His and Hers Drive-In Double Feature :: 1960 :: 13 Ghosts and Where the Boys Are
Pull your car up, there’s space right in the middle, with clear view of the screen, and join the two of us as we take on 1960, and our choices to represent the start of “the sixties”. We will start this decade off with a boy who makes a birthday wish for a furnished house, and gets it in the worst way. Who knew that “furnished” meant couches, dishes, bed sheets, and ghosts. Next we will hop in that convertible parked just off-screen and head down to the coast for the original “Spring Breakers” movie. This teen vacation getaway will be filled with songs, bongo drums, bikinis, beat poets, bad boys, and a girl who is looking for marriage (yeah, that last one is the one thing that doesn’t belong, don’t you think?). So, pack a bag, a bathing suit and a ghost-hunter sized flashlight and join us for a night at our virtual “drive-in”.
Our films for this week are 13 Ghosts, directed by William Castle. and written by Robb White (Charles’ choice), and Where the Boys Are (Laura’s choice), directed by Henry Levin, written by George Wells, and based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout.
13 Ghosts (1960)
13 Ghosts is a 1960 American horror film directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. The film stars 11-year-old child actor Charles Herbert as “Buck” and co-stars veteran character actress Margaret Hamilton as Elaine. Throughout the film, Buck refers to Elaine as a witch. Though this is never confirmed, the film hints at the possibility. These inside references were quite possibly an acknowledgement of Hamilton’s best known role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
As with most of his productions, Castle used a gimmick to promote the movie. For 13 Ghosts, audience members were given a choice: the “brave” ones could watch the film and see the ghosts, while the apprehensive among them would be able to opt out of the horror and watch without the stress of having to see the ghosts. The choice came via the special viewer, supposedly “left by Dr. Zorba.”
In the theatres, scenes involving ghosts were shown in a “process” dubbed Illusion-O: the filmed elements of the actors and the sets — everything except the ghosts — were displayed in regular black-and-white, while the ghost elements were tinted a pale blue and superimposed over the frame. Audiences received viewers with red and blue cellophane filters. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts, while the blue filter “removed” them. Despite Castle’s claims to the contrary, not many heart attacks or nervous breakdowns were averted by the Illusion-O process; although the blue filter did screen out the ghostly images, the ghosts were visible with the naked eye, without the red filter.
Because the ghosts were indeed viewable by the naked eye, the movie ran for years on television with no viewer needed to see the ghosts. DVD editions have varied in their preservation of the Illusion-O effect, with the latest DVD release including versions with and without the ghost outlines and a set of special viewers.
William Castle was able to get popular child actor Charles Herbert to play Buck by offering to give him top billing. Charles Herbert would appear in this and two other features in this year before roles in features completely dried up. He would complete his career in television roles. This would be the last feature film role for Charles Herbert.
3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 1 B – 1 B for “beasts” (even if I did have to squint to make them out), no boobs or blood, although we were left with imagining a squished lawyer – check it out!
In 13 Ghosts, the dynamic ghostly duo of William Castle and Robb White bring us yet another take of the haunted house story. This time instead of it being a “dare you to spend the night in a haunted house” we get a much bigger challenge when a family in need is given a wished for fully furnished house will they “dare to accept it“, even if it comes with ghosts and a possible witch? Instead of a one-night stand of a dare, this is more of a lifelong commitment thing. Will the Zorba family outlast the collection of different ghosts that seem to come and go at all hours of the day and night, as well as put up with a foreboding housekeeper with an uncanny resemblance to the green witch from Oz, as well as with a pushy lawyer who never seems to leave? Will they be able to make the house theirs? And will they ever uncover the missing money hidden somewhere within their inherited house?
The Zorba’s are a family in crisis, though honestly you would hardly guess it by their demeanor. As all their furniture is being re-possessed, and not for the first time mind you, Mrs. Zorba calmly and matter-of-factly discusses it with her husband, never once seeming anxious or upset. My first thought is she must be the most understanding spouse ever, or perhaps she partakes in heavy doses of “Mother’s little helper” and stirs crushed up Valiums into her coffee. Mr. Zorba’s job at the museum (is he a tour guide? paleontologist? volunteer?) does not seem to pay the bills at all, though he also does not seem to be all that concerned (Valium coffee all-around). Enter little Buck who at least is the voice of truth and not only comments on the furniture leaving (again), but also uses his big birthday candle wish on wishing for a house for the family – a fully furnished one, at that.
Buck should have heeded the old adage, “be careful what you wish for“, or at least been specific in his wishing. Furnished with furniture, with flatware and cooking equipment, rugs and window treatments, and perhaps a nice set of antiques – but not furnished with a unique collection of ghosts. But, Buck is not specific, and speaks his wish out loud (um…isn’t that supposed to make your wish NOT come true?) and near immediately the phone rings and Mr. Zorba is summoned to meet-up with a lawyer the next day. The Mr. and Mrs. calmly (of course) discuss the possibilities that this could be a collection agent’s attorney coming to collect, but they still seem nonplussed about all of it. Seriously, what is this family on?
As luck wold have it, or fate, or curses, the lawyer meeting was to let the Zorba family know that their estranged and presumed dead long ago ghost-hunter and collector Uncle had not only been living in the same city as they resided in, but had just died and left the family his “haunted mansion“. The house is spectacular and somewhat familiar (I feel like I have seen it somewhere around the Pasadena vicinity), an gives off the feeling of mystery, perhaps more so than fear and fright. The house is furnished, as promised, and also comes with its own caretaker/housekeeper who knows the houses secrets and scares.
The housekeeper is mistreated verbally, being constantly called a wicth, both behind her back and to her face. Buck is extremely rude to her and his family never says anything to him. A matter of fact, Mr. and Mrs. Zorba show no rules or discipline ever to young Buck, it is only his sister, Medea, who seems to try to set boundaries for him and keep him somewhat in line. Of course, the wink to the audience is that the housekeeper Elaine, is not a witch here, but the actress’ Margaret Hamilton’s most famous role was as The Wicked Witch of the West in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.
The family dynamics were more interesting, and at times more frightening, to me than the actual ghosts – though I did enjoy the ghostly lion and his headless tamer in the basement. Typical of Castle films, the plot is more about human nature and the corruption that lies within, than the actual monsters. The lawyer that never seems to leave is actually the big bad here, and in the end the monsters become the heroes.
The lessons learned here? Besides the proverbial “be careful (and specific in) what you wish for” was what the word Ouija translates to (yes yes?) and that canopy beds can be the most dangerous weapons in the world. Thank you, William Castle and Robb White.
Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: For originality in the haunted house genre and for some brilliant marketing tricks, even if I did not get to partake in the experience, I give this film 2 stars. It is not my favorite “Castle” film, but it was enjoyable.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
Where the Boys Are (1960) is an American coming-of-age comedy film, written by George Wells based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout, about four Midwestern college co-eds who spend spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The title song Where the Boys Are was sung by Connie Francis, who also co-starred in a supporting role.
Where the Boys Are :: Connie Francis
The film was aimed at the teen market, featuring sun, sand and romance. Released in the wintertime, it inspired thousands of additional American college students to head to Fort Lauderdale for their annual spring break.
Where the Boys Are was one of the first teen films to explore adolescent sexuality and the changing sexual morals and attitudes among American college youth. It won Laurel awards for Best Comedy of the Year and Best Comedy Actress (Paula Prentiss). The movie made film history by becoming the biggest-grossing-low-budget film in MGM’s history to that time.
The original poster tagline – in all caps – was “HEY! LET’S MIGRATE TO THE LAND OF HILARIOUS BACK SEAT BINGO!”
Dolores Hart, who played Merritt, joined a convent and became a Catholic nun a few years after making Where the Boys Are. The movie was Paula Prentiss’ first leading role.
Sat down to watch this film with the same trepidation you have going to milk a bull, you know you are going to walk away with nuttin’ except either a very happy bull, or a very painful head. I would like to report that I was wrong, this was actually a pretty funny film. from the sexual innuendos to the Batman fan guest stars, you know you are in for some fun when you hear lines like “I want to bang the pipes and knock back some cans” (said by the hitchhiker, TV, that the girls pick-up) – from that point on it was hard to keep a straight face through much of the dialogue.
The opening act takes place at an uptight, all-woman’s college where we hear such euphemisms for “making out” such as “back seat bingo” which I can only assume is what she says when you hit the wrong hole.
The one thing I don’t understand is how come the second hottest filly in the group, played by Connie Francis, couldn’t score a guy unless he was a near-blind “Riddler” (played by Frank Gorshin of Batman TV series/Riddler fame), and the least attractive of the bunch, our “lead heroine“, scores a rich “Dracula” (played by George “I’s gots a tan” Hamilton of Love at First Bite fame).
This movie is a prime example of the confusion and low self-esteem of the Hollywood typical 1960 woman. Stuck halfway between the sexual repression of the 50’s and the free-love movement of the 60’s, these girls don’t know where they stand. You have my choice for the cutest of the bunch constantly pleading with her beau to acknowledge her, even when he is macking on a much older woman who sounds just like Harley Quinn of the Batman series. To the one girl who we rarely see in the film, other than to show how many guys she’s giving it up to, and how much she’s “in love” with each guy.
Although the movie does end on kind of a downer, almost everyone has a happy ending except for the “nookie girl“.
3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 1 1/2 – 1 1/2 points for Boobs (there must of been at least 177 boobs in this film, but none of them “nekid“), no blood and no beasts, other than the four Frat Boys who pass around the young blonde like a joint at Dennis Hopper’s house (no points though, as their “beasts” give men a bad name – you have to be somewhat likable to get beast points with me).
The first time I saw Where the Boys Are I was 11 years old and I completely fell in love with it. Of course, at 11, much of the politics of gender and sex escaped me, and I did not catch all the innuendos and sexual subtext that is peppered throughout this film, nor did I quite digest the cautionary tale that was underlying the plot, one that is both dated and unfortunately somewhat prevalent, even all these 53 years later.
At 11, my favorite character was Tuggle, played by the delightfully charming and gorgeous Paula Prentiss. I loved that she was a dark haired beauty (hard to be a brunette and a fan of television and film as a young girl when all the heroines are mostly blonde) and that she was tall (even at 11 I was taller than all the boys in my class, and most of the girls, as well). She was funny and outspoken, at least at the start of the film, and I admired that, too.
What I missed then, and certainly do not miss now, is that she was terribly insecure and also had very little personal goals for herself. The line of dialogue that reads “Girls like me weren’t built to be educated. We were made to have children. That’s my ambition: to be a walking, talking baby factory. Legal, of course. And with union labor.” is hard to take, and later, when she is literally begging TV, the boy she has her baby factory future heart set on, to be with her and not someone else, just makes me want to jump in the screen and shake her, and take her far, far away from this narrow view of her self and her life. Alas, her role, albeit frustrating, is necessary to the story, and to me, is one of the unintended cautionary tales.
Honestly, though, I wanted her to tell TV (Jim Hutton) to fuck off and for her to take Angie (Connie Francis) and the car and hit the road. I am sure they could have found a better adventure somewhere else. Oh, and please go back to school and finish getting educated, she may have been surprised what she was “built for”.
Now let’s talk about Merritt, the girl we are all supposed to love and root for. At first she is the leader, and a challenger of the 1950’s standards for women that propagated the “no one wants to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free” (editor’s note: see, Charles, I can use a livestock reference, too). She seemed to be the face of what was to come in the sixties sexual revolution, and through the first half of the film she seemed to continue being this strong presence in the film.
She took in strays at the beach, girls who could not afford to have a roof over their head she took in and let them squat in their room (though honestly, why was she not collecting some payment from these girls? You would think then they would not have to order hot water and steal diner crackers in order to eat). She even attempts to act as counselor to the obviously naive and heading for danger Melanie (Yvette Mimieux).
But then Merritt meets the rich and handsome Ryder Smith (George Hamilton) and it is like her strength and gumption jumps ship and never returns. She confesses that all her bravado is just talk and becomes weak in Ryder’s presence, and also confusingly unfair to him, especially when she verbally berates him for what the “Frat boys” do to Melanie, accusing him of being just like them, even though he has actually acted the “hero” in helping Melanie, and the girls, in a time of crisis. I know that we are supposed to cheer on this love story, but to me it never quite made sense to me. Merritt and Ryder had no chemistry together, and just seemed to bring out the boring and mundane in each other.
Melanie was the big cautionary tale to women, and a painful one at that. The saddest parts of Melanie’s story were her spiralling sense of self-worth, summed up completely when she proclaims to Merrit, while lying in a hospital bed post-date rape, that the “worst part” is that they weren’t even “Yalies“. That is the worst part? Seriously? Also, it was rough to see that the lesson for promiscuity in women being rape and ruin has not changed all that much. Women are still made to feel afraid of what bad things can come for being sexual, and we are also socially structured to believe that sex needs to equate to love. Melanie seems to think her life is over, and there is really no one telling her any different. Also, where were the consequences for the “not-Yalies“?
Last, but not least (except perhaps in stature), is Angie, the stereotypical “best friend” character who gets stuck being the one passed over by all the boys who come their way, even the “extras” until she meets dialectic jazz bandleader, Basil (Frank Gorshin) who despite his odd experience (those glasses!) and unlikable personality (music snob, and then some) becomes the source of her desperate affection. He passes her up, asking out all three of the others, until finally, begrudgingly settling for Angie and never shows her any attention until a) she takes up his interests and sings, and b) he loses his glasses and thus cannot see at all.
Angie meets Basil
It is only when he needs her to lead him around that he becomes interested and kind. This is one of the more confusing story lines in the movie because Angie is funny, charming, outgoing, inventive (she is the one that figures out how to get fed for free at the diner, and suggests the “half steak” plot) and to me, very adorable.
In the end, we are given a rather contrived happy ending, with all the girls, except for Melanie (the girl who makes bad choices is ultimately punished), riding off into the “sunset” with their boys. I would have rather seen the four girls leave together, the boys behind with the dust and exhaust blowing back to them, and have that be the ending – all that happened in Fort Lauderdale staying in Fort Lauderdale, and not stopping them from their own futures. But that is not the stuff of movies, now is it?
All that said, though, I still do love this film nearly as much as I did at 11, even if I do not prescribe to the lessons on love and sex. Perhaps the real cautionary tale here is to believe in yourself and leave your vacation with no souvenirs that cannot fit in your pocket – oh, and stay (and return to) school.
Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: Despite my social and gender stereotype and self-esteem frustrations with the film, I still enjoy this film, and give the movie 3 1/2 stars.
3 thoughts on “13 Ghosts and Where The Boys Are :: His and Hers Drive-In Double Feature (1960)”
13 Ghosts scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it. I was in 5th grade a sleepover. I’d seen all the Elm Street movies and Friday the 13ths up until that point but 13 Ghosts really creeped me out. I’d go as far as to say I actually gasped when, so not to spoil the movie for anyone, you know who comes walking down the steps at the end-shock! I really enjoyed that.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Where the Boys are, I’ll seek it out.
Funny how the movies that scare us as a kid stick with us…that first scare, you know?
I’d love to hear/read what you think of Where the Boys Are when/if you check it out.
WTBA is a wonderful film. It dealt with sex in a more straightforward way then did all the Beach Movies that were pumped out then. I think all 4 girls are beautiful. I prefer Paula & Dolores myself.