Thursday, July 8, 2010

13 Ghosts (1960) William Castle

“Tonight, death walks again in this evil house.” This is just quirky fun from William Castle. Child actor Charles Herbert makes a birthday wish that the financially-strapped family can own their own house with furniture that nobody could take away, and voila! The family finds out they have inherited a house from their pre-Ghostbusters Uncle, Plato Zorba.

Along with the house, the family inherits the housekeeper. Herbert tells their visiting attorney, “There’s a witch in the house; ring the bell, she’ll answer.” Shortly thereafter we meet Uncle Plato’s assistant, the infamous wicked witch, Margaret Hamilton. She is sinister and mysterious, and although she does not command flying monkeys, she does have power and information, particularly when leading a seance.

Ghosts abound with campy and entertaining special effects. Watch the ouija board move, and the floating planchette land on the lap of perhaps the next victim/future ghost. There’s a spider-webbed shuffling ghost (or is he?) and a ghost emerging from a painting, but it’s really all about the glasses. When the film was introduced in theaters, glasses were provided in order to view the ghosts. Look through the red to see them or the blue to have them fade away. This wasn’t 3-D but a film process called Illusion-O. What a great gimmick and treat for those who watched the original film in the theater. And glasses also feature prominently in the movie. Another part of the family’s inheritance is a box that contains a pair of ghost-viewing glasses. Very nice tie-in from Castle. There’s just one pair so only the brave family members put them on; others only see ghostly impacts.

A few noteworthy ghosts include the murderous Italian chef making a mess in the kitchen (“That’s Emilio. He killed his wife, his mother-in-law, and his sister-in-law with a meat cleaver. Whack! Whack! Whack!”, from the nonchalant Herbert). And Herbert wearing the ghost-glasses fearlessly watches a headless lion tamer and lion in the basement; the lion apparently deprived the tamer of his head and the tamer would like it back. This scene inexplicably carries on far too long but it emphasizes Herbert’s easy and comfortable connection with the ghosts.

The uncle caught 11 ghosts and apparently became the 12th, but why and how? The ghosts indicate that there will soon be a 13th. Who is this destined to be? Will the family stay in the house long enough to find out? Also in the plot is a stash of cash somewhere in the house, which the destitute family could certainly use but at what expense? And what’s behind attorney Martin Milner’s helpfulness (you may recognize him from later TV shows, “Route 66" and “Adam-12")? Other family members are made up by Rosemary DeCamp, Jo Morrow, and Donald Woods.

This is just enjoyable to watch, particularly if you’re a fan of early special effects and William Castle. “You really are a witch aren’t you?” “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies”. The front door slowly closes on a swirling ghost mass...

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