Now you see ‘em… Now you don’t!
The Zorba family is a about to find out that some inheritances don’t come cheap. Especially when it comes with 13 more souls to feed… Souls of the terrifying kind. Oh well, there’s always the option of putting on your blue glasses and ignore them. Good riddance for the squeamish. And the red viewer will provide all the more fun for ghost fanatics.
I feel I must start by saying I probably will be slightly biased in this write-up, as I watched this movie on a big cinema screen, as part of Offscreen’s homage to director William Castle where we received those original blue & red “Illusion-O” spectacles in order to see and/or don’t see the ghosts appear on screen. To experience a movie like this, with its original gimmicks and inside a theater chock-full of like-minded fans, inevitably leads to wildly enthusiast comments and a more forgiving attitude towards the flaws. Because, in all honesty, 13 Ghosts is one of William Castle‘s lesser accomplishments, especially compared to his more substantial films like and . This movie entirely revolves on Castle‘s stratagem that he introduced and explained at the beginning of the movie himself, but otherwise there’s almost no plot and the characters are horribly wooden walking stereotypes. The story seemingly has so much potential frights and engaging sub plots, but Castle ignored them all in favor of jazzing up more sequences with ghosts & goggles.
The traditional all-American Zorba family lives on the edge of poverty when, suddenly and out of the blue, the liberating news comes that they inherited crazy uncle Zorba’s gigantic mansion with all furniture included. The handsome and friendly attorney Ben Rush arranges everything for the Zorbas to go and live there – and even seduces the pretty teenage daughter – but nevertheless insists not to stay there for too long. For you see, old uncle Zorba “collected” ghosts as a hobby and ever since his passing the supernatural residents have become incontrollable and disruptive. Frankly spoken, William Castle should have put slightly more time and effort into the content instead of in the Illusion-O entertainment. Now we’re staring at overlong footage of a ghostly lion tamer and his animal, while so many questions remain unanswered. What’s the story with this uncle Zorba? Why 13 of them? What dark secrets has that eerie housekeeper Elaine (role of Wicked Witch of the West actress Margaret Hamilton!) to hide?
But oh well, what else is there to complain about when you’re watching an old fashioned low-budgeted, spirited and irresistibly charming ghost movie like this one? Castle managed to generate some genuine moments of suspense, most notably during the séance when Uncle Zorba emerges from a painting himself, and the optical effects were definitely truly inventive for that time. As showman Castle explains during the intro, you don’t have to believe in ghosts. If you’re a non-believer, just look through the blue strip and you won’t suffer from any nightmares. Now that’s good marketing!