Saturday, April 28, 2012
13 Ghosts (1960 / 2001)
I say the films are short on story, but what little exists is somewhat clever. An eccentric old ghost hunter dies and leaves his mansion to his nephew. Having fallen on some hard times, the nephew is all too happy to move his family into the new home. There’s just one problem: the late ghost hunter filled his mansion with twelve captured spirits who can only be seen through special glasses of his own invention. And the ghosts don’t enjoy company much. You may have noticed that I said twelve ghosts while the title of the film is 13 Ghosts. Well, let’s just say that the old uncle isn’t as dead as his nephew was led to believe and that he has some plans for his next-of-kin. Not very nice plans, either.
Of course, the original wouldn’t be a Castle film if it didn’t include some gimmick, in this case “Illusion-O!” I was fortunate enough to come across a DVD that preserves the Illusion-O experience. William Castle explains in an introduction to the film. “When you came in, you were given a special ghost viewer…If you believe in ghosts, you look through the red part of the viewer. If you do not believe in ghosts, you look through the blue part.”
The way the gimmick works is this: the audience holds up their viewers, comprised of red and blue cellophane filters, whenever the characters on screen put on the special glasses. The ghost effects were filmed separately from the rest of the action and were superimposed over the frame in a blue tint. If the audience member looks through the red filter, the ghost images are enhanced while looking through the blue filter “removes” them. As you might expect, no glasses are truly required to see the ghosts, but I did have fun raising and lowering my viewer between handfuls of popcorn.
Aside from the gimmick, the film is pretty staid. The musty old mansion looks like the same one from a hundred other fright flicks. The dialogue and action are about what you’d expect from a B-movie of this era. However, fans of The Wizard of Oz (and who isn’t?) will immediately recognize Margaret Hamilton as the housekeeper and members of the “Nick at Nite” crowd might spot Martin Milner, star of Route 66 and Adam 12.
Of course, by 2001 gimmicks didn’t fly so well anymore, so 13 Ghosts had to modernize. In the new millennium, CGI effects and gore are all the rage, and the remake offers some dazzlers. Imagine if Rube Goldberg dropped a crapload of acid and then proceeded to build a house made of glass with total disregard for things like building codes, basic safety, or not-cutting-people-in-half. Then imagine that, as he withdrew from the drug, he proceeded to populate the edifice with the cripplingly horrifying manifestations of his flashback hallucinations. Finally, imagine Tony Shalhoub as someone other than Adrian Monk. Now stop imagining and watch the movie.
There really isn’t much to be said besides that. Oh sure, some folks might be interested to know that Shannon Elizabeth is in it, but her presence is completely offset by Matthew Lillard reprising the role of Matthew Lillard. Also, here’s your chance to use Rah Digga in a sentence.
So, depending on whether you are in the mood for some old-fashioned camp or some modern-day dazzle, pick either of these films for an enjoyable, if not very memorable night in.