It’s 13 Ghosts, a ghoulish fright-fest from producer/director William Castle. When an eccentric uncle wills a huge, ramshackle house to Cyrus (Donald Woods) and his impoverished family, they get the shock of a lifetime. Their new residence comes complete with a spooky housekeeper, Elaine (Margaret Hamilton), plus a fortune in buried treasure and 12 horrifying ghosts. As the terrified family soon discovers, these haunting ectoplasms include a decapitated man, a wailing lady and a flaming skeleton, who are held captive in the eerie house and must find an unlucky 13th to free them! Who’ll be the final victim of these ghostly shenanigans?
See For yourself – If You dare!
13 Ghosts 6.75
eyelights: the cast. the core concept.
eyesores: the execution. the direction.
“I wish we owned our own house, and all our furniture that nobody could take away.”
William Castle is a movie producer and director. After breaking away from low budget studio pictures to make his own films, he gained a reputation for his gimmicky horror films in the late ’50s/early ’60s, including ‘Macabre’, ‘House on Haunted Hill’, ‘The Tingler’ and many others. These films were so popular that he had a massive fan club at one point, and the theatricality of his film presentations is still talked about today.
’13 Ghosts’ was the fourth picture he made after going independent. For this picture, he devised yet another creative concept: Illusion-O.
Illusion-O was a viewer that audience members could wear while watching the movie. In the visor they could pick either a red or a blue filter. If they picked red, the on-screen ghosts would be enhanced. If they picked blue, the apparitions would nearly fade away. Audiences would start by watching the film without the glasses but, at the on-screen prompt, would put them on with the colour of their choice – depending on how brave they felt.
The problem with ’13 Ghosts’ is that it depends entirely on the gimmick for it to be successful: it has very little plot, the characters aren’t especially interesting, and the scares aren’t original; it’s a run-of-the-mill haunted house picture. To make matters worse, it feels geared towards children, playing more like a live action Scooby-Doo episode than a proper spookshow (unsurprisingly, there later was a Scooby series called ‘The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo).
The story is simple: Cyrus Zorba is an absent-minded museum worker whose impoverished family is in constant struggles with collection agencies. One day, he is visited by an attorney who announces that he has been willed an old mansion by his eccentric uncle – whom he had thought dead for well over a decade. To be entitled to this property, he and his family must move into the house permanently, or else it will be donated and they will lose everything.
But little do they know that the uncle, a mad scientist, collected ghosts and kept a dozen (including himself) in the old house – and only a thirteenth ghost can release them. And so it is that the house’s ghosts begin to terrorize the new house’s owners in the hope of making one of them the thirteenth. It’s a deplorably weak plot to say the least, hinging on the madness of the dead uncle, who could easily have killed off two people before his own death to prevent this.
’13 Ghosts’ has everything you’d expect from this type of picture: a sneaky villain, a damsel in distress, a creepy housekeeper, a secret treasure, a séance, a Ouija board game, possession, hidden threats, and lots of ghostly apparitions. But it all feels cheap, as afterthoughts, as mere tools to get Cyrus to put on the special eye-wear that his uncle has left him, so that he may see the ghosts inhabiting their house. It’s truly built around the gimmick.
’13 Ghosts’ isn’t a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unsophisticated and it offers very few real chills throughout; it’s far too predictable and/or corny to be effectual. Oh, it might well have worked with some audiences back in 1960, but these days I’d be surprised if anyone above the age of six would be even remotely spooked by what it has to offer. Fans of kitschy fun might get some laughs out of it, but otherwise it’s merely a curiosity.
Date of viewing September 29, 2014