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13 Ghosts

     "Tonight, death, again, walks in this house."

-- Elaine, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing     



Gonzoid Cinema





"I hear dead people."


Watch it!





13 Ghosts is Presented in Authentic...


Look through one filter, you see the ghosts. Look through the other, and you're a sissy.


More Castle Gimmicks:

The Tingler: Percepto

Certain seats wired to give viewers a few jolts of electricity.

Homicidal: The Fright Minute

Film interrupted for sixty-seconds to allow those too frightened to vacate theater before the startling climax. 

Macabre: Insurance Waiver

$1000 from the Lloyd's of London to the families of those who died of fright.

House on Haunted Hill: Emergo

Enhanced 3-D effect by having a skeleton on a wire float over the audience.

Mr. Sardonicus: Audience Vote

Audience allowed to decide between two different climaxes.


Itís time to take the plunge into the gimmicky world of one William H. Castle. So grab your Illusion-O glasses, and a 12-pack of your favorite brew, as we go searching for not one, or two, but 13 Ghosts...

We start in the Los Angeles County Museum, where Cyrus Zorba (Don Woods) lectures a group of students, focusing on the dangers prehistoric creatures encountered while getting trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits. (Which in some ways is blatant foreshadowing for the haunted house weíre about to encounter.) The lecture is interrupted by a phone call from Cyrus's wife, Hilda (Rosemary De Camp). Seems that the Zorbas arenít exactly rich -- and the collection agency has just reclaimed all of their furniture. And that's why son Buckís (Charles Herbert) birthday is celebrated on the floor of an empty apartment, where the family gifts him yet another book of ghost stories. Though his sister, Medea (Jo Morrow -- who appears to be in her early 30ís but is supposed to be in her late teens), chides her brother on his reading habits, after presenting the cake and candles, they all ask Buck to make a wish. Wishing for a big house, with lots of furniture, an ominous wind kicks up and blows Buck's candles out for him. (Ominous wind blowing will be a reoccurring theme here.)

Then fate knocks on the door: a messenger, bearing notice of a meeting with attorney Ben Rush (Martin Milner -- of Adam 12 fame.) Cyrus hopes it isnít another collection agency looking for money. It's not; it's good news. Sort of. His uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba, has recently passed away and left him his entire estate, consisting of a large mansion and a mysterious package. Rush also informs them that even though Plato was a very rich, he was also very eccentric, leaving no existing bank accounts; so there is no lump sum of money. Undaunted, the family is very excited about the prospect of moving into the mansion, but Rush warns them against it; for it seems Dr. Zorba was into the occult and collected ghosts. And several ghosts still haunt his mansion. And like it or not, theyíre part of the inheritance as well. 

After Rush leaves to get some papers, Cyrus and Hilda decide to risk opening the mysterious package. When Cyrus breaks the seal, the wind kicks up again, ominously. (See, I told ya.) But the packages only contents are a strange pair of glasses. (Weíll call them X-Ray Specs.) Then a plastic fly -- on a very visible string -- begins buzzing them, and when the faux fly lands on X-ray Specs, it gets electrocuted. 

Great, Uncle Plato left them his favorite bug zapper.

Time passes and the Zorba clan settle into their new home, which comes complete with furnishings -- and even includes Elaine, their very own maid (Margaret Hamilton -- the old Wicked Witch of the West herself.) Rush brings the last of the paperwork that Cyrus has to sign, making everything officially his. (And I guess itís as good a time as any to state that Medea has a crush on the lawyer.) As Cyrus signs the dotted line, Buck finds an Ouija board in a secret compartment near the fireplace. They also find Dr. Zorbaís diary in the same hidey-hole. Written in Latin, Rush offers to have the journal translated but Cyrus says his boss, Van Allen (John Van Dreelen), can translate it. With that settled, thinking it will be a real hoot, they decide to try the board. First, Buck asks if the house is really haunted, and the board answers, 'Yes'. A few more questions reveals there are thirteen ghosts still roaming the house. And then comes a warning that one of them is in danger! When they ask whom -- cue ominous wind -- Platoís portrait falls off the wall, barely missing Buck, and crashes to the floor, then the wooden pointer of the Ouija board goes airborne -- on its own -- and points toward Medea.

I'm guessing that was just too much for everybody, because they all decide to turn in. Unnerved, Hilda doesnít like it and wants to leave. Cyrus (who I must say is the biggest idiot Iíve ever seen on screen) gives the old scientific explanation speech to calm her down, and states that they canít leave: there is a stipulation in Platoís will that they have to live in the house or forfeit it to the government. (#*&%#$% I.R.S.) Checking on his kids, Cyrus hears a ghostly wail down the hall. He collects the X-Ray Specs and traces the noises to a secret lab. Something is definitely in there with him, but he canít quite make it out -- until he puts on the glasses, which magically allows him to see the specter: a fiery pinwheel that attacks him, and the number thirteen is burned into his arm. 

I'm sure there's a scientific explanation for that, too.

The next day at the museum, Van Allen begins translating the diary. The pages reveal that Plato created the X-Ray Specs so he could see ghosts. He also had a theory that if you could see them, you could capture and control them. Traveling around the world, then, he captured an international array of spooks. His final entries state that Plato himself is ghost number twelve. This bit befuddles Cyrus because the Ouija board said there were thirteen ghosts loose in the house.

Hilda calls Cyrus home, because ghost is running amok and making a mess of the kitchen. Buck says it's Emilio -- a chef, who killed his whole family with a meat clever.

I was getting a nice Sixth Sense vibe, here, but it was only the maid who told Buck about the ghosts. Well, so much for that...

Next comes some important plot exposition when Cyrus and Hilda question Elaine, who reveals that she was Platoís assistant until he died. She adds that she began to worry when he started acting strange. No, not the ghost stuff (that was normal for Dr. Zorba.); it was the liquefying of all his assets and the emptying of his bank accounts that concerned her. This all started after he met Ben Rush. (Hmm? I wonder? Nah!) And then Plato died -- under mysterious circumstances -- following a meeting with the attorney. (Thatís odd. Maybe...nah, couldnít be.) After the funeral, Elaine and Rush searched the house for the money but found nothing. And the history lesson ends with a warning to stay out of the bedroom where Plato died, and frankly, the old maid encourages them to just leave before it's too late. 

But Cyrus (being the idiot that he is) goes straight to Platoís bedroom (cue ominous wind), where a free floating candle shows him that the bed was booby-trapped. If a switch is turned, the bed's canopy lowers and crushes the occupant. (Curiouser and Curiouser.)

Later, Rush and Medea return from a date. Rush implores her to convince the family to leave because itís just too dangerous to stay. (Geez, he really wants them out of there. Could it be that?Önah.) No sale; they won't leave, but she promises to be careful. But later that night, while she sleeps, Medea is assaulted by a ghostly figure. (Science!)

The next morning, Buck finds the magic X-Ray Specs and Platoís lab. Rummaging around, he finds the equipment of Shadrack the Great. (Well, maybe not so great as the lion tamer wound up losing his head to a big cat.) Buck puts the glasses on and sees not only the headless Shadrack -- but his lions as well.

Okay, I'll admit I laughed when the headless ghost looked in the lionís mouth for his missing head.

Buck also finds a wad of $100 bills that he jarred loose from a hidey-hole while riding down the banister. Rush shows up, sees the money, and wants to know where he found it. Buck isnít quite sure, so Rush tells him there's a secret treasure somewhere in the house and they'll have to find it. Swearing Buck to secrecy, Rush says they will surprise the family after they find the money. 

Okay, itís pretty obvious now butÖnah.

Later, Cyrus meets up with Rush at the museum. The attack on Medea finally convinced him that they have to move before someone really gets hurt. Glad to hear it, Rush promises that through some legal finagling, he canít get Cyrus around $10000 for the house. Van Allen interrupts them; heís translated another diary entry that says Plato hid all his money somewhere in the house. He also says that Plato and Elaine held frequent sťances. Cyrus then hits upon a plan to have a sťance to try and contact his late uncle, to find out where he hid all the money.

Cyrus, Hilda, Medea and Elaine start the sťance. Hilda wouldn't allow Buck to participate, but he decides to snoop in on the proceedings anyway. He rides down the banister again, jarring the secret compartment completely open this time, and it's filled with Platoís treasure. Rush sneaks in and prevents Buck from telling everybody, convincing the boy that it will make a wonderful surprise in the morning before they leave the house. Proving that gullibility is an inherited trait, Buck agrees and heads to bed.

Back at the sťance, Plato begins to channel himself through Cyrus. Speaking through his nephew, he warns that one of them -- that very night, will become the 13th Ghost.

But wouldn't that be the fourteenth ghost? Never mind, I think the movie's almost over...

So what do they do? Get the heck out of there before one of them ends up dead? Heck no. They turn in for the evening. Cyrus (the moron) makes his customary bed check on his family, then hits the hay.

Meanwhile, in one of the most anti-climactic "Well duh!" moments in cinematic history, the ghostly figure that attacked Medea is revealed to be Rush. Collecting the sleeping Buck, he takes him to Platoís room and lays him on the booby-trapped bed, then throws the switch and the heavy canopy slowly lowers down...down...down...

Luckily, the ghost of Uncle Plato is on the ball. (Cue ominous wind.) When the specter attacks Rush, Buck wakes up during the tussle. He gets off the bed, and then watches as Plato's ghost pushes Rush onto the deadly spot he vacated. Buck screams, waking up the rest of the family, but it's too late for Rush as the bed crushes the crook.

Which leaves us with the denouement: Cyrus (who finally catches up with the rest of us) explains that Rush killed Plato and was trying to scare everybody off so he could find the money. (Brilliant deduction there Einstein. The rest of us figured that out over an hour ago.) Hilda wants to buy a new house with the money, but Elaine assures them that the ghosts will no longer be a problem. With that, the family gleefully goes into the kitchen for breakfast.

Elaine smirks, the X-Ray Specs explode, and all thirteen ghosts escort us out of the house. And when the door slams shut, a ghostly 'For Sale' sign appears on the door.

Good, god. Is it over yet!?

The End

"One-Adam-12. One-Adam-12. See the man about a ghost. Over."

If you couldnít tell already, Iím not the biggest fan of this film. It would probably help if it werenít so bloody obvious that Rush was the bad guy -- and that Cyrus is such a dunderhead to not see how bloody obvious it really is. Somebody done got their Richard Carlson mixed up with their Hugh Marlowe and begat Don Woods. The man says 'Golly' (GOLLY!) at least four times. (Did I mention that Cyrus is an idiot?)

Basically or unfortunately or whatever, once you figure out that Rush is the bad guy, then the rest of the film is just padding until everybody else figures it out and catches up. And it's maddening how meandering this film can be. I did get a chuckle, though, out of the casts exotic names; from Plato to Cyrus to Medea. (Maybe Buck is short for Ulysses?)

Another large-mongous problem the film has is the gimmick of Illusion-O itself. If you saw the film in the theater, you were given a pair of tinted glasses [See Illustration above and to the left.] If you looked through the red filter, you saw the ghosts. If you looked through the blue, you were spared the gruesome sights. (You chickens.) Unfortunately, on video, we get a composite and you can barely make any of the ghosts out at all. If a monster movie is bad, the only thing you have to look forward to is getting a good look at the monsters. That's it. And if you canít even get that accomplished, what chance does a bad film have?

I do enjoy Castlesí other work (although I never saw what the big deal was about Rosemaryís Baby), and would love to see them in a theater with the gimmicks intact -- even 13 Ghosts. As for the 13 Ghosts home video experience? If I had the decision cards for Mr. Sardonicus, Iíd give it a big thumbs down.

Posted: 06/15/00. Copy and paste at your own legal risk.

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