William Castle’s horror films from the late 50s and into the 60s were generally cheesy fun. They had no illusions about being deep entertainment and the silliness was intensified by Castle’s introductions to the films as well as gimmicks like Illusion-O and Percepto. To many, they are just dumb but they also brought in the crowds and resulted in films that have a certain campy charm.
13 GHOSTS is cheesy fun and in this case Castle’s big gimmick was Illusion-O–special lenses that supposedly let you see ghosts–just like the people in the film saw them when they wore the professor’s special glasses. Subtle, it ain’t–but it is pretty corny fun.
The film begins with a professor and his wife lamenting about his terribly low salary. That night when the youngest is blowing out his birthday cake (in a home with almost no furniture–it’s all been repossessed), he wishes for a nice furnished house. Almost immediately, they receive word that they are to inherit a haunted house owned by an uncle who they don’t even know. The only stipulation is that they occupy the home for one year. But, because the house is so haunted and filled with screaming banshees and flying objects, it seems very unlikely that they’ll stay for the year–let alone more than a few days.
Aside from the family, the home is occupied by the housekeeper, Elaine. This part is played by Margaret Hamilton and Castle deliberately exploited her past role as the Wicked Witch of the West (in the WIZARD OF OZ) and her character is spooky and weird.
There is one other major character, a lawyer played by Martin Milner. He seems like a nice guy and is the man who is the executor of the crazy uncle’s estate.
All in all, it’s a well made film with very modest pretensions. It’s not meant to be THAT scary and it sure isn’t meant to be Shakespeare–just solid entertainment.
By the way, this film is bundled with a Castle dud, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS. Ignore this film but by all means watch the many excellent DVD extras–especially the short film about Illusion-O.