Saturday, October 29, 2016

Crowhaven Farm: A Creepy Made-for-TV Tale

When her cousin Henry dies in a car accident soon after inheriting Crowhaven Farm, Maggie Porter becomes the estate's new owner. She and her husband Ben move to the rural New England property. He hopes to find success as a painter and Maggie accepts a position as a legal secretary to the town's handsome--and single--attorney. Ben's jealousy fuels already existing marital discord caused by the couple's inability to conceive a child.

Meanwhile, Maggie discovers that she knows things about Crowhaven Farm, such as the location of secret rooms in the house. She also has visions of a woman being "pressed", an unpleasant method of killing witches by placing a wooden door on their prone bodies and stacking large stones on the door. A local historian unintentionally makes matters worse when he tells Maggie the story of the Brampton witches, a coven that existed in Puritan times.

Lange with Patricia Barry, who starred
in a memorable Thriller episode.
As is often the case in these kinds of movies, Ben doesn't take Maggie's concerns seriously. In fact, he's not very observant at all, even failing to notice that the 10-year-old girl they "adopted" seems to prefer him significantly to Maggie. And that's just the beginning of Maggie's problems.

Made in 1970, Crowhaven Farm is an eerie supernatural tale that was made for the ABC Movie of the Week. It was produced and written by John McGreevey, whose many television writing credits include The Waltons. The film's opening scenes can be described as a Waltons plot with sinister overtones. The local handyman, played creepily by John Carradine, isn't the pleasant local craftsman that one would expect. The kindly physician turns out to be a villain. Even the picturesque countryside is revealed to be the site of sacrifices. (Note: Click here to read our interview with Michael McGreevey, John's son, who acted in numerous films and became a successful writer-producer as well.)

Handyman John Carradine.
While watching Crowhaven Farm, I was struck by the similarities with Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home. The former pre-dates Crowhaven Farm; not surprisingly, Rosemary's Baby inspired a number of movies about witches' covens. However, Crowhaven Farm was actually made three years before Harvest Home. Tryon's novel features a premise in which a couple with a strained marriage relocates to an old house in a rural community so the husband can pursue an artistic career. Sound familiar?

For me, the most effective supernatural thrillers are those grounded in normal characters who become gradually exposed to unnatural events. In the case of Crowhaven Farm, the casting of Hope Lange as Maggie helps immeasurably. It's hard to think of an actress more capable of portraying conventional and believable characters. Although pretty enough to be a model (which she was), Lange carved out a successful acting career playing naïve teenagers, understanding mothers, and patient wives. Her convincing performance in Crowhaven Farm is one of the reasons this film has lingered with me since I first saw it 46 years ago.

Cindy Eilbacher as Jennifer.
Watching it recently, though, I was also struck by the film's potency. While it's never gory, the image of the witches stacking stones on top of Maggie is pretty strong stuff. There's also a disturbing scene in which young (fully clothed) Jennifer sneaks into Ben's room and climbs into bed with him when they are home alone. It may have been innocent enough in the early 1970s (obviously, the censors didn't object). However, in today's context, Ben casual acceptance of this situation seems highly questionable and caused this viewer to squirm a bit.

If you've never seen Crowhaven Farm, you're in luck: There are several prints on YouTube. The visual quality varies, but they are watchable.


This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. To read all the fabulous posts in this blogathon, click here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Old Dark House: "It's not good to be frightened on an empty tummy"

Fenella Fielding and Tom Poston.
William Castle's 1963 adaptation of J.B. Priestley's novel Benighted has little to do with the book or James Whales' 1932 film version. Screenwriter Robert Dillon jettisons the original premise of a group of travelers forced to spend the night in the ancestral home of the unusual Femm family. Instead, we have Tom Poston as an American car salesman who is invited by his "friend" Caspar Femm to spend the weekend at Femm Hall in Dartmoor. Given that Tom Poston is the lead, you may have surmised that the emphasis in this version is on comedy.

The Femm family is still an unusual lot, but that's to be expected when you're home-bound. It turns out that the Femm children's great, great grandfather was the pirate Captain Morgan who, before being hanged, wrote a will with a peculiar provision. Each family member must appear at a midnight gathering or forfeit his or her share of the family fortune. Thus, every time a Femm dies, the survivors grow richer.

Joyce Grenfell as Agatha Femm.
Yes, The Old Dark House boasts a creaky old plot that eventually wears out its welcome. However, that's not to say that the cast, peppered with seasoned pros, don't make it mildly entertaining. Robert Morley makes a dry, surly head of the house, while Joyce Grenfell (the "lovely ducks" lady in Hitch's Stage Fright) has fun as the matriarch (who knits "by the mile"). She has many of the best lines, including the sage remark that "it's not good to be frightened on an empty tummy."

Janette Scott as Cecily Femm.
Mervyn Johns (Dead of Night), Fenella Fielding (you'll recognize her voice instantly), and the lovely Janette Scott round out the supporting cast. Scott, who also starred in The Day of the Triffids and Paranoiac, became a cult movie star of the 1960s. She was immortalized in the song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Singer Mel Torme was the second of her three husbands.

As the hero, Tom Poston executes the required pratfalls and looks of distress. However, he lacks the comic flair necessary to carry off this kind of role (Bob Hope and Lou Costello did it much better). Poston was always more at home as a TV series supporting player, where he found great success. For the record, he also starred in another William Castle picture: the previous year's fantasy-comedy Zotz!

The Old Dark House boasts an unusual production pedigree in that it's a co-production between Castle and Hammer Films. The film's crew includes many names familiar to Hammer fans: set designer Bernard Robinson, editor James Needs, cinematographer Arthur Grant, and others. Allegedly, Hammer's Anthony Hinds co-produced The Old Dark House at Bray Studios in Great Britain. However, his name is missing from the credits. Furthermore, the last two credits are very unusual: "Produced and directed by William Castle" is followed by the redundant "Directed by William Castle."

Speaking of the stylish credits, they were done by the famous cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family). His hand appears on screen as he signs his name in cursive. Hey, even Saul Bass, the most famous creator of credits, never got to do that.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

We Describe the Movie...You Name It! (Halloween Month Edition)

It's been a long time since we played this game at the Cafe! The objective is simple: We offer a short, sometimes vague, description of a movie and you have to name it. As always, please don't answer more than three questions per day, so others can play.

1. Famous outlaw's chum is turned into a monster.

2. Rawhide star battles a vampire. Roll 'em, doggies!

3. Jane Eyre goes to St. Sebastian (well, kinda).

4. Cult anime film with a vampire and a talking hand.

5. Monster talks with Ygor's voice.

6. There's a lycanthrope lurking around a reformatory for young women.

7. It has to be the most spine-tingling of all horror movies.

8. There's a creepy scene in which the villain's face appears in a car's rearview mirror--but he not in the car.

9. Police hunt baby in a sewer.

10. Dracula dances to classic disco song.

11. Baron Boris Von Frankenstein heads the the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.

12. Basil Rathbone is a wolf...I mean, he plays Wolf.

13. I'm smelling mimosa. How 'bout you?

14. It ends the same way it begins...exactly.

15. "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

ABC Movie of the Week: How Awful About Allan

Allan discovers the blaze...too late.
Allan (Anthony Perkins) has spent eight months in a state hospital, being treated for the trauma caused by a fire that killed his father and scarred his sister. You see, Allan left the paint cans and thinner by the heater that caused the inferno. Physically, there is nothing wrong with Allan, but he remains emotionally fragile--and partially blind. As he explains: "There is nothing organically wrong with my eyes. The blindness is all in my head."

Following his discharge, Allan (perhaps unwisely) returns to his home to live with his sister Katherine (Julie Harris). She informs her brother that they need to take in a lodger to afford the house payments. Allan hates the idea, but a room is quickly rented to a college student named Harold Dennis. When Allan begins to hear whispering voices at night, he becomes convinced that Harold is out to murder him.

This reminded me of Psycho.
Made in 1970, How Awful About Allan was originally broadcast on the ABC Movie of the Week. It boasts an exceptionally strong pedigree for a made-for-television film. In addition to major stars Perkins and Harris, the cast includes Joan Hackett (The Group) as Allan's former fiancee Olive. It was directed by Curtis Harrington, a once promising filmmaker that helmed the cult movie Night Tide (1961) and Games (1967), a semi-remake of the 1955 French suspense classic Les Diaboliques.

In fact, there are several similarities between Games and How Awful About Allan. Both films center on three major characters, two women (Katherine and Olive) and one man (Allan)--with the female characters being much stronger than the male. And, in each film, nothing is what it appears to be.

Julie Harris as Katherine.
The central mystery in How Awful About Allan is the identity of the mysterious lodger, whom the viewer sees only as a blurred image (as Allan sees him). Is Harold Dennis really Katherine or Olive in disguise? Could he be Eric, Katherine's former lover who was forced to leave town? Or is he really Harold Dennis, an innocent college student--meaning that the voices and fleeting shadows are all in Allan's mind?

A creepy shot of Allan.
It's an interesting premise, but it also makes for a thin plot. Fortunately, How Awful About Allan has a running time of only 73 minutes. Harrington also piles on the atmosphere, making Katherine and Allan's house one of those creepy abodes with dark hallways and weird noises. Even in daylight, it looks grim and uninviting--especially when viewed through Allan's eyes.

The suspense/mystery genre was a popular one on the ABC Movie of the Week. While How Awful About Allan doesn't rank with the best of them (Along Came a Spider, Isn't It Shocking?), it's still an above-average suspense tale with a fine cast.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ka-bam! Look Out for the Five Fingers of Death!

If you are a connoisseur of cinema history, then Five Fingers of Death (1973) is required viewing. It's not the best kung fu film. It wasn't the first one. It didn't launch the careers of any stars--at least not as far as English-speaking audiences were concerned. And yet, when Warner Brothers released it in March 1973, it ignited mainstream interest in martial arts films.

The table had been set, so to speak, with the success of David Carradine's Kung Fu TV series, which debuted a year earlier. But Kung Fu's occasional slow motion fights didn't prepare audiences for the explosive kicks and punches executed gracefully by the cast of Five Fingers of Death. Still, the film's success was not a total surprise to Warner Brothers, which released it in the U.S. Known by its original title of King Boxer, the film had played to packed houses in Europe.

It also helped that American interest in Asian culture was peaking due to President Nixon's visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972. For a modest sum, Warners acquired the rights to six movies made by the Shaw Brothers and released King Boxer first--under the catchier title Five Fingers of Death.

Lieh Lo looking humble as the hero.
Lieh Lo stars as Chao Chih-Hao, the star pupil in a martial arts school who has fallen in love with his teacher's daughter Yin-Yin. Marriage is out of the question, though, until he wins a major martial arts tournament. When some local thugs almost get the better of Chih-Hao's teacher, the elderly man sends his student to study with another martial arts master.

Chih-Hao gets off to a bad start at the new school, losing a fight handily to his best friend. His new master proclaims that Chih-Hao is "not good enough" and must show he's worthy to join the martial arts classes. The young man performs menial jobs without bitterness and continues to practice kung fu on his own. His resilience impresses the new master--as does Chih-Hao's ability to quickly grasp new techniques. Chih-Hao's steadily rising stature causes friction between him and his best friend (who also happens to love Yin-Yin).

Looking like the villain he is!
Meanwhile, the villainous Meng Tung-Shun (Feng Tien) schemes to set up his son's victory in the martial arts tournament. He "hires" a highly-skilled wandering fighter as well as three Japanese killers. This results in plenty of fights, changed allegiances, retribution, and reformation before the film's end title.

There are certainly elements of Five Fingers of Death that became overused in the genre: the big martial arts tournament; the secret technique (in this case, the Iron Fist); the mysterious stranger who changes sides; the disrespected school; and the one vs. many brawl. But with its many well-placed fight scenes and convincing cast, Five Fingers of Death makes it all seem fresh again. Star Lieh Lo may lack the celluloid grace of Bruce Lee, but he punches with power and kicks with authority. Director Chang-hwa Jeong injects flair, too, especially with a fight scene that takes place in a darkened room. (Note: There are edited versions, running less than 104 minutes, that omit key scenes.)

Note glowing right Iron Fist!
It should come as no surprise that director Quentin Tarantino often lists Five Fingers of Death among his favorite films. Kill Bill (both volumes) turns the Iron Fist lethal technique into the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. When Uma Thurman's character sees two of her enemies, the music signature--know as the "siren sound"--is the same one played when Chih-Hao uses the Iron Fist in Five Fingers (interestingly, the "siren sound" was taken from the "Theme from Ironside," written by Quincy Jones).

As for Five Fingers of Death, Verina Glaessner sums up its influence nicely in the opening of her book Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance: "Led by King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death) and hotly followed by the films of Bruce Lee...these films set the scene for a mass invasion of western cinemas by Chinese action films." For more on the kung fu movie craze, you can check out our previous post on that subject.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mr. Sardonicus: The Look of (Not) Love

This unusual foray into Gothic horror is one of William Castle's strangest films--and that's saying a lot. Typically, the gimmicky Castle focused on contemporary plots, enhanced with offbeat humor, aimed at teen audiences. Mr. Sardonicus (1961) is so different that one might suspect it wasn't a William Castle film...except that the producer-director appears on-screen at the beginning and end. And yes, he somehow manages to incorporate one of his famous audience gimmicks.

Ronald Lewis as Sir Robert.
Mr. Sardonicus opens in London in 1880 with Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) "curing" a crippled girl at Queens College Hospital. Sir Robert is more than a gifted physician; he is a renowned pioneer in the field of medicine. Still, he quickly cancels all appointments when he receives a letter from Maude (Audrey Dalton), an old flame who has married a baron. Obviously, his love still burns strongly for her, for he hops aboard a train to Gorslava at her first sign of distress.

Remember how villagers treat strangers when they learn folks are traveling to Castle Dracula? That's the same kind of response that Sir Robert gets when he arrives in Gorslava and mentions Baron Sardonicus. Fortunately, Krull (Oscar Homolka), one of the Baron's servants, is at the train station to drive Sir Robert to the castle.

The Baron wearing his mask.
Things are revealed to be a bit odd at the spooky mansion. Sir Robert rescues a servant girl who has been covered in leeches as part of an "experiment." Maude acts initially like nothing is wrong. And Baron Sardonicus arrives at dinner wearing a full facial mask because he has been horribly disfigured. The Baron wants Sir Robert to cure him--which leads to a lengthy flashback that reveals how the Baron became the man he is today.

Up to this point, Baron Sardonicus is an atmospheric, engrossing, well-acted tale. Unfortunately, the Baron's bizarre flashback answers the central question that propelled the film. Once we know what happened to Sardonicus, it's like director Castle let out all the air of the film and it deflates quickly.

Homolka as Krull.
The cast is one of Castle's best, with Ronald Lewis exhibiting the kind of commanding presence that made me wonder why he didn't have a better career. He did appear in a nifty Hammer thriller called Taste of Fear (1961) and in the big budgeted Billy Budd (1962). Other acting honors go to the always-reliable Oscar Homolka, whose Krull proves to be scarier than Sardonicus, and Erika Peters in a small role as Sardonicus' first wife. Sadly, the talented Audrey Dalton has little to do as Maude and isn't in much of the film. (When I interviewed Ms. Dalton earlier this year, she did say it was one of her most enjoyable films to make.)

Castle explaining how to vote in the poll.
As for the gimmick, Castle appears near the end of the film to introduce a "Punishment Poll" in which audience members are supposedly given the opportunity to vote on the fate of Baron Sardonicus. There have been periodic discussions over the years as to whether Castle actually shot two endings for the film. But, to date, no one has found the footage of a second ending.

For the record, I think the make-up for the Baron's skull-like smile was inspired by the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "The Eye of the Beholder." You be the judge below:

Well, the noses are similar!

Finally, Mr. Sardonicus played a key role in a storyline on the 1987-90 critically acclaimed TV series Wiseguy, in which a character was obsessed with the film. That reminds me that the title is really misleading...no one calls him Mister Sardonicus...because he's a baron!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Monster Mayhem! It's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Bela Lugosi as the Monster.
The surprising popularity of 1942's The Ghost of Frankenstein (not one of my faves) left Universal Studios in a quandary. It wanted to make a sequel, but its staff writers felt that the Frankenstein Monster had nowhere to go. Desperation sometimes results in inspiration and thus was born the idea of pairing the Frankenstein Monster with the Wolf Man. It was a clever premise that would extend the Universal monster movies for another decade.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) opens with a splendidly atmospheric scene in which two grave robbers break into the Talbot Family crypt in order to rob the corpse of Larry Talbot. When they open his stone casket, they find Larry's body covered in wolf bane. I don't know about you, but that would have sent me packing in a hurry--especially with a full moon in the night sky. But the inept grave robbers hang around until Larry reaches up and grabs one of them.

Maria Ouspenskaya and Lon Chaney, Jr.
When we next see Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), he is very much alive. He gradually realizes that he survived his "death" four years earlier (depicted in The Wolf Man) and must therefore be immortal. Larry seeks out the gypsy Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), who has heard of a "great doctor" that may be able to help Larry find the peaceful sleep of death.

Larry finds the Monster in ice.
Alas, their journey to Vasaria proves fruitless when they learn that Dr. Frankenstein is dead. When Larry, as the Wolf Man, kills a young village woman, the townspeople pursue the vicious "wolf." As Larry the lyncanthrope evades the angry mob, he falls into a hidden chamber. The next morning, he discovers the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) encased in ice and frees it. With the Monster's help, he tries to find Frankenstein's diaries and--he hopes--the secret to his own death.

It's hard to assess Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man because the Universal brass had the film cut before its release. In Curt Siodmak's original screenplay, the Monster could speak (as he could at the end of Ghost of Frankenstein). In his book The Dead That Walk, Leslie Halliwell includes some of the missing dialogue:

MONSTER: I can't see you. I'm blind, I'm sick. Once I had the strength of a hundred men. If Dr. Frankenstein were alive, he'd give it back to me...so I could live forever.

TALBOT: Do you know what happened?

MONSTER: I fell into the stream when the village people burned the house down. I lost consciousness. When I woke, I was frozen in the ice.

TALBOT: Buried alive. I know, I know...

MONSTER: Dr. Frankenstein created my body to be immortal. His son gave me a new brain, a clever brain. I will rule the world forever if we can find the formula that can give me back my strength. I will never die.

TALBOT: But I want to die. If you wanted to die, what would you do?

MONSTER: I would look for Dr. Frankenstein's diary. He knew the secret of immortality. He knew the secret of death.

This missing scene is a very illuminating one. First, it explains why the Monster walks with his arms outstretched awkwardly (he's blind!). It also clarifies why the Monster can be seen mouthing dialogue silently in the film (he was actually conversing with Larry). Finally, it explains why the creature would so willingly lead Talbot to the secret location of Dr. Frankenstein's papers.

The Monster disrupts the festival.
Without this key scene, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a perplexing film at times. The middle portion also lumbers along awkwardly much like the Monster. Still, there are three marvelous scenes: the aforementioned grave robbing sequence, the Monster's sudden appearance in Vasaria during the Festival of the New Wine, and the climatic fight. Granted, it's clearly a stunt double--not Bela--as the Monster during the big showdown. Also, I can't imagine the Wolf Man surviving this face-off (his strategy seems to consist of climbing up on lab equipment and jumping on the Monster).

Director Roy William Neill was Universal's best "B" movie director and, while his pacing may be off this time, he creates a visually hypnotic world of blacks, grays, and white. The cemetery, with its eternally blowing leaves and whistling winds, is like a gothic painting come to life.

Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man.
Chaney is his usual self as the Wolf Man (and that's not a bad thing). Bela is miscast as the Monster; one can even spot his facial features through the makeup. Patric Knowles, Ilona Massey, Dennis Hoey, Dwight Frye, and Lionel Atwill make a solid supporting cast. I would've like to have seen more of Maria Ouspenskaya (cinema's best gypsy) and it's too bad Atwill played a mayor and not the one-armed prefect from Son of Frankenstein (1939).

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a big hit and spawned two immediate sequels with even more monsters: House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). After a short rest, the Universal monsters returned in the 1950s to face off against their biggest adversaries yet: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Five Best Movies About Big Business

Sloane as the difficult Mr. Ramsey.
1. Patterns (1956). What would you do if you worked for the world's worst boss? If you answered "quit, of course," then this movie is for you! Last year, I showed Patterns to a group of senior managers and we spent over an hour discussing it. Van Heflin portrays a promising junior executive who gets promoted to vice president at Ramsey & Co. He soon realizes that the company's ruthless head (Everett Sloane) wants to push a decent, but now ineffective, older executive into retirement. When the latter takes a hard stand, Ramsey makes his life hell. But here's the catch: Ramsey truly has the best interests of the company at heart. Rod Serling adapted his own acclaimed television play.

2. Executive Suite (1954). When the president of Tredway, the nation’s third-largest furniture manufacturer, dies unexpectedly, two executives (Fredric March and William Holden) battle each other for the control of the company. I've also referenced this engrossing look at corporate politics in the real world. It provides an interesting discourse on quality (represented by Holden's engineer) vs. profits (March's VP of finance). It also raises an interesting point about career progression. If you don't want someone one else as your boss, are you willing to step up and do the job yourself?

Judy Holliday as Miss Partridge.
3. The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Judy Holliday is sublime as Laura Partridge, a (very) minority stockholder in a major corporation who keeps questioning the company’s crooked board members during its public meetings. To keep her from badgering them, the board members hire Miss Partridge as their Director of Shareholder Relations—a “do nothing” job until she decides to make something of it. It's my favorite Judy Holliday comedy, but also a sharp satire about the power of stockholders.

DeVito as Larry the Liquidator.
4. Other People's Money (1991). Danny DeVito stars as Larry the Liquidator, a corporate raider who targets a struggling company run by a kindly executive (Gregory Peck) who cares deeply about his employees. Larry, on the other hand, just wants to make money for stockholders--and himself. Peck and DeVito share a great scene at the climax in which each of their characters makes a compelling case for his viewpoint.

5. The Man in the White Suit (1951). Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton, a research chemist who invents a fiber that never gets dirty and never wears out. Sounds like a marvelous invention, right? Well, the textile industry--to include both management and the union--isn't thrilled at all. Naturally, Sidney's white suit will bankrupt companies and eliminate jobs. Since this is an Ealing comedy, there's a witty ending that (sort of) works for everyone. Still, it makes one wonder how many great inventions may have been stifled in the real world!

Note: I focused my picks on movies that deal with traditional businesses. Yes, you could make the argument that The Godfather is a film about a family-run business, but I think it's outside the scope of this list. Likewise, businesses play an important role in films like Citizen Kane, Mildred Pierce, and The Bad and the Beautiful. I still wouldn't call them movies about big business.

Monday, October 3, 2016

William Castle Asks If You Believe in Ghosts--13 of Them!

Illusion-O...a nifty gmmick!
I first saw 13 Ghosts on television as a youth. It was my introduction to producer-director William Castle. And even though Castle's famous Illusion-O gimmick was lost on my family's black-and-white TV, I still have fond memories of this ghostly variation of a wholesome family picture.

The Zorba's are your typical sitcom family--except for the fact that they're broke. It's so bad that Hilda Zorba calls her husband at work to complain: "The moving men are here...taking away the furniture again." Apparently, Cyrus doesn't earn much as a tour guide in the paleontology department at the Los Angeles Museum. Their kids, college-age Madea and youngster Buck, don't seem to mind. However, when Buck blows out his birthday candles that night, he wishes for "a house with furniture that no one can take away from us."

Charles Herbert as Buck.
Almost on cue, Cyrus receives a mysterious telegram from attorney Benjamin Rush. It turns out that Cyrus' Uncle Plato has left him a haunted--but furnished--house, complete with ghosts and a housekeeper that doubles as a medium. Their financial situation compels the family to move into the old house. The apparitions are a nuisance, especially the former chef that periodically empties out the kitchen cabinets onto the floor. However, there is also something evil afoot--and that spells trouble for the Zorba family.

As stated previously, 13 Ghosts is a pleasant little picture that didn't need a gimmick. Still, Castle came up with one of his best: a cardboard viewer with blue and red filters that allowed the audience to see the ghosts. At various points during the film, text appeared on screen telling the audience to "Use Viewer." The screen then turned blue and the ghosts appeared in red. If you wanted to "see" the ghosts, you looked through the red filter on your cardboard viewer. However, if you were afraid of ghosts, you could look through the blue filter and see all images on screen except for the ghosts. Castle, in one of his most entertaining introductory scenes, explained all this to the audience.
Audience members were prompted when to use their ghostly viewers.

This is what you saw if looking through the red filter.

When the ghosts departed, you didn't need to use your viewer!

Surprisingly, the top-billed member of the cast was Charles Herbert, who played Buck. Herbert was a busy child actor who appeared previously in Houseboat, The Fly, and The Boy and the Pirates. 13 Ghosts marked his final film role, but he remain in demand on television in the 1960s. He died last year on Halloween.

Margaret Hamilton look like Miss Gulch.
Other cast members included Martin Milner, Jo Swerling, and Margaret Hamilton. Milner started his four-year stint as the Corvette-driving Tod Stiles in Route 66 shortly after 13 Ghosts. Margaret Hamilton has little to do as the creepy housekeeper, but I was struck by her appearance. Her face looked the same as it did 21 years earlier in The Wizard of Oz (only it wasn't green). Pretty Jo Swerling retired from full-time acting in 1964 to raise her deaf daughter. She still remains popular enough to appear at nostalgia conventions.

13 Ghosts was remade as the R-rated Thir13en Ghosts in 2001 with Tony Shalhoub as the head of a family that inherits a haunted house. As you can imagine, the tone is quite different--and there's no Illusion-O.