Friday, September 10, 2010

Castle Keeper!

13 Ghosts  (Allied Artists, 1960)

Before the Camera:

Charles Herbert (The Fly '58 - he's the kid!)
Jo Morrow (The 3 Worlds of Gulliver)
Martin Milner (TV's Adam 12)
Rosemary DeCamp (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
Donald Woods (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms)
John Van Dreelen (Sex Kittens Go to College)
Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West herself!)

Behind the Camera:

Produced and Directed by William Castle

Written by Robb White

Much has been written about producer/director William Castle - the Movie Gimmicks Master (Even here - see the entry entitled Blog-O-Rama!). From insurance policies against dying of fright to seats wired to tingle the backside, William Castle could sell a movie like no other filmmaker. He opens this movie too, sitting in a cool office set and explaining his new process Illusion-O and how to use the Ghost Viewer you got coming in to the theater. (More on that later)
    For the story, Castle again turned to his frequent writer Robb White, who cobbled up a story of the Zorba family. White must have been getting his kicks where he could find them at this point - get the monikers on this bunch: dad Cyrus (Woods), mom Hilda (DeCamp), daughter Medea (Morrow), and son Buck (top billed Herbert - a very popular child star of the time who obviously had some canny agents and managers). Cyrus is a paleontologist at the local university who apparently makes bupkus at his job; as the film opens he takes a call from Hilda who is letting him know the furniture is being repossessed. Again. (And not by the ghosts. They show up later.) After getting a tush pinch from one of the repo men, (!) Hilda is ready to throw in the towel. Cyrus comes home to his empty house to commiserate, just as a telegram is delivered (luucky!) that lets the Zorbas know they have just inherited a house from Cyrus's eccentric uncle Plato Zorba (and the names keep coming!)
   The family meets Uncle Plato's lawyer Benjamen Rush (Milner) (and yes, it's spelled Benjamen) who passes over the deed, tsk tsk tsking. With a little prompting, Ben advises that Plato had spent his life hunting down and capturing ghosts, which he kept trapped, and that "they come with the house." Eleven of them, to be exact. Ben also passes over a small wooden chest, which at first appears to be some kind of futuristic self contained central air conditioning system, because every time the lid is lifted, winds kick up and blow around the room. But no, it's actually the receptacle for a very special pair of glasses Uncle Plato had made up that allow the wearer to see his ghosts. The Zorbas give Ben the raspberry, disbelieving all this nonsense. Then they get to the place and meet the housekeeper and it turns out to be the freaking Wicked Witch of the West (!) and they believe every word.

After terrorizing Oz and before shilling for Maxwell House coffee, Margaret Hamilton spent the 60's getting her doctorate in Disapproval.

    Shortly thereafter, the family messes with the Ouija board they find, (Lesson #1: Never a good idea in a movie like this) and get a couple of creepy messages that predict ghostly ill will toward the family and especially daughter Medea. You would think about this time the family would just pick up and go, but no, screenwriter White throws in a cockamamie contractual obligation that the family MUST stay in the house or lose it to the state, which plans to raze the place and make the land into a park (apparently someone in the state legislature bought the whole ghost story). So burdened, they settle in for the long haul. Soon everyone in the family is taking turns popping on the ghost viewer and seeing the ghosts; some of whom are actually creepy - the burning skeleton - and some of whom are kind of silly - the headless lion tamer and his spectral lion pal - yeah, I get that the guy died when the lion bit his head off, but what killed the lion? Cheap shampoo? It also turns out there are twelve ghosts in the house as good ol' Uncle Plato starts to make his ectoplasmic presence felt. The final twist comes when the family discovers Uncle Plato converted all of his riches into cash which is hidden somewhere in the house and someone solid and earthbound is willing to kill to get that money. And just what is the mystery of that thirteenth ghost?

    Quite simply, there is nothing like a William Castle movie. His films could be by turns fun, silly, clever, creepy, cheesy, over-the-top, and at times even genuinely frightening. What makes this flick one of the best to watch today is that you can still experience Illusion-O. (My used DVD was missing the ghost viewers, but a standard pair of red/blue 3-D glasses work too). It's doubtful you'll ever view The Tingler with a wired up "Percepto" theater seat, or watch "Emergo" send a skeleton flying over your head during The House on Haunted Hill; but you can take the Fright Break during Homicidal; you can vote on Mr. Sardonicus's final fate, and you can see the ghosts (look through the red lens) or not see the ghosts (sorta, when you look through the blue lens - they're still fairly visible) in this movie. It's funny, because in his opening bit Castle instructs you to put on the glasses when the screen turns blue. Okay, no problem there. But then he instructs you to take the viewer away from your eyes when the screen loses the blue tint. But looking through the viewer, red or blue, precludes you being able to see the screen changing back to black and white, so they gave up and simply told you what to do and when:

    Of course, any movie that throws instructions at you in subtitles is not meant to be taken too seriously, and that's definitely the case here. The cast is pretty good playing the all American family with weird names, and it's great to see the familiar TV face of Milner out of his police uniform; but really, it's all about Margaret Hamilton, Castle's greatest bit of stunt casting ever. It is so awesome to see her running around doing her creepy shtick, and even better, the script runs with the joke and has the family call her a witch several times and they even get in a broom joke! Friends and neighbors, it does not get better than that!
     This is the kind of scary movie the whole family can enjoy, with enough scary moments to make it fun for kids but no graphic violence, nudity or profanity; and the silly bits lend themselves to a little MST3K-ing for the older kids and adults. It would be perfect Halloween viewing with or without ghost viewers, and it gets a high recommendation from me so track it down and check it out!

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 40:00, Rosemary DeCamp uses The Line after a particularly harrowing ghost encounter, prompting Donald Woods to tell her about their contractual obligation to stay and count all the ghosts.

Eye Candy ?

Although she is cute, I'm afraid Jo Morrow just stays too wholesome in her sweaters and long skirts to qualify. Sorry Jo.

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "13 Ghosts proves Castle is King!" 

And until next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Love me some Margaret Hamilton!

    I always figured that the lion choked to death on the tamer's head, or they shot him after he bit his tamer to death. But the cheap shampoo theory is entirely valid, as well...

  2. You know, I was thinking this might be good Halloween viewing, and then you sealed the deal by saying as much.

    Fortunately, I just glommed on to a pair of 3D glasses that were designed for a science poster. Awesome, that we now can use them to see ghosts!

  3. Right on, except you forgot to mention the way they say ouija is more like weejaa... bothered me the whole time hahaha.

  4. Loved this post! You made me laugh! I look forward to reading more...

    Bill Castle

  5. WOW! William Castle is commenting on MY blog from beyond the grave! WOW!