13 Frightened Girls

Every now and then your eye glances over the number of movies you’ve seen, especially if you rate movies on the IMDb. Not that this should be more than an indication – I’ve only kept a score since early in the naughties and have tried to work my way back as good as possible – after a couple of years this still boils down to a serious number of watched movies. 13 Frightened Girls by William Castle was film number 4998.

William Castle shouldn’t be a stranger to regular readers of the Avenue: we’ve put some of his films into the Kurtodrome Vault after all. Hideously overlooked by most anthologists because of his pulp status, there shouldn’t be a canon without the man who tried to lure audiences into cinemas with his gimmicks. For Macabre, he let cinemagoers sign a contract that would earn them a million bucks if they’d die from fright during the movie. During House on Haunted Hill he kept a skeleton behind a curtain so that, at the moment a skeleton would appear on the screen, the skeleton would also be pulled over the audience’s head in the threatre. In The Tingler the touch of a monster felt like an electrical buzz and there are no points for guessing what Castle had invented for that movie, but let’s just say it’s safe to check your seat if you ever wanted to watch that film in a theatre. And Homicidal had the fright break, a clock ticking away for 45 seconds just before the film’s climax: too scared to watch the conclusion of the film, then this was your cue to leave the cinema. (And in case any smartasses just wanted their money back on a repeat viewing, Castle let the cowards stand under a spotlight in the Coward’s Corner and only after everyone had left the theatre and mocked the cowards, their money would be returned.) Sure, those gimmicks may not have been groundbreaking novelties, but if 3D glasses are worth a mention in the canons, then The Tingler and some of Castle’s other antics deserve to be in there too.

13 Frightened Girls didn’t use such a gimmick. For this film, Castle pulled off a trick prior to shooting one scene. In an attempt to ensure as much of an international audience, Castle held a worldwide audition for a role in the film. Wanted to be one of the 13 girls making up the girls in an international boarding school for girls, then why not audition?
For two reasons this was a classic touch of Castle. Not only was there hardly any screentime for the international girls, the title was also misleading as hell. Whereas there may have been thirteen girls in the film, most of them didn’t get a chance to be frightened. The story is all about the American girl Candy, a diplomat’s daughter, with a lifelong crush on Wally, the diplomatic spy. Wally’s star hasn’t exactly been rising lately and in an attempt not to have her favourite man fired, Candy decides to leak the information she comes across by chance (because none of the diplomats feel the need to hush their voices when teenage girls are around). Soon, Wally (Murray Hamilton) has his glorious reputation restored, but equally soon everyone starts looking for that mysterious spy Kitten (Candy’s nickname – because she has a white kitten). Candy may lose her friendship with Mai-Ling (who after all is “from Red China”) and even her life if her secret is revealed.

Candy (Kathy Dunn) and Mai-Ling (Lynne Sue Moon) may be the only girls to get some decent screen time (and their individual names on the credits), but this didn’t really land them a wonderful career in the movies. By comparison, Alexandra Bastedo (who briefly appears as the British girl) did rise to fame: she was the female lead in the ITV spy series The Champions (made in the late sixties) and one of her bigger roles was in The Blood-Spattered Bride. She also had more acting talent than the two girls who did get a starring role in 13 Frightened Girls.

This film definitely had a better gimmick than screenplay and, combined with some less convincing acting, didn’t turn this film into a success. As a piece of fluff, it should appeal to those who liked the Nancy Drew movies or indeed completist fans of Castle. While the man should become at least a footnote in the big book of cinema, this film shouldn’t be remembered as more than a footnote in his career.

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