While undergoing an eye exam, William Castle noticed the some letters "disappeared" when certain coloured filters were used, and a giant light bulb went on in his head. Searching for a unique gimmick for his follow-up to "The Tingler" (1959), Castle engaged that film's writer again, and fashioned a classic ghost story with deliberate camp value that would showcase the latest cinema miracle: Illusion-O!
Columbia did real good in finding a fairly clean print with the special effects sequences, and has included an exact replica of the 'ghost viewer' audiences were given at the original theatrical screenings. Basically it works like this: the ghost sequences are tinted blue, and the ghosts appear in red - looking through a red filter yields much spookiness, while scaredy-cats can peer through the ghost-free blue filter (with actors reacting to nothing, much like footage where CGI monsters have yet to be rendered). There's minor grain and a few marks here and there, and the tinted sequences show some wear; Castle's haunted house opus, though, looks just wonderful.
Columbia has also included the 'flat' version of the film on the other side, in which the ghosts are visible in rather grainy black & white. That version also lacks Castle's instructional intro for the 'ghost viewers,' his concluding speech, and the onscreen instructions - "Use Viewer" & "Remove Viewer" - which helped cue eager audiences. In both versions, the sound is sharp, with sound effects, dialogue, and Von Dexter's moody score coming through beautifully.
Each side also includes identical extras. There's original trailers for "13 Ghosts" (anamorphic), "The Tingler," and a video trailer for "Ghostbusters." The featurette "13 Ghosts: The Magic of Illusion-O" briskly chronicles Castle's quest for another box office bonanza, and like the other docs in Columbia's William Castle series, there's interviews with key historians (David Del Valle, and Michael Schlesinger, from Columbia Pictures Repertory), fan Donald Glut, and veteran exploitation filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.
Remade by very bad people in 2001.
Note: Though the package says contrary, Side B actually has the Illusion-O version, and the 'flat' black & white version resides on Side A.
Other entries in Columbia Tri-Star's William Castle series also inclide "Homicidal," "Mr. Sardonicus," and "Strait-Jacket."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan