife with son, Buck, and daughter, Medea. The uncle is Plato Zorba and the lawyer is Ben Rush. Elaine Zacharides is the maid at the house and Cyrus has a friend named Van Allen, they serve as exposition speakers. The remake has a "broken" family, because the wife has died and the husband has to continue as a single father...something that wasn't nearly as accepted in 1960. So the father is Arthur Kriticos with son, Bobby, and daughter, Kathy. The uncle is Cyrus Kriticos and the lawyer is Ben Moss. The remake invents the characters of Kalina Oretzia and Dennis Rafkin to serve exposition, but they are unfamiliar to Arthur and more closely related to the uncle, Cyrus. They've also invented Maggie Bess to serve as Bobby and Kathy's nanny, although I think the motivation for the character's creation was really to have a sassy black female played by a popular musician.
What's interesting is that in the original, Cyrus was characterized much more as husband and family man. He had a slightly adversarial relationship with his wife and seemed firstly concerned with the family unit as a nebulous whole and then his wife. When the character becomes Arthur in the remake he's very much the father and is concerned with his kids over all else. His emotions and reactions to any threats confronting his kids are much more powerful and immediate while Cyrus seems restrained and sometimes even uninvolved with the situation.
The original's ghosts are all fairly unique, and they explain some of them in the story. None of them are particularly hostile towards the family, apart from one scene in which the ghost of a chef in the kitchen throws a kitchen knife at the wall and almost hits Cyrus. The ghosts don't really serve any particular point in the narrative except to be spooky, and they don't even have particularly involved backgrounds. The two that are explained the most are a lion tamer, who's head was bitten off by a lion (and the lion) and a chef who catches his love with another man and kills them both.
Neither movie is particularly scary, but I think if you're in the right mindset and especially with the glasses the original has a lot more potential even though the entire story and supernatural aspects in particular are a lot weaker. The remake suffers from everything being so well designed and just "Damn, isn't that COOL?!" to really get under your skin and unnerve you. However, I think that also makes its production design and visual style strengths as entrance to Bro-horror. Although I wouldn't call this bro-horror in the strictest sense because it does hit some very good emotional cues. A lot of people absolutely hate Matthew Lillard, but I don't think he's that bad of an actor and the way his character, Dennis, grows attached to Arthur's family and even sacrifices himself in the end is quite touching. It's also got a lot of depth to the universe because of the spell rules and the backstories given to each ghost, it all feels very solid and fleshed out. I would almost want to see more movies that play around with the mythology established for this remake of a William Castle gimmick movie from 1960.