Candace Hull (Kathy Dunn) is the daughter of an American diplomat (Hugh Marlowe) who shares her education at an exclusive school for young ladies, all of whom are daughters of diplomats just as Candy is. Today she has the chance to drive the bus that carries them all back to London for the holidays, and is delighted, or she is until a tarantula descends down the windscreen and gives her such a shock that she veers across the road and eventually crashes the vehicle. Still, the spider died, so that was one problem out of the way, although Candy will be having trouble with a different kind of spider when she enters the spy game...
13 Frightened Girls was designed by showman-producer-director William Castle to appeal to younger audiences than the usual crowd who flocked to see his chillers and thrillers, but that did not prevent him from including some inappropriate scares, with murder the order of the day: even now there would be few family films which would have the heroine threatened with being hung up on a meathook, Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style. That said, the more vivid violence than you might expect would probably have raised few eyebrows, although might have offered the kiddies a frisson of danger as they munched their popcorn.
Castle was all about the gimmicks, but this time there was no seat buzzers or floating skeletons in the auditorium, it was his cast which was the novelty item. For there are indeed thirteen girls here, handpicked to be of different nationalities, which is obvious when you recognise that few were chosen for their acting abilities. Castle wisely kept all but the leads from having too many lines, and only the most dedicated movie buffs would be familiar with any but the barest minimum of them. The only frightened girl who went onto a decent career in acting seems to have been Alexandra Bastedo, who here sounds impossibly posh, as all the others either left this as their sole screen credit, or did not much else.
As to the plot, it took its own time getting off the ground, but all you need to know is that Candy has a crush on Wally, played by Murray Hamilton. Yes, the mayor from Jaws is the romantic lead here, although Candy doesn't get her man as he's far too old for her and besides, he already has a fiancée in the shape of his co-worker at the American Foreign Office who he calls Soldier (Joyce Taylor) for reasons best known to himself - we never get to find out what she's really called, not even when she gets kidnapped. That happens because Candy has secretly become a spy who sends revealing information to her side under the alias Kitten, after she witnesses a murder designed to falsely incriminate the Americans against the Soviets.
The actual baddies are the Chinese here, although Castle does his bit for international diplomacy by making Candy's best friend the niece of the Chinese official (Khigh Dhiegh, an Oriental-looking actor who usually played the heavy, even though his roots were Euro-African) who is out to discredit the U.S.A. The niece, Mai-Ling (Lynne Sue Moon), is not anything like as wicked as her uncle, and is intended to make us think hey, if the kids of these nations can get along then why can't those stupid grown-ups? In fact, she's a poor soul with an inferiority complex who doubts even Candy's motives for befriending her. All the while Miss Hull gets further out of her depth, even causing a bad guy to fall a few storeys to his death in what suspiciously looks like murder, but could be written off as self-defence - again with those unsuitable elements. But for the most part, 13 Frightened Girls is breezy, casually forgettable amusement. Music by Van Alexander.