13 Ghosts (review by Doug Smith)

Made in 1960 and filmed in Illusion-O, “13 Ghosts” is a perfect example of a typical drive-in movie. A family of four inherits a haunted house from their rich and infinitely creepy uncle, Dr. Zorba. They also inherit 12 ghosts, which they can only see when they put on special Devo goggles. Thankfully for the family, ghosts don’t require all that much money, what with being dead and all. When this movie ran in theaters, patrons were given special glasses with which they could see the ghosts. Whenever the ghosts were about to come on screen, the phrase, “Use viewer,” would appear momentarily, thus eliminating any element of surprise there may have been in the first place.
Charles Herbert stars as the deeply disturbed and demented little boy, Buck Zorba. Jo Morrow plays Medea Zorba, the sickeningly wholesome and good daughter. Martin Milner, a grown up Howdy Doody, plays sleazy lawyer, Ben Rush. Rosemary De Camp portrays whiny housewife, Hilda Zorba, who’s just a shade less domineering than Roseanne. Cyrus Zorba, the man and paleontologist of the house, is played by Hugh Beaumont wanna-be, Donald Woods. Finally, Margaret “Melting” Hamilton plays Elaine Zacharides.
The opening credits give us an introduction to all the ghosts. Ghost 13 is apparently just a floating question mark. I’m not sure of how dangerous that could be, but with a number like 13, it must be pretty bad. Anyway, the film opens with the Zorbas getting kicked out of their current house on young Buck’s birthday, since Cyrus hasn’t paid the bills. “Happy birthday, son! We’ll let you sleep in the front seat of the car tonight!”
That night, they have a little celebration for Buck. When he blows out the candles on his cake, he wishes for a new, fully furnished house and, not five minutes later, a wrinkly, long-faced man knocks on the door, with a message stating that Cyrus and Hilda are supposed to meet with attorney Ben Rush in the morning. Apparently lawyers have Igor-like assistants, whom they send out in the middle of the night to serve subpoenas. Cyrus and Hilda do as they’re told and find out that Cy’s rich uncle, Dr. Zorba, has left his mansion to them in his will, as well as the 12 otherworldly beings who live in said mansion.
The Zorbas move in and, during a little housewarming party with Ben, they play with a Ouija Board, because, yes, that’s right, demon possessions are fun! Being the smug bastard that he is, Ben notices Medea’s fascination with him and asks the Ouija Board if she’s in love. Unfortunately for Ben, he doesn’t know that the spirits don’t take kindly to silly questions, and the planchette is embedded into his skull. Well, no, that didn’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he? Anyway, young Buck, who finds just a little too much happiness in death, asks if there are any ghosts, how many there are, will the ghosts hurt them, etc. etc. Finally, when he asks, “Will they kill any of us?” a picture falls off the wall, and nearly smooshes him and Medea. The ghosts go on terrorizing the Zorbas until an interesting plot twist takes place. As if we couldn’t see it coming during the first 20 minutes of the movie.
There’s one scene in particular that I get endless hours of enjoyment from. I won’t ruin it for you (who am I trying to kid?), but towards the end of the movie, Buck witnesses a truly traumatizing event. Now, it’s not only the fact that he’s acting like nothing happened five minutes later, but also the expressions his face goes through. The image at the top of this page is taken directly from that scene. I don’t think Jim Carey could even duplicate the facial contortions that this poor boy goes through. I’m not entirely sure how the director got him to do that. I mean, no one could pull that off willingly. Perhaps he forced him to watch a Kate Bush video… Anyway, I’m pretty much indifferent about this movie. I give it 2 1/2 yaks.