13 Ghosts (1960)

William Castle was renowned for showman gimmicks to which he gave cheesy names, such as “Percept-O,” “Fright Break,” and “Emerg-O.” Although some of these effects were pretty silly, some were fairly complicated–and most of them relied upon the communal nature of a theatre audience for effect. Consequently, a contemporary viewer sitting in the comfort of the living room simply doesn’t have much opportunity to experience a Castle film as it was originally presented.

But there is one exception. The gimmick for Castle’s 13 GHOSTS was “Illusion-O,” which required the audience to use color filters (available at the box office) similar to 3-D glasses to see the ghosts in the film. Until recently, all available prints of 13 GHOSTS have been shown in simple black and white with the ghosts always visible, but the recent DVD release restores the tint process, and now (assuming your DVD edition includes the glasses) you too can have the fun of a William Castle film right in your own home.

Like most Castle films, the story is very basic. A financially strapped family inherits a house, and unless they actually agree to reside in it the property goes to the state. But the house is also residence to 11 ghosts “collected” by the previous owner, and his death raised the number to 12. Now all of them are out to add another to their number. Who will the victim be? The script, the design, the cinematography, and the story are just as hokey as they can be, but the cast–which includes Margaret Hamilton of “OZ” fame–plays it very straight and even without the Illusion-O process the film is a cult favorite.

But Illusion-O puts the icing on top. Periodically, a caption flashes on the screen instructing you to look through the viewer. Look through the red filter, and Poof! There are ghosts galore. Look through the blue filter, and Poof! Ghosts be Gone! Now, strictly speaking, you don’t actually have to look through anything to see the ghosts–they are fairly visible without squinting through that little red lense–but it does add a tremendous amount of fun to the whole thing.

But don’t go planning that ghost-viewing party just yet. The original DVD release included a single “ghost viewer”–and current purchasers report that later DVD editions contain none at all. Still, the viewers are fairly easy to find on the internet, and since this may be your only chance to see a William Castle film as it was intended to be seen–well, if you are a Castle fan you’ll probably want to go to the trouble. Whatever the case, it’s all silly, campy fun.

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