Plot: What’s it about?
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 12 Ghosts finally be set free when they become 13 Ghosts?
Although it is known as one of William Castle’s gimmick pictures, 13 Ghosts is much more than that, at least to me. I’ve always been a fan of Castle’s scary movies, so while the whole Illusion-O gimmick is cool, I like 13 Ghosts even without the decoder glasses. No, this is not high artistic cinema by any means, but it is a fun movie and has some great moments, such as the encounters with the outlandish ghosts. The different ghosts are well planned and add a lot of humor to the picture, as well as some cheap scares now and again. The film is fun with Illusion-O however, especially if you can watch with some friends who love corny horror flicks. This release from Columbia houses the normal version of 13 Ghosts, as well as the Illusion-O edition, complete with decoder glasses inside. I’ll have to order some extra pairs however, as this is a movie to watch with others and each copy holds only a single decoder. I commend Columbia for issuing this film with both versions intact and since the movie is a blast, I highly recommend this release to anyone interested.
He loved to use gimmicks to enhance his pictures and in this case, William Castle chose to create Illusion-O, which dazzled audiences. I know it seems kind of corny in this era to think about such gimmicks, but I think Castle’s efforts were innovative and fun, so I am pleased to see Illusion-O carried over onto this disc. Of course, the movie is a little thin in terms of normal elements, but Castle still provides a basic picture, which proves to be enough. His visual style is on the mark, he provides plenty of spookiness, and of course, some cheap scares to keep you on your toes. You might not like his gimmicks, but Castle was a true pioneer in movies and I doubt anyone will fill his shoes, especially in this era. Other films directed by Castle include House on Haunted Hill, Mr. Sardonicus, Macabre, and The Tingler. The cast here includes Charles Herbert (The Fly, The Colossus of New York), Jo Morrow (Terminal Island, Sunday in New York), and Martin Milner (Valley of the Dolls, Sweet Smell of Success).
Video: How does it look?
13 Ghosts is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The normal edition of the film looks superb, with a much cleaner than expected source print, which simply stuns my eyes, as I never thought the movie would look this good. There are some defects to be seen, but not many and in the end, this about as good as 13 Ghosts can look, I would think. The contrast is well balanced, which is a vital element in all black & white transfers and detail is never obscured, not even for a single second of screen time. The Illusion-O edition looks just as good, but the tinted sequences show more damage, though nothing too serious. In both cases, the image is terrific and better than expected, so fans should be most pleased indeed.
Audio: How does it sound?
I wasn’t too hopeful in terms of audio here, but the included mono mix is solid, with no real flaws to discuss. I heard minimal age related errors and given the age of the materials involved, that is an impressive result, I think. The track remains clean and clear throughout, with no distortion or hiss in the least to report. The dialogue is crisp and the volume is always at a proper balance, which is about you can ask for in this case. This disc also includes a Spanish language option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, and Chinese.
Supplements: What are the extras?
You’ll find an eight minute featurette titled The Making of Illusion-O, which includes interviews with various talking heads. I would have loved a full documentary on William Castle or a more extensive look at this gimmick, but I suppose this brief piece is decent enough. This disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer, as well as a decoder for the Illusion-O version of the picture. I think having both editions is a bonus to be honest, as it might be corny, but it is a lot of fun and adds a lot to the value of the disc, I think.