“Oh… This house is haunted, oh… that’s how I want it to be, oh… this house is haunted, you can always stay here with me…”-Alice Cooper
Halloween and horror movies go together like Mick and Keef, cake and icing, Gomez and Morticia…the two are perfect together. With Halloween right around the corner, one must prep themselves for the 31st. Horror movies will be played at every Cineplex and is a staple for cable station programming from the 18th on. With a genre, which has subgenres upon subgenres, why not explore a fright film that you haven’t seen before or haven’t in a long time. Michael Myers will always be there for you, as will every other title they replay over and over again. Let me be your guide to the cinema crypt, your horror movie host with the most, as I present you, 13 Ghosts (1960).
Cyrus Zorba, Donald Woods of True Grit (1969), heads a lovely nuclear family, scraping by on his salary as an enthusiastic lecturer/historian at the L.A. city museum. The Zorba family is full of unconditional love and patience with Cyrus, seeing he is not the best provider due to his forgetfulness when missing payments on their furniture resulting in the calmest repossession of property I have ever seen. Cyrus finds understanding in wife Hilda, Rosemary DeCamp of Saturday the 14th (1981), when she calls her hubby at work to tell him that they lost everything… again, before reminding him to bring home a birthday present home for their son Buck, Charles Herbert of The Fly (1958). This kid also had top billing over his seasoned, more mature thespian colleagues. What a contract rider!
The evening is upon us, where the family celebrates Buck’s birthday on the living room floor sans furniture, and are introduced to Buck and older sister Medea (an interesting character from Greek lore indeed), Jo Morrow of Sunday in New York (1963). Young Buck opens his gift, a book on haunted happenings, wishes they had a house with furniture, while prepping to blow out his birthday candles. The wind blows throughout the house killing the candles, followed by an unexpected delivery man, the creepy looking David Hoffman of The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), to the door. As quick as our mysterious Mr. McFeely with his Speedy Delivery in hand, is in and out of our story, he delivers a telegram for Cyrus before vanishing back into the shadows. The telegram’s message summons Cyrus the following morning to the law office of Benjamin Rush, Martin Milner of TV’s Adam-12 (1968). Benjamin informs Cyrus and Hilda that a crazy ghost-collecting uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba, has crossed over and left his furnished, lavish estate, stocked with twelve ghosts, to the struggling family. Be careful what you wish for Buck!
Besides the house key, a pair of specs are left to Cyrus with which he will later be able to view the tormented spirits. So now the Zorba has inherited an estate, furniture, ghosts, special glasses and a witch-like maid Elaine, Wicked Witch of West, Margaret Hamilton of The Wizard of Oz (1939). If things weren’t already interesting enough, the Zorbas are made aware through this spooky yarn, that their uncle also buried a treasure in the house. What a house!
The first night in the poltergeist infested house, finds the Zorbas playing with a Ouija board (maybe the Parker Brothers version) awakening the spirits to come out to play. The residential phantoms are a unique bunch, to include a wailing lady, weird clutching hands, a floating specter, a skeleton, a meat cleaver wielding chef murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover, a hanging lady, an executioner, a funny lion with its headless tamer, as well as the dead Zorba uncle. The ghosts are restless, a bit ticked they are trapped, and want another victim making thirteen in order to set them free from the curse on the house. Who will draw the lot of being the unlucky 13th?
13 Ghosts was produced/directed by legendary B movie filmmaker, and master of the gimmick, William Castle of The House on Haunted Hill (1959) with a screenplay by Robb White of The Tingler (1959). Castle was a fun loving gent, was a perfect blend of filmmaker, producer,
promoter, and carnival barker. Castle had enough business sense to package a low budget movie like an experience for the ticket buyer. Castle, cashing in on the 3-D craze of the 50s, created Illusion-O for 13 Ghosts. The audience was given a choice: the “brave” ones could watch the film and see the ghosts, while the yellow bellies could tame their horror experience without seeing the ghosts.
The process of Illusion-O was nothing more than the filmed elements of the actors and the sets, minus the ghosts, displayed in regular black-and-white (a cost cutting measure), while the apparition appearances were tinted a pale blue and superimposed over the frame while looking through traditional red and blue cellophane. Different from 3-D glasses, the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts, while the blue filter didn’t register the image. The Illusion-O glasses (which are included in the 2001 DVD double-sided DVD release), were creative in design, cheap to produce, and the unsuspecting public didn’t realize the ghosts were visible to the naked eye without the red filter due to the great showmanship of Castle.
Castle demonstrates how to utilize the Illusion-O glasses at the beginning of 13 Ghosts, and this training video is important to the viewer as Castle claimed to the press that it would cut down on heart attacks, mass hysteria at the theater, and shock due to his film being that frightening. These Castle gimmicks invented for his low budget features in the late 50s, was a direct inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock when he was helming the Psycho (1960).
13 Ghosts used to be a late night TV guilty pleasure, now is rarely played, but can be found for cheap on DVD and free online. 13 Ghosts is a family friendly gem and provides more charm and chuckles than terrifying moments promised by Castle on the advertisements and press kits. 13 Ghosts was remade Thir13en Ghosts (2001), with the original story somewhat intact in addition to nudity, language, and visually intense scenes, did fairly well at the box office even though it was a hit or miss with critics. Though the original is kind of hokey and more of a mystery than a straight out horror flick, it is far superior in my book than the attempted stylized remake.
So if you are a fan of old horror movies haunted houses, ghosts, or looking to share a safe film to the kiddies this Halloween season, give 13 Ghosts a view. 13 Ghosts is certainly innocent and tame by today’s standards, with special effects that will come nowhere close to what film viewers are accustomed to with their Hollywood blockbusters, but are effective nonetheless. Overall, 13 Ghosts is a fun, cheap little film, that will ultimately find a place in your heart…if you’re not already dead.
Check out the 13 Ghosts Trailer
View the full movie of 13 Ghosts
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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