William Castle's "13 Ghosts" (1960) is perhaps the perfect Halloween film for kids.
A family inherits a spooky old house from mysterious Uncle Zorba, who was known to dabble in the dark arts. It doesn't take long for the family to realize the house is haunted by no less than 13 ghosts. Each ghost is represented as a logo-style graphic during the opening credits, almost as if they were collectible cards.
The screaming woman; the clutching hands; the floating head; flaming skeleton; and Emilio with cleaver in hand.
Emilio's unfaithful wife; her lover; hanging woman; executioner and decapitated head.
The lion; lion-tamer without head; Dr. Zorba; and the mysterious 13th ghost..could it be YOU?
Castle was of course notorious not so much for the quality of his films as for the gimmicks and hype he used to fill the seats. For "13 Ghosts", the gimmick was "Illusion-O".
Illusion-O was sort of a close cousin to regular red/blue 3-D. The film is presented in standard black and white, until a ghost enters the scene, and an on-screen caption informs the audience to use their "Ghost Viewers".
As you can see, the Ghost Viewers are merely standard red/blue 3-D glasses but stacked vertically. The idea is, looking through the red lens caused the ghosts to stand out in contrast, making them visible, while looking through the blue lens helped obscure them in the blue background. In the context of the film, Dr. Zorba had invented some mechanical glasses that allowed the characters to see the ghosts, so when they put on their goggles, you can put on yours!
Let's try it, shall we? Here's the scene as it appears without the glasses. There are several ghosts here, barely visible.
Now let's be daring and look through the red lens...the ghosts are more clearly seen (or is that just my imagination?)
Looking through the blue "chicken" lens obscures the ghosts...but they are still kind of visible.
Let's see what other ghosts we can find:
As is evidenced by these screen caps, the ghosts are pretty much visible even without the glasses, and looking through the red or blue lens has little effect. The whole Illusion-O gimmick seems to be a bit of classic Castle ballyhoo.
The viewers pictured above came in my DVD of the film, which I bought many years ago. There was even a coupon enclosed to order additional glasses for friends and family, but that offer expired in 2002. Apparently later pressings of the DVD don't include the ghost viewer insert. But don't let that stop you from enjoying the film. Like I said, the whole ghost-viewing aspect is more sizzle than steak. And you can always flip the DVD over and watch the film presented in standard black and white throughout.
Throughout the rest of 2009, The Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro (Los Angeles) will being showing double features, among other things, that include the formats of not just 3D, but Emerg-o and Illusion-0 (for this very film!) More info can be found at http://frightnightla.com/ .
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