Movie Mom

Movie Mom


William Castle’s “13 Ghosts”

posted by Nell Minow

People often ask me if I’ve ever walked out of a movie.  Fortunately, I seem to have an endless tolerance and sometimes even affection for bad movies.  But just once, I did insist on leaving the theater, and a delightful tribute to William Castle’s horror movies on Turner Classic Movies reminded me of the film that did drive me from the theater.  It was Castle’s 13 Ghosts.

While William Castle worked with legendary Hollywood artists like George Stevens and Orson Welles, he is best remembered for his cheesy horror films, produced on micro-budgets but marketed with magna-artistry. Indeed, his marketing campaigns were far more creative than his films with fantastic gimmicks like a life insurance policy for anyone who died of fright during the film and a plastic skeleton that flew out into the audience from a wire above the screen.  He even wired seats in the theater to give the audience an electric shock for The Tingler.

I wrote about my favorite, for the movie Homicidal, in my new book, 101 Must-See Movie Moments.

As often happens in thrillers, there comes a point near the climax when a character is warned not to go into a dark, menacing house.  Of course, she goes anyway, but before she does, the movie gives us a “fright break.”  A stopwatch on screen counts down 45 seconds to give those who are too terrified to find out what is inside that house to leave and get their money back. According to director John Waters, a Castle fan, when people actually took advantage of this offer,

William Castle simply went nuts. He came up with “Coward’s Corner,” a yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theater employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn’t take it any more, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward’s Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stenciled message: “Cowards Keep Walking.” You passed a nurse (in a yellow uniform?…I wonder), who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, “Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward’s Corner!” As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity — at Coward’s Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, “I am a bona fide coward.’“ Very, very few were masochistic enough to endure this. The one percent refund dribbled away to a zero percent, and I’m sure that in many   cities a plant had to be paid to go through this torture.

I hope not many got their money back.  The surprise in the house is pretty wild!

In “13 Ghosts,” a family moves into a spooky house.  The gimmick is explained by Castle himself at the beginning of the film.  I was so sure that the ghosts were real that I insisted my mother take me out of the theater.  But now, I own the DVD, which of course came with its own ghost viewer.

YouTube Preview Image


Previous Posts

The Inside Story of "The Princess Bride" by Cary Elwes: As You Wish
Fans of The Princess Bride, which means pretty much everyone, will love the new book from Cary Elwes (Wesley), who takes us behind the scenes for the inside story of the making of the film, from his nervous audition (his imitation of Fat Albert saved the day) to the most dedicated fans (one had "As

posted 8:00:44am Oct. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Believe Me
Will Bakke has followed his two thought-provoking documentaries on faith with a remarkably smart, funny, brave, and heartfelt first feature film that explores religion and values without ever falling

posted 11:06:16am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike
Rosamund Pike delivers a stunning breakthrough performance in this week's "Gone Girl." She's been a favorite of mine for a long time, for her elegant voice and precise acting choices. It's a good

posted 8:00:23am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Telling Time in "All That Jazz"
One of my favorite writers provides insights into one of my favorite (if flawed) movies -- Matt Zoller Seitz created a beautiful video essay about Bob Fosse's autobiographical "All That Jazz" for the Criterion Edition, and then they were unable to use it due to rights problems with the movie clips h

posted 3:19:48pm Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Tomorrow on PBS: The Makers: Comedy
Be sure to tune in to PBS tomorrow night for what is sure to be one of the highlights from one of the all-time best series on PBS: "The Makers," the story of women in America.  Tomorrow's episode is about women in comedy. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxHMgSF7UI[/youtube]

posted 8:00:45am Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.