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Subj: Creature Feature 113: 13 Ghosts(1960)
Posted: Tue Jan 02, 2018 at 11:19:59 pm EST (Viewed 56 times)
13 Ghosts is a 1960 horror movie from director William Castle. The movie featured the gimmick "Illusion-O" in which a "Ghost Viewer", similar to 3-D glasses, was handed out to audience members allowing them to see the ghosts. The movie starred child actor Charles Herbert, Martin Milner, Jo Morrow, Donald Woods and Margaret Hamilton.
Cyrus Zorba(Woods) and his family inherit uncle Plato Zorba's house and learn that the occultist had captured 12 ghosts who haunt the house. It's also learned that no one ever found Plato's fortune. As the family encounter ghosts and lawyer Benjamin Rush(Milner) develops a relationship with daughter Medea(Morrow), the money is found and the villain is revealed, becoming the 13th ghost. With the ghosts now at peace, the Zorba family decides to stay in the house.
13 Ghosts is a step down from House On Haunted Hill as it relies too heavily on the "Illusion-O" gimmick which I'm sure would've been interesting to have seen in the theater. On TV, though, the ghosts are too pale and not very scary. I can't imagine the lion tamer ghost scene would be effective even with the ghost viewer. There are some good creepy scenes, like the ouija board scene and the seance, but the ghosts themselves really fall flat, preventing 13 Ghosts from being a candidate for repeated viewings.
The acting is solid and Buck(Herbert) roaming around the house has a Twilight Zone feel. While I couldn’t get a clear enough look at the ghosts, the killer’s disguise looked creepy and the descending bed canopy trick which is used to smother people seemed like a haunted house staple. Or at least a haunted house parody staple.
It’s neat to see William Castle introduce the movie and explain his “Illusion-o” but the movie itself just doesn’t hold up too well on its own.
William Castle's introduction. It's corny and a bit humorous, like an Alfred Hitchcock Presents intro, but mostly it's an example of a fun old horror trope that isn't done anymore.
The beginning. The music is creepy and the weird groans and shrieks are effective. The 13 ghosts are then shown but I couldn't help but wonder why there would be 13 distinctive ghosts if you couldn't get into all 13's stories. I understand the appeal of the number 13 but there was too much backstory that never got explored.
The Ouija board. This scene was a chiller as the actors were quite good going from frivolity to horror. Having young Buck ask the questions made the scene even creepier.
The "ghost" in Medea's room. Typical haunted house stuff but very well done showing only the man's feet until the jump scare.
The seance. The ghost of Plato comes from his portrait and possesses Cyrus in a very creepy scene. Margaret Hamilton is great as the creepy old "witch". It's a bit telling that most of the best scenes don't involve the ghost viewer glasses.
William Castle and Alfred Hitchcock were reportedly admirers of each other's work. Supposedly it was Hitchcock's appreciation of Castle's ability to make successful low budget movies that lead to Psycho. In return, Castle ripped off Hitchcock's work with his own rather good film Homicidal.
Martin Milner is best known his roles on Route 66 and, to me, as Officer Pete Malloy on Adam-12.
Charles Herbert was a very successful child actor who fell on hard times when he grew up. He appeared in Gunfight At The O.K. Corral(1957), The Colossus Of New York(1958), The Fly(1958), Houseboat(1958) and Please Don't Eat The Daisies(1960). From wikipedia: "Unable to transition into adult roles, Herbert's personal life went downhill as well. With no formal education or training to do anything else and with no career earnings saved, he led a reckless, wanderlust life and turned to drugs".
Margaret Hamilton is best known for playing The Wicked Witch Of The West in The Wizard Of Oz. In 13 Ghosts, Buck often refers to her as a "witch". She also appeared as The Wicked Witch on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special(1976) and Sesame Street(1976). Apparently, the Sesame Street episode frightened kids so much that it was never repeated.
The Ghost Viewers go for around $35 on ebay.
You can watch 13 Ghosts here:
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