Review of 13 Ghosts

William Castle – what a fun guy, dontcha’ think? When I first reported on him, he was fixing it so that a skeleton would “emerge from the movie screen” and float over Ghost1  the heads of seated viewers. He called this the “Emergo” effect. The other night I decided to check in on Mr. Castle and see if he had done anything similar since then. Wouldn’t you know it? About a year after his emerging skeleton, he imbued movie goers with the ability to see ghosts. This effect he labelled “Illusion-O.”

The House on Haunted Hill is the second haunted house film that I reviewed. In that review, I describe how Castle, a great mastermind of publicity stunts , had distributed skeletons to movie houses that ran his film, instructing the theater operators to rig them up on downward angled wires so that they would Ghost2appear to float over the heads of movie goers during the pivotal scene where the skeletal remains of Vincent Price rise out of a vat of acid (allegedly!). Cool huh?   But his cool gimmicks did not stop there. They went on, film after film. When movie attendees went to the theater to see his 1960 film 13 Ghosts, they were given a “ghost viewer” which allowed them to see the same ghosts that the film’s main character saw when he put on specially designed glasses. In both Ghost3movies, the audience had a share of the scares that were inflicted upon the characters of the movie. With Castle, film became a platform for participatory art.

Before the film begins, William Castle appears on the screen. He is behind a desk in an office. A skeleton is taking dictation. He speaks to the audience and refers them to   Ghost4their ghost viewers. He explains that at certain times throughout the movie the screen will turn blue (remember, this is a black and white picture). When this happens, the audience is to hold the viewer in front of their face. Castle demonstrates with a ghost viewer of his own. The top of the viewer has a blue-tinted lens and the bottom part has a lens tinted in red.

Castle then says,

“If you believe in ghosts, you look through the red part of the viewer. If you do not believe in ghosts you look through the blue part.”

Ghost5                Ghost6           Ghost7

Obviously, the ghosts in the movie only appeared when one was looking through the red lens. Since the screen turned blue whenever the ghosts were featured, the ghosts became camouflaged when viewing the screen through the blue lens. Now, what happened when someone ignored the ghost viewer altogether and looked at the screen with his/her naked eyes? Did the ghosts appear? I have no idea. Being born in 1971 prevented me from witnessing this 1960 theatrical attraction. I can only assume that they did not. However, I can say that a ghost viewer is no longer required to see the ghosts of this film. They materialize in a fiery red tint. The screen Ghost8still turns blue as a caption appears at the bottom of the screen that reads “User Viewer.” But the naked eye is the only tool needed to see these creepy albeit cartoonish phantoms.

So, what’s this movie about anyway? The Zorba family is having trouble making ends meet. The repo people have come for their furniture. Poor Zorbas – forced to eat dinner on the floor!   Ghost9However their luck suddenly changes. (Or has it?) Patriarch Cyrus Zorba is informed that he has inherited a house (and a furnished house at that!) from his dearly departed uncle. So he moves in with his wife Hilda, his twenty-something daughter Maeda and prepubescent son Arthur. There is a caveat to this deal. The lawyer that handles the transaction warns the family that along with the house and furnishings, they have also inherited eleven ghosts. See, long before the formation of The Ghostbusters, there was good ol Uncle Zorba, who was able to capture ghosts Ghost10from around the world and then “store them” in the house. Uncle Zorba dies, presumably by foul play. His ghost remains behind, so in effect, the family has inherited twelve ghosts. Why then is this film called 13 Ghosts?   Because, legend has it that Uncle Zorba is going to seek revenge on the one who killed him. If he succeeds, this will raise the count to thirteen. Does this vengeful killing occur before the end of the movie? Watch it and find out!

Oh yeah, there is another “thing” of interest the family inherits. Well it’s not really a “thing” but a person (see how I put “thing” in quotes in the previous sentence? See?). They inherit a maid and low and behold, she is played by no other than Margaret Hamilton who is best known for playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In fact, throughout the movie, little Arthur Zorba refers to her as a witch. Do you think the scriptwriters did this intentionally to pay homage to her famous role? Of course they did!

Let’s see, what else can I say about this movie? I will describe it this way – imagine if Rod Serling became the writer for Leave it to Beaver. 13 Ghosts might be an example of the end product. The father wears his Mr. Rogers sweater over his white Ghost11collared shirt. The mother has an overly rigid hairdo that is very fitting for the June Cleaver type. The little boy who, although he never says it, has “golly gee” written all over his young, curious face. While there is no older brother named Wally, there is the older sister named Maeda. She is prettier than Wally, so I like her better. As they go about behaving like the average 1960 television family, they are accosted by ghosts. A meat cleaver flies into the air and just misses Ward Cleaver Cyrus Zorba. The Beaver Arthur witnesses a ghostly lion-tamer lose his head inside a ghostly lion. Surprisingly, he’s not really freaked out by this. Rather, he seems in awe and he tells his mother. June Cleaver Hilda Zorba responds with a “that’s’ nice, dear” – Ghost12or..something along those lines. In her defense, when Beaver Arthur comes to her with this story, she is preoccupied with making dinner, or doing some kind of kitchen work – you know, the things the mothers of television did back in 1960.

Okay, I’m having too good of a time poking fun at this movie. But the truth is – I love this movie! I love the Zorba family and the haunted house they lived in. I love the cheesy ghosts. And Ghost13even though I did not get to use the “ghost viewer”, I love that whole concept.

And I love you, William Castle. R.I.P. I look forward to one day seeing all the clever antics you have going on up there in the heavens!

Review of People Under the Stairs

peopleunderthestairsWes Craven is well known in the horror genre. But I really don’t know enough about him to analyze his overall style. I did enjoy several of his Nightmare on Elm Street films (sorry, can’t say I enjoyed them all.) Last House on the Left was “okay” – heavy on shock, light on substance, but interesting in its own weird way.

Craven fans seem to enjoy his 1991 film People Under the Stairs. I did not. It is not the movie for me. It’s billed as a horror comedy, but it didn’t scare me and it didn’t make me laugh. On the plus side, it didn’t offend, sicken, or repulse me. What did it do for me? Not much, other than annoy me a little bit.

The story is as follows – the family of a young boy, Fool, is about to be evicted from their apartment in the ghetto. He and two adults decide to break into the house of their slumlords. It is rumored that the slumlords are in possession of rare golden coins and the three burglars seek to steal them. They break in, but they can’t break out. There is this state of the art security system that seems to work better at keeping people trapped inside than it does at keeping people out of the house.   There is a reason for this. The man and woman who live in the house, “Mommy” and “Daddy” Robeson, are crazy sadists. They have hostages, one of who is presumed The-People-Under-the-Stairsto be their teenage daughter. The rest are teenage boys. To be honest, I forget why the sadistic couple had brought them into their home in the first place. But one by one, they were all deemed “evil” and then castaway to a boarded up area underneath the stairs. Mommy and Daddy Robeson have three simple household rules: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Well at one time or another, these boys violated these directives, and they paid for it. I think most violated the “speak no evil” directive, because they had their tongues cut off. The “daughter” follows the rules, so she is spared from receiving the severe punishments.

There are numerous chase scenes where someone is hunting down Fool. The hunter and “huntee” constantly go in and out of secret passages. These passages can lead anywhere, and they do. Almost every room in the house connects to them. Sometimes Fool is chased down by the killer dog. Other times he chased down by Daddy Robeson, who dresses for the hunt in leather fetish gear. Just when we think the dog or daddy is defeated, no – they rise again! Maybe it was scary the first time the dog attacked. Not so much the second time. By the time the film got to the 14th canine assault (I honestly don’t know how many dog scenes there were – too many), I was annoyed. It was almost as irritating as listening to “Daddy” cock his pump action gun several hundred times.

This film is overdone – too many chases, a ton of overacting (mostly on the part of The Robesons); it is a ham fest.

At this point in the review, a reader might be thinking, “Dude, you are taking this film too seriously! It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to be over-the-top.” I guess I’m old school. If I want to watch a comedy where cartoon-faced villains chase housebound victims in and out of doors and passageways then I’ll watch Scooby Doo. Or The Three Stooges.

Don’t get me wrong – “ham” can be entertaining. It just wasn’t sliced and served properly here.

peopleunderthestairs3As for the “people under the stairs”, once they slow down and stop jumping around like zoo-caged monkeys, viewers finally get a chance to see how they look – like the cheesiest of all Goth rock bands – long hair, white faces. I’d rather have the Lost Boys. But that’s just me!

I know many people like this film. It’s entertaining and definitely different. In that way I can see where they’re coming from. But there’s a difference between “seeing” and “feeling.” I “see” how it can be attractive to some but I just don’t feel the love.

Review of The Red Church


Somewhere within the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina The Red Church stands. A beast of Author Scott Nicholson’s creation haunts its surrounding community. Locals are found dead in the fields; their bodies mauled to pieces. It is tempting to blame mountain lions for such tragedies, but forensics clears these creatures. They just aren’t capable of doing the kind of damage.

There is another explanation. But it is rather farfetched. It is based on an old community ghost story involving the abandoned Red Church.   But ten-year-old Ronnie Day believes the legends. So does Sheriff Frank Littlefield. Both have seen witnessed strange occurrences at this church.

Think for a moment about this archetypal horror scenario: A beast or phantom nests within a hidden compartment of a familiar site. It could be a bat that dwells in the loft of a rundown barn – a bat that haunts the night! Or maybe it’s a raccoon that lives under your porch – watch out for those glowing eyes! More common is the raven that rests on the archway of the front door, or the troll that hides under the bridge.

Here’s a new one for you: how about a dark figure that appears inside a church’s belfry. It has wings and sharp claws. It has livers for eyes. Sometimes the bell rings when this phantom materializes, which is quite a feat since the church no longer has a rope to activate a bell. This is the legendary phantom of The Red Church. It is this phantom Sheriff Littlefield fears is responsible for the killings. Naturally the detective he works with is skeptical of this theory. But Littlefield has lost his younger brother to this beast many years ago when a prank at the Red Church went terribly wrong.

If this isn’t scary enough for you, there is creepy cemetery in front of the church. Also, there is a humongous dogwood tree that hovers beside the church. The ghost of a hanged preacher from long ago is known to materialize on a tree branch from time to time.

This is a chilling book. The reviews are mostly positive. However, you can’t please everybody, especially those who are easily offended. There is a strong religious theme to this book. The novel’s antagonist, Archer McFall, claims to be The Second Son of God. He reopens The Red Church and seeks to preach “his truth” – that Jesus is evil and he, Archer, is the true savior. There are some negative reviews on account of this “sacrilege.”   Strangely enough, there are negative reviews that go in the opposite direction, complaining the book is too “preachy” and that its hidden message is that “Jesus saves”. To both sides of the argument, I shout a loud and droning “Ohhhh please!!!!!”

I enjoyed this novel and I’m going to pay it a rather strange compliment – It’s a fun, cozy read. How, you may ask, can a novel that borders on “sacrilege” (“I thought it bordered on “preachy”. “I thought it…” Shut up! Your thoughts are stupid!)  be “cozy?” Furthermore, how can a novel about a bell tower phantom with wings and liver eyes make me feel “cozy?” For one thing, I’m a bit weird. Let’s get that out of the way. But there are other reasons. It’s a straightforward tale spun in the familiar setting of small town Americana. The characters are folksy but the ghosts are creepy. I can lie out in the summer and read this with a cool glass of lemonade or sit back indoors in the cool winter and take this book in with a warm cup of cocoa. It works on all fronts.


This is Scott Nicholson’s first book. (He now has over twenty novels). It is excellent for a debut novel. The reason for this is that Nicholson is obeying an old rule or writing: write what you know. Nicholson resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he is in command of his setting. In the nitty-gritty details of the story we see local politics in action and the god-fearing behaviors of religious folks. We learn of the speaking mannerisms of a chaw chewing farmer. We learn of the family clans. All this Nicholson writes with confidence. It’s his town and he’s welcoming us to it, which is another reason I say the book is “cozy”.

This is also the first novel featuring Sheriff Frank Littlefield. The second is Drummer Boy, which is about ghosts of soldiers that spill out from a cave on the eve of the annual civil war reenactment.  Drummer Boy is a good book as well, but I will not review it as part of this blog since it does not deal with a haunted house. However, I have read other Haunted House novels by Nicholson.  These are The Home and Creative Spirit.  I hope to write about these soon.

Review of The Legend of Hell House.

The Legend of Hell House, is considered by some to be a classic haunted house   movie.  It is based on Richard Matheson’s book Hell HouseMatheson is the author of several other books that were later turned into films, including The Shrinking Man, What DreamsMay Come and A Stir of Echoes. Alas, I have not yet read any of his hell-housebooks. I will fix that very soon, beginning with the reading of Hell House. I already know that I will enjoy the book much more than the film. I know it with in every haunted and demented bone in my body!  

That being said, I did enjoy watching The Legend of Hell House. Well I enjoyed most of it. Some of it? Nah, more than some. Definitely more. It’s just not the best haunted house flick out there. For instance, I prefer The Haunting to this film.


Much of this review will compare and contrast the two films. This is because they are similar in many ways. In both films, a group of people occupies a haunted house as part of a scientific study of paranormal phenomena. Both films have four occupants: two men and two women. A male professor leads both groups. In each movie, two of the four occupants were selected to participate in the study on account of their natural sensitivity to paranormal activity. In The Haunting, Eleanor Vance has experienced telekinetic phenomena and Theodora possesses E.S.P. In The Legend of Hell House, Florence Tanner is a “mental medium” while Ben Fischer is the “physical medium.” As for the differences between the two “media,” your guess is as good as mine.

The Legend of Hell House is like The Haunting on – steroids? No, not quite. That would be today’s slash and gore fests. On – LSD? Closer, but that metaphor is too strong as well. Maybe it’s The Haunting on some high-grade THC-laced concoction. That’s what I’m going with and I’m sticking to it!

What do I mean by this? Well, mood-setting shots and chilling sound effects provide the scares of The Haunting, along with a story based on psychological drama. The Legend of Hell House has all of this as well and a lot more. But “more” does not equate to “better.”

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed all the haunting events that constitute the “more”.

HellHouseBedThis would include:

  • strings of ectoplasm emitting from fingertips (cool!).
  • silhouettes of statues engaged in kinky acts (freaky!).
  • bursts of telepathic activity that break dishes, topple tables and bring down chandeliers (wild!).
  • the human-shaped form underneath the bed covers (uh oh!)
  • the attack of the possessed cat (holy shit!)  HellHouseCatAni
  • pools of blood leaking underneath the shower door (bloody hell!)
  • corpses behind the walls (Encapsulating!)

The movie is filled with these terrifying scenarios. One after another, they come. There is never a dull moment. And herein lies a paradox: these fast paced scenes are the strengths and weaknesses of the film. On the one hand they establish suspense. What crazy thing is going to happen next?   On the other hand, viewers are never really given the chance to settle into Hell House and make it their two-hour home.   The Haunting gives its viewers time to absorb the Hill House and its inhabitants. The host, Dr. Markway, gives a tour of the house, during which the camera focuses in all the things that make the mood; the library, the nursery, the rickety staircase, the statues. While Hell House has the gothic furnishing and macabre décor, but much of it is lost in the commotion. Also, viewers get to know the characters of The Haunting well before the haunting happens. In The Legend of Hell House, viewers are still trying to figure out the characters’ motives long after all the scary shit hits the fan.

So there’s the good (the haunting events), the bad (the pacing), and… what’s the ugly? Answer – the ending. We finally learn the motive for the evil that lurks within Hell House. This is when I sat back and said “Seriously? You gotta be kidding me!” Yeah it’s that lame.

But understand, this is not a bad film. It’s just not great. It’s almost good – very close to being good. It definitely has its moments, and those moments are intriguing enough for me to recommend this film. Just don’t delve into this film with inflated expectations.