Exploring fright in black-and-white. It's enough to make your spine tingle!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Macabre/13 Ghosts Part Deux

I'd like to start this blog post off with an apology to my readers. I've been going much longer between blog posts than I'd intended to, and it hasn't been intentional. You see, Miss Sardonicus is unemployed (or as I like to call it....funemployed.) This leaves her lots of time to watch movies on Netflix Instant but doesn't leave her much in the way of money. Ah, money.

In my dreams I have a plan, if I got me a wealthy man, I wouldn't have to work at all. I'd fool around and have a ball.....


But life is unfortunately NOT an ABBA song and therefore it's off to work I must go. Once I'm settled into some kind of routine I expect to be much more diligent in terms of updating. Thank you for your patience! I'd also like to take a moment to bring your attention to a website that you may or may not be aware of. It turns out that our dear William Castle, Patron Saint of Gimmicks has decided to grace us with his presence from beyond the grave. Isn't that just like him? He can be found here: http://williamcastle.com/

Mr. Castle was gracious enough to take a little break from his busy schedule of spooking and haunting to communicate with Miss Sardonicus! And I didn't even need to whip out my Ouija Board! It is my hope that within the next few days, I will have something to share with you from the Spine Tingler himself.

I told you about my experience watching Macabre. Needless to say I was really in need of lighter fare and hoped that 13 Ghosts would deliver. Did it ever! I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't seen it before and that my only experience was with its remake which left me unimpressed. However I know a great many people who consider the 2001 version a guilty pleasure so perhaps I will give it a second chance one of these days. Personally, I really couldn't get past the glass house. Glass houses freak me out but not in a "haunted house" kind of way. More in a "I really don't need to be able to see everything that you're doing in the privacy of your own home" kind of way. As the saying goes, people who live in glass houses shouldn't masturbate.

That means YOU, Leelee!

Thankfully the house in the original 13 Ghosts is not a glass one. Our story centers around a loveable eccentric family with unusual first names (Cyrus, Medea, Hilda....Buck?! One of these things is not like the others...) Cyrus Zorba's job at the museum just isn't cutting it salary-wise and the family is in dire straits. Their furniture has just been repossessed just in time for young son Buck's birthday. Despite the fact that the family is penniless they do manage to give Buck a gift he'll love: a book of ghost stories creatively titled "Ghost Stories". Buck just so happens to be my favorite character in the movie and quite possibly my favorite child character to ever appear in any movie, horror or otherwise. He's played by Charles Herbert, seen here:

You may remember from my last post that I typically hate child actors, and I attribute most of this to Miko Hughes who appeared in Pet SemataryWes Craven's New Nightmare, Kindergarden Cop and as Michelle Tanner's most annoying playmate Aaron on Full House. You might think it's difficult to be more annoying than Tahj Mowry and it's certainly no easy feat, but Miko manages it and then some. I will begrudgingly admit that he was pretty good at being creepy in the horror films he's done but I still can't stand his face. I think I just never forgave Aaron for telling the whole class that Michelle let the pet bird fly out the window on the first day of kindergarten. I mean, really. How rude!  

Don't mess with the Tanners!
 On the eve of Buck's birthday he makes a very Liar Liar-esque wish. Instead of wishing that his dad could go a whole day without telling a lie, he wishes that his family could own their own house and that no one could take away their furniture. As we know from the movies, birthday wishes made by precociously adorable children always come true instantly. Immediately a gust of wind blows through the windows and blows out the candles, letting us know that magic is in the air. And lo and behold! The Zorba family inherits a house from Cyrus' uncle, the even more eccentric Dr. Zorba. And lucky for us (and Buck) they inherit Dr. Zorba's ghost collection as well. Twelve of 'em to be exact- soon to be thirteen if the ghosts have their druthers. But who will it be? All bets seem to be on Medea who the ouija board has singled out as the future victim of harm. I mean, dude- you just don't name your daughter Medea and expect no tragedy to befall her.

In between bouts of fearing for her life and telling Buck not to slide down the banister, Medea makes googly eyes at the lawyer Ben Rush (Martin Milner.) He continuously urges Dr. Zorba not to make this his family's home, but it's not like the Zorbas really have any choice due to their financial situation. We learn that Dr. Zorba was working on a way to clearly see apparitions and had invented a "ghost viewer". Here is where the gimmick comes in: at specific points in the film, the audience is instructed to use a "viewer" to see the ghosts. In this case, our vieweres were 3D glasses. Much of the fun of the movie came from the excitement of scrambling to put my glasses on in order to see what the ghosts were up to. One of my biggest problems with the current overuse of 3D (particularly in horror) is that we as an audience are going to become desensitized to it. I can remember when getting to see something on the big screen in 3D was something very out of the ordinary, and a real treat. I think William Castle really had the right idea here with limiting the scenes in which the Illusion-O effect was used. By requiring the viewer to see the ghosts, Castle puts us in the same position as our protagonists and also causes us to wonder just what those ghosts are up to when we're NOT using the viewer and therefore can't see them.

The ghosts are varied, ranging from a murderous chef to a lion tamer who was apparently not so good at his job. Adding to the creepy atmosphere is Margaret Hamilton as the housekeeper Mrs. Zacharides who Buck insists is a witch in an obvious inside joke. The family becomes more and more freaked out as they realize the ghosts may not be so friendly. Buck, even when scared still acts like living in a haunted house is the greatest adventure he's ever been on and this is why I love Buck. Usually children in horror films aren't the least bit amused by what's going on, and I'm glad to see a film where the kid is a realistic combination of scared and delighted. As a young'un I was alternately terrifed of and fascinated with all things supernatural and my inner child definitely relates to Buck.

You really don't want to complain about his cooking.

The real threat of course, ends up not being any of the ghostly beings at all but instead the very flesh-and-blood lawyer Ben. Ben knows that there is money hidden in the house and is intent on driving the Zorbas out so that he can have all of it. He realizes that Buck has already found traces of the money and attempts to manipulate Buck into helping him find the rest of it. He swears Buck to secrecy, counting on Buck's desire to be a part of an exclusive adventure. Buck immediately tells anyone he talks to that he has a secret with Ben. This is just another of the many reasons that I love Buck.

Ben doesn't count on the ghosts and of course as a result, he gets his in the end. 13 Ghosts doesn't have too many authentic scares- the ghosts are more entertaining than terrifying. The oujia board scene is probably the creepiest sequence in the film. What it lacks in scares however, it makes up for in high doses of fun. It's campy without being ridiculous and the cast is endearing. Donald Woods is no Tony Shalhoub but he's better suited to the material and this is a far better film. Rosemary deCamp seems to be having a ball and Jo Morrow plays a convincing teenage girl whose mood alternates between that of "serious grownup" and "terrified teen". We already know how I feel about Charles Herbert (I'd like to go back in time and adopt him) and Margaret Hamilton can't do any wrong in my book! All in all, a quintessential Castle classic.

On a slightly personal note, I'd like to thank everyone who is following this blog. I've been writing for awhile but blogging is much newer for me, and this is the first time I've written about horror in a public forum. If anyone has any suggestions, complaints, demands, etc they can always be sent to me at MissSardonicus@gmail.com. Or you can stalk me on Twitter at MissSardonicus. I've only got two followers, but one of them is Joe Bob Briggs so I'm clearly awesome. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm learning- so some entries might be awesome, some might suck and some might be just kind of meh. I'm still figuring out my format and what works and what doesn't. I didn't really expect anyone to read this so I'm flattered, excited and a little terrified. Thanks for being a part of it!


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