Spectacles in the Dark

The original version of "13 Ghosts" is a low budget haunted house affair, presented in the miraculous process known as "Illusion-O."

To add to the cheesiness, the entirety is in black-and-white, except for the main titles and several brief, technically necessary, ghost sequences spliced into the action. As soon as the color-enhanced spooks exit from the screen to their trailers, the picture reverts immediately to the gray tones.

I'm often amused at an urban legend surrounding MGM's "The Wizard of Oz." Apparently, millions of people believe color film was invented during the 1939 production. That's their explanation for why the movie changes from black-and-white cinematography to full color after the first reel.

Please allow me to set the record straight.

Folks, color had been used in silent films much, much earlier than Judy Garland's trip to Oz, but did you know color was uninvented in 1960? Then, reinvented? Then, uninvented? Then, reinvented? Then, uninvented and so forth? It's true. "13 Ghosts" is the proof!

Veteran producer-director William Castle, a schlockmeister who worked on the cheap, was responsible for this thriller. He even went so far as to hustle "13 Ghosts" with the misleading ad copy: "See the ghosts in ectoplasmic color!" That's an underhanded inference the entire flick reflects the rainbow.

Castle had tried to position himself as an equal to Alfred Hitchcock, who was the superior showman. He took note of Hitchcock's successful self-promotion methods, which he mimicked in movie trailers and advertisements. He is seen at the beginning of "13 Ghosts," explaining the Illusion-O technology.

We were handed 3-D glasses, two years ago, upon entry at the drive-in theatre. These opticals were the type with red and blue lenses to substitute for the out-of-print Illusion-O devices, although the movie is not three-dimensional in the least -- certainly not the script, nor the acting.

During "13 Ghosts'" initial release, audiences received an official cardboard "Ghost Viewer" with two strips of cellophane attached, one red, one blue.

At key points in the action, visual cues warn of the impending appearances of ghosts! If you were brave, you looked through the red filter to see the apparitions. If you were chicken, you looked through the blue "Ghost Remover" filter and no demon would be seen.

I looked through the window into the next car and watched a beast with two backs. If they did it until I needed glasses, I was ready with the 3-D pair.

"Ahem," said Donna.

"No hymnal. I checked," I said, gazing at the Subaru whoopity-doo. There wasn't a ghost of a chance I'd miss the scary parts.

Previously in This Thread: Two for the Chow | "Revenge of the Cheerleaders" | Sleepo Man
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