Halloween Scene: 13 Ghosts (1960)

13 ghosts poster

Every time we visit my inlaws’ house, I enjoy going through their On Demand horror offerings. I was pretty excited to realize they had several different William Castle movies available to watch for free. I had big plans for gorging on these offerings, but wound up only getting through one, 13 Ghosts. I don’t have a lot of experience with Castle, a director and producer who tried to add extra elements to his films to make the movie-going experience all the more engrossing and terrifying, but I absolutely adore his House On Haunted Hill and was pleasantly surprised by the madcap haunting-comedy The Spirit Is Willing.

13 Ghosts finds a down-on-his-luck professor Cyrus Zorba and his family moving into his dead uncle Plato Zorba’s house, which is great because they were looking for a new place to live after pops forgot to pay the rent. Ol’ Plato was a scientist who built glasses that allowed him to see ghosts. As it turned out, seeing them also somehow binds a ghost to the viewer so he effectively collected spirits and brought them back to his house where they now haunt Cyrus’ family. Oh, also, there’s the matter of the money that Plato hid somewhere in the house that even his pals Ben, a lawyer, and the housekeeper Elaine, don’t know the location of. Elaine is played by Margaret Hamilton, best known as the Wicked Witch Of The West from The Wizard Of Oz, something I didn’t notice until I read it on IMDb.

Castle’s gimmick this time around is achieved with the use of Illusion-O viewers. When prompted in the film to do so, you hold up a card and look through either the blue strip of plastic or the red strip. When the ghosts appear in the film, the screen goes mostly blue, but the ghosts appear in red, so if you’re looking through red, you won’t see them. Seeing this on TV, I could see the outlines of the ghosts and some faint details, but I’m not sure if having the red tinted glasses would have made things clearer. Still, they were effective ghosts that looked pretty creepy thanks to both the ethereal nature of their appearance on screen and the make-up or mask work.

Even without the gimmick, though, I thought this was a pretty effective haunting flick. Like I said, the ghosts looked great and there were a few other elements that are spoilery that I’ll skip over. There was also a lot of great work done with sound. This flick features some of the creepiest ghost moans I’ve ever heard. Still, the movie never slips into true terror or fear territory. A lot of that comes from Cyrus’ son Buck, who just kind of runs around the house and has a great time with all this insanity. Maybe it’s me looking at this movie through the glasses of my era, but there’s a lot going on in this movie that would not fly whatsoever these days.

Like a lot of folks my age, I first heard about this movie thanks to the remake annoyingly titled Thir13en Ghosts from 2001. Oddly, I’ve seen a lot of that movie, but never the whole thing all at once. It’s the kind of flick I see on TV and will watch a chunk of. One of these days I’ll get around to watching it all together. To Netflix!

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