Plot: Dr. Zorba was an eccentric old man, but he passed on and in the process, willed his home to his poor nephew Cyrus (Donald Woods). As he and his family have little to subsist on, he thinks this massive mansion is a blessing, but he has no idea what evil lurks inside those doors. A series of strange, unexplained events happen and of course, the family members are scared and have no idea what might be going on in the old house. But the real reason for these events lies within Dr. Zorba’s past, as he has collected twelve restless spirits within this creepy, mysterious mansion. As these spirits chase through the house, Cyrus and his kin begin to search for Dr. Zorba’s immense fortune, which is supposed to hidden somewhere on the grounds. A pair of special goggles allows the ghosts to be seen, but perhaps even that might not be enough to keep the family out of harm’s reach. Can the family members manage to escape this insane mansion in one piece, or will the menagerie of ghosts grow even larger?
Entertainment Value: A haunted house movie as only William Castle could deliver, 13 Ghost is a simple, innocent take on horror cinema, steeped in the Illusion-O gimmick to lure in theatrical audiences. The idea was to look through a special eyepiece that allowed you to see the ghosts, unless you were too frightened, in which case you could just watch without the haunts. Some gimmick movies lose some entertainment when the gimmick isn’t available, but 13 Ghosts remains a fun, hokey haunted house experience even without Illusion-O. The narrative is classic haunted house material and while not deep, it does what it needs to do, which is allow the family to interact with some ghosts and unravel a mystery of sorts. Although ghosts are involved, there are no real scares or even eerie atmosphere, so this is family friendly horror in which the ghosts are more spectacle than horrific. I mean, a ghost lion is a rare find in the movies, let alone one still friends with his headless trainer, right? As cornball as the movie can be at times, I think 13 Ghosts is a good, wholesome old school b movie that has fun special effects and a brisk pace, so give it a look.
The performances in this one add a lot to the entertainment value, as we have a range of acting from wooden to wildly over the top. This lends the movie a quaint, almost sitcom style performance spectrum and while that might sound like a knock on the movie, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Donald Woods is stilted, but fun and knows when to camp it up a little, while Rosemary DeCamp steals her fair share of scenes with a turn that borders on melodrama at times. If the performances were sincere, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to watch, as the tone of 13 Ghosts is wholesome horror and a slant toward silliness. I also have to mention Charles Herbert as the wide eyed kid who has a run with the ghost lion and brings more of the sitcom flavor, while Margaret Hamilton looks as uptight as ever and gives the movie a little more creepiness, playing off her well known witch resume. The cast also includes Martin Milner, Jo Morrow, and John Van Dreelen.
The Disc: 13 Ghosts bows on Blu-ray from Indicator Series and looks fantastic, with a clean print and a more refined, detailed texture than expected. The natural grain is intact as well, which is a welcome sign of a skilled treatment. The black & white visuals really shine here and showcase a much improved presence over DVD incarnations, giving us the definitive version of 13 Ghosts. I chose to watch the black & white version of the movie for this review, but you can also watch the Illusion-O version, as the film was shown in theaters. The extras are headlined by Spine Tingler, a feature length documentary on William Castle and his cinematic legacy, which features interviews with a host of filmmakers of all kinds. John Waters, John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Roger Corman, and more provide their memories and thoughts of Castle’s work. You can also check out an isolated music & effects track, watch a featurette on Illusion-O, view still photos and a lobby promo, and revisit the film’s trailer.