Friday, September 23, 2016

#2,200. Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)

Directed By: Jean Yarbrough

Starring: Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, Don Bowman

Tag line: "They'll scare your pants off...and give you the chill of your life!"

Trivia: This movie was one of the films listed in the 2004 video The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made

I used to love watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies, a ‘60s sitcom about a family from the backwoods who suddenly struck it rich, then moved to the posh California suburb of Beverly Hills. Yet, despite their sudden wealth and new surroundings, the family at the center of it all, the Clampetts, continued to live like hillbillies; Jed (Buddy Ebsen) sometimes wandered into town carrying a shotgun, and Granny (Irene Ryan) spent a fair portion of most episodes in the kitchen, preparing delicacies like Possum Stew. It was your typical “Fish out of Water” scenario, but the fine cast and some top-notch writing managed to turn it into comedy gold.

Spurred on by the success of The Beverly Hillbillies, producer Bernard Woolner (the man behind the 1958 cult classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) put together a little film titled The Las Vegas Hillbillys. I haven’t yet seen that movie, but I just now watched its sequel, 1967’s Hillbillys in a Haunted House, the story of a pair of country singers, Woody Wetherby (Ferlin Husky) and Boots Malone (Joi Lansing), who, along with their manager Jeepers (Don Bowman), were headed to a Jamboree in Nashville when a rainstorm forced them to seek shelter. Seeing as they’ve stumbled into a town with no hotel, the three are forced to shack up in the Beaumont Estate, a dilapidated old Southern Plantation that’s supposedly haunted.

What they don’t know is that the house is being used by a spy organization to pass U.S. secrets on to hostile foreign governments. In order to be left alone, these spies: Dr. Hillem (John Carradine), Gregor (Basil Rathbone), Madame Wong (Linda Ho) and Maximillian (Lon Chaney Jr), have rigged the house to make it appear as if its infested with ghosts, all the while conducting their evil transactions in the basement (which also doubles as a torture chamber). With the help of Maximillian’s pet gorilla Anatole (George Barrows in a suit), the spies try to frighten away the new arrivals, only to find that country western singers don’t scare so easily.

Billed as a horror / comedy / musical, Hillbillys in a Haunted House is neither scary nor funny. That leaves the music, and man is there a lot of it! If you’re a Country / Western fan, then this movie will feel like a little slice of heaven for you.

I, however, am not a country / western fan. So, for me, Hillbillys in a Haunted House was absolute hell.

We get our first taste of what’s to come in the opening scene, when the three stars belt out a ditty titled “Jamboree Time” as they cruise down the highway. To be honest, that song didn’t bother me much (it was kinda catchy), but a few tunes were absolute torture, including “Gowns, Gowns, Beautiful Gowns”, which the admittedly bodacious Boots sings after finding the only decent room in the mansion (the entire number is presented as a flashback to olden times, when the Beaumont Estate was a functioning plantation. You know… the carefree days of slavery and the Confederacy. Yikes! Who the hell thought that was a good idea?). There’s even a scene where complete strangers (locals from town wondering why the mansion is suddenly lit up) wander in and pick up a guitar. It was agony!

The good news is that the three horror icons, Carradine, Rathbone and Chaney Jr., have a few decent scenes (Carradine, at his absolute hammiest, is especially entertaining), as does George Barrows in his monkey suit (ironically, Barrows and his gorilla costume also appeared in one of my favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, 1965’s The Gorilla). As for the three leads, neither Ferlin Husky nor Joi Lansing are what I would call “good” actors, but next to the abysmal Don Bowman, they were Olivier and Hepburn!

To be fair, Hillbillys in a Haunted House isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe (it was one of the entries in the 2004 video The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made). I personally didn’t like it much, mostly because I don’t enjoy Country / Western music, but thanks to Carradine, Rathbone and Chaney Jr. it’s at least watchable (in spots). And if your idea of paradise is a night at Nashville’s Grand ‘Ole Opry, you might even enjoy this film.

Remember… I said “might”.

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