MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Part 1 of 3:
William Castle's 13 Ghosts

By Woofer McWooferson


Director: William Castle; Writer: Robb White; Stars: Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Martin Milner, Rosemary DeCamp, Donald Woods, Margaret Hamilton; Rating: NR; Run Time: 85 min; Genre: Horror; Country: USA; Language: English; Year: 1960

Among William Castle's most memorable films, 13 Ghosts opens by showing audiences a count of 12 ghosts already in existence and a question mark indicating that the thirteenth ghost will be revealed as the movie unfolds. From here, it moves to a brief introduction wherein Castle explains to viewers that his new film technique (Illusion-O!) allows the audience to see the ghosts - if they chose to. Use of a special red/blue ghost viewer allows those who believe in ghosts to see them when the screen turns blue. To ensure maximum impact, USE VIEWER NOW would appear on screen to remind viewers to use their special ghost viewers. Finally, Castle asked the audience to be considerate of others who enter the film late and instruct them on how to use the viewer.

When occult researcher Dr. Plato Zorba dies, he leaves “one of those sprawling old mansions they built 50 years ago” to kind but forgetful nephew Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods). However, as Ben Rush (Martin Milner), Dr. Zorba's lawyer, notes, the family also inherits the 12 ghosts Dr. Zorba has gathered in the house. These ghosts can only be seen when wearing the special occult glasses Dr. Zorba invented. Son Buck (Charles Herbert), a huge horror fan, finds the house and ghosts a dream come true. Unbeknownst to the Zorba family, their lives at risk because Dr. Zorba stashed his fortune somewhere in the mansion. Zorba's housekeeper Elaine Zacharides (Margaret Hamilton in a role that nods and winks at her Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz) adds to the creepy factor, and the Zorbas find themselves ready to move in spite of their distressed financial situation.

Since the ghosts are revealed in the movie's opening, there is no mystery around their appearance. Instead, the mystery revolves around Uncle Plato's fortune. Everyone in the cast is brilliant, and there is real chemistry Ben Rush and Medea Zorba (Jo Morrow). Combined with Castle's Illusion-O!, 13 Ghosts deserves its place in the horror pantheon both on its own and as a cult film favorite. Do yourself a favor. Get some blue and red translucent viewgraph sheets and make your own ghost viewer... if you dare.

Find more about 13 Ghosts at IMDb. Watch for part 2 where I review Thir13en Ghosts, co-produced by William Castle's daughter Terry, and part 3 where I compare the father's and the daughter's films.

10/10 claws – 13 Ghosts stands the test of time

Posted by Alan Smithee

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