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Film / 13 Ghosts

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13 Ghosts (1960) is a horror movie directed by William Castle, written by Rob White, and starring Donald Woods, Margaret Hamilton, and Martin Milner. It was filmed in "Illusion-O", allowing viewers to see the ghosts using special glasses made of red and blue cellophane; viewing them through the red filter made them visible, while watching through the blue filter made them vanish. (It is worth noting, though, that the ghosts were quite visible without using the red filter.)

The film concerns Cyrus Zorba, whose occultist uncle Dr. Plato Zorba has willed a huge, ramshackle house to Cyrus and his impoverished family, fully furnished and outfitted with a housekeeper, plus a fortune in treasure. Now for the bad news: This house is haunted by twelve ghosts, who are imprisoned there, waiting for an unlucky thirteenth ghost to free them. The only way to see the ghosts is with special goggles left behind by Dr. Zorba In addition, there is a more mortal peril in the house with them, in the form of someone who wants to claim Zorba's money for himself, and is willing to kill its rightful heirs to steal it.


The movie was remade as Thir13en Ghosts in 2001.

1960 original has:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Cyrus is a professional paleontologist and has these tendencies.
  • Actor Allusion: Elaine is referred to as a witch multiple times, referencing the most famous role of her actor Margaret Hamilton: Wicked Witch of the West. This time, though, she's a Good Witch.
  • Amoral Attorney: Ben, the entirely-human true villain of the story.
  • Asshole Victim: Ben.
  • An Axe to Grind: One of the ghosts is a pair of hands carrying an ax.
  • Banister Slide: Buck does this butt-first on the staircase, and unwittingly knocks some of the hidden money off onto the floor.
  • Collector of the Strange: Plato Zorba. The man collected ghosts, after all. Some of the ghosts' possessions also, like Shadrack's lion cage.
  • Combining Ghosts: The four spirits in the laboratory merge into a spinning wheel of flames when Cyrus encounters them.
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  • Creepy Housekeeper: Elaine, who worked with Zorba for years and knows a fair bit about the ghosts.
  • Death Trap: The bed that Ben used to kill Plato Zorba. He also tries to use it on Buck but is foiled by the angry ghost of Plato who kills him in it instead.
  • Dem Bones: One of the ghosts is a skeleton on fire.
  • Dramatic Wind: Presence of ghosts and other otherworldly things are punctuated by sudden gusts of wind.
  • Evil Chef: The ghost chef Emilio, who murdered his family before death.
  • Evil Laugh: Some of the ghosts have this.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the film’s end, Castle encourages anyone who still doesn’t believe in ghosts to take the viewer home and use it there...if they dare.
  • Genre Blind: Cyrus Zorba needs to brush up on his Haunted House tropes, ex. when ghosts start throwing cleavers, the recommended course of action is to move out. And those sounds are never just the wind.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Like let you see ghosts.
  • Haunted House: About as haunted as a house can get, with something spooky in practically every room.
  • High-Class Glass: Plato Zorba used to wear one.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:: It's how the greedy lawyer meets his end. At the ectoplasmic hands of his former victim, no less.
  • It's Probably Nothing: Hilda wonders what that noise was. Cy thinks it was "probably the wind."
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Two of the four ghosts in the laboratory.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Hilda notes that Buck is sometimes just as absent-minded as his father.
  • Los Angeles: Where the story is set.
  • Losing Your Head: Shadrack the Great, who lost his head when he put it into mouth of the lion... and it bit him. The ghost of the lion also dwells in the house.
  • Never Recycle a Building: Especially one that seems to have ghosts in every darned room of the house!
  • Nuclear Family: Father, mother, teenage daughter, grade-school son.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They can, and will given half the chance, kill humans. Although it turns out to mostly be just an act — the ghosts are really more harmless eccentrics who like scaring people. The only person they actually kill is the crooked lawyer when he finally turns on the family.
    • The ghosts, themselves, are extremely varied in appearance and behavior.
  • Raising the Steaks: One of the ghosts is a lion, implied to have bitten the head off Shadrack the lion-tamer.
  • Screaming Woman: Not unexpected in a house full of ghosts. One of the laboratory spirits is this.
  • Split Screen: Used early in the film when Hilda calls Cyrus about the mortgage.
  • Spooky Séance: Cyrus is temporarily possessed by his late uncle's ghost during one, and speaks a warning.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The movie ends with one of the ghosts smashing the ghost-viewing goggles with a dark laugh, while Elaine wickedly grins at the audience and grabs a broom...
  • 13 Is Unlucky: Especially if karma ensures you'll be the thirteenth ghost in the place.
  • Unfinished Business: Definitely true of Zorba, although unclear about the other ghosts.
  • The Unintelligible: The arguing ghost couple.
  • Whip It Good: Ghost of Shadrach still carries the whip from his lion tamer days.
  • The Wiki Rule: One for both this film and the remake.


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