(director: William Castle; screenwriter: Robb White; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: Edwin Bryant; music: Von Dexter; cast: Charles Herbert (Buck Zorba), Jo Morrow (Medea Zorba), Rosemary DeCamp (Hilda Zorba), Martin Milner (Ben Rush), Donald Woods (Cyrus Zorba), Margaret Hamilton (Elaine Zacharides), John Van Dreelen (Van Allen); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Castle; Columbia; 1960)
“A dull and crudely made haunted house tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Exploitation producer and director William Castle (“The Tingler”/”Mr. Sardonicus”/”Homicidal”) helms this black-and-white shot juvenile, hokey and pointless fright tale. Robb White, who wrote five scripts for Castle, turns in a pedestrian screenplay. Castle, the master showman, promotes the film by issuing to the audience cheaply made cardboard “ghost viewers,” 3D glasses (even though the film was never shown in 3D), with one lens that sees specters (red) and another that doesn’t (blue). The gimmick was called “illusion-O.” If that wasn’t enough of a gimmick, Castle offered the enticement that a lucky ticket holder could win a key that opens a so-called haunted house and would inherit that house.
Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods) is a penniless family man, with a justifiably fearful wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp), a pretty teen daughter Medea (Jo Morrow), and Buck (Charles Herbert), a precocious 10-year-old whose hobby is reading ghost books. The pleasant family is about to be evicted, and its furniture is repossessed. The reason being is that Cy is paid a low-salary as a paleontologist and a guide at the LA County Museum. In the nick of time, the Zorba family inherits a furnished creepy Gothic mansion from Cyrus’s estranged eccentric occultist uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba, a world traveler who dies in Los Angeles without his family even knowing he was in town. The uncle’s estate lawyer Ben Rush (Martin Milner) puts the fright on the family by telling them their uncle Plato, whom he never saw, collected ghosts and accumulated 12 with a 13th expected (1. The clutching hands. 2. The floating head. 3. Flaming skeleton. 4. Screaming woman. 5. Emilio, the Italian chef, with cleaver in his hand. 6. His unfaithful wife. 7. Her lover. 8. Executioner and decapitated head. 9. Hanging woman. 10. Lion. 11. Lion tamer without head. 12. Dr. Zorba. 13. ?). The will also leaves the family Plato’s invention of “ghost viewers,” enabling them to view the apparitions. Ben warns that ghosts come with the house, and if it’s not lived in the will stipulates that the house goes to the state. The family finds that Plato’s stern witch-like housekeeper, Elaine Zacharides (Margaret Hamilton), formerly Plato’s assistant until a fallout when she disagreed with his decision to withdraw all his money from the bank and hide it somewhere in the house. She remains at her post without pay. Castle delivers a Ouija board and a seance sequence and uncorks low-tech ghost sightings that seemed more silly than frightening, such as a skeleton engulfed by flames that transforms into a whirling specter. There’s soon the discovery of Plato’s buried fortune by the curious Buck, and the tricky shyster lawyer getting the kid to keep it a secret from his family.
I guess what ruined this campy ghost tale for me besides the so-so acting, the incomprehensible plot line and the uninspired storytelling, was that I missed not having those cheaters at home to see the ghosts–all I saw was a dull and crudely made haunted house tale. Though the film was crap, it was one of Castle’s biggest hits. Which goes to show you, never underestimate crap or overestimate the public’s taste.
REVIEWED ON 10/14/2007 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/