13 Ghosts is a 1960 American horror film written by Robb White and directed by William Castle. The film stars 11-year-old child actor Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Rosemary DeCamp, Martin Milner, Donald Woods, and co-features experienced character actress Margaret Hamilton. The film was released on a double bill in 1960 with either The Electronic Monster or Battle in Outer Space in most areas.
Throughout the film, Buck (Herbert) refers to Elaine (Hamilton) as a witch. Though this is never confirmed, the film hints at the possibility. These inside references were an acknowledgement of Hamilton's best known role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
When occultist uncle Dr. Plato Zorba wills a huge ramshackle house to his nephew Cyrus and his impoverished family, they are shocked to find the house is haunted. Their new furnished residence comes complete with Dr. Plato Zorba's housekeeper, Elaine Zacharides, plus a fortune in buried treasure and 12 horrifying ghosts.
His family soon discovers that these spirits include a wailing lady, clutching hands, a floating head, a fiery skeleton, an Italian chef murdering his wife and her lover in the kitchen, a hanging lady, an executioner and severed head, a fully grown lion with its headless tamer, as well as Dr. Zorba himself, all held captive in the eerie house looking for an unlucky thirteenth ghost to free them. Dr. Zorba leaves a set of special goggles, the only way of seeing the ghosts.
However, there is someone in the house who is also looking for the money and is willing to kill for it. The villain turns out to be the lawyer, Benjamin Rush. He attempts to kill Cyrus' son, Buck, using the falling bed canopy he used to kill Dr. Plato Zorba, but Dr. Zorba's ghost catches him in the act, driving the terrified Rush to his death in the bed just as Buck escapes. Rush becomes the 13th ghost, and the ghosts disappear. The next morning, Cyrus and his family count the discovered money, Buck keeps the mask used by Benjamen Rush to scare Buck's big sister Medea Zorba, and they decide to stay.Charles Herbert as Arthur "Buck" Zorba
Jo Morrow as Medea Zorba
Rosemary DeCamp as Hilda Zorba
Martin Milner as Benjamin Rush
Donald Woods as Cyrus Zorba
Margaret Hamilton as Elaine Zacharides
John van Dreelen as Van Allen
William Castle as Himself
David Hoffman as Messenger
Roy Jenson as Dr. Plato Zorba's ghost
As with several of his more famous productions, Castle used a gimmick to promote the movie. For 13 Ghosts, audience members were given a choice: the "brave" ones could watch the movie and see the ghosts, while the apprehensive among them would be able to opt out of the horror and watch without the stress of having to see the ghosts. The choice came via the special viewer, supposedly "left by Dr. Zorba."
In the theatres, most scenes were black and white, but scenes involving ghosts were shown in a "process" dubbed Illusion-O: the filmed elements of the actors and the sets — everything except the ghosts — had a blue filter applied to the footage, while the ghost elements had a red filter and were superimposed over the frame. Audiences received viewers with red and blue cellophane filters. Unlike early 3D glasses where one eye is red and the other is cyan or blue, the Illusion-O viewer required people to look through a single color with both eyes. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts, while the blue filter "removed" them. Despite Castle's claims to the contrary, not many heart failures or nervous breakdowns were averted by the Illusion-O process; although the blue filter did screen out the ghostly images, the ghosts were visible with the naked eye, without the red filter.
Because the ghosts were indeed viewable by the naked eye, the movie was broadcast for years by television without a viewer needed to see the ghosts. DVD editions have varied in their preservation of the Illusion-O effect, with the first DVD release including versions with and without the ghost outlines and a set of special viewers. Later releases after the initial DVD release, such as Sony's The William Castle Film Collection and all DVD and Blu-ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment are of the Illusion-O version, but do not include Ghost Viewers. Mill Creek has removed the "Use Viewer" and "Remove Viewer" on screen prompts from their releases of the film.
It was remade during 2001 with the title of Thirteen Ghosts, directed by Steve Beck. Like the original movie, it was distributed by Columbia Pictures (except in the USA and Canada, where it was distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures).