Let me start by saying, I absolutely love William Castle! His “effects”, and his campy, “spooky” movies made him the “Master of the Movie Gimmick”! He financed his first movie, Macabre (1958), by mortgaging his house and came up with the brilliant idea to give every movie-goer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in case they should die of fright during the film. He also stationed nurses in the lobbies with parked hearses outside the theaters. Macabre was a hit!
Each of his films featured an “effect” or gimmick. With “House on Haunted Hill,” it was “Emergo”, the “flying skeleton.” It didn’t always work, but the kids in the audience had a good time anyway trying to knock it down. (kids will be kids:) Trivia Fact: William Castle produced the Roman Polanski horror hit “Rosemary’s Baby.”
“13 Ghosts” is jammed packed with “effects” and filmed in “Illusion-O”. Knife-wielding ghosts, headless ghosts, and murderous ghost Emilio, who has a thing for totally destroying the kitchen. As Buck Zorba (Charles Herbert) tells the story, seems Emilio killed not only his wife but his mother-in-law as well. Whack, whack! (nice sound effect Buck)
The “13 Ghosts'” storyline begins with Dr. Plato Zorba dying and leaving his broke nephew, Professor Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), an old, rundown LA mansion. The catch is Cyrus, his wife Hilda,(Rosemary DeCamp), daughter Madea (Jo Morrow) and son Buck can’t sell the house so are forced to share the joint with the 13 ghosts. “They come with the house.”
Ghosts or not the family is so broke that it’s common place for their furniture to be repossessed on a regular basis. In fact, the night they receive a telegram (from a little person in the dark) to meet with Uncle Zorba’s attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner), they’re sitting on the floor exchanging gifts and slicing birthday cake for their youngest son, Buck – Once again, the furniture’s been repossessed.
Move-in day at their new digs includes meeting their Uncle’s housekeeper who turns out to be the green one herself, the Wicked Witch of the West! (Margaret Hamilton)
The best is yet to come as attorney Benjamin Rush goes to extremes trying to find the supposed fortune in cash Uncle Zorba stashed somewhere in the house. Ghosts run wild and the ghost viewer lets you catch all the action. Here’s where Illusion-O comes in:
Audiences received viewers with red and blue cellophane filters. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts while the blue filter “removed” them. Being brave or coward, the choice was up to you.
“13 Ghosts” is the fourth collaboration from director William Castle and writer Robb White and lives up to the Castle touch. Two of his films were remade by his daughter Terry Ann Castle, who co-produced House on Haunted Hill in 1999, and Thirteen Ghosts in 2001 (the latter retitled Thir13en Ghosts).
A documentary focusing on Castle’s life, Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, had its premiere at AFI FEST 2007 in Los Angeles on November 8, 2007. It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary.