Friday, September 7, 2018

Hillbillies in a Haunted House

Hillbillies in a Haunted House
Jean Yarbrough

Woody (Ferlin Husky), Boots (Joi Lansing), and Jeepers (Don Bowman) are on their way to Nashville for a ‘Country Jamboree.’ They get caught in a shootout between some government agents and foreign spies. Then for no reason they decide to spend the night in an old abandoned mansion. Little do they know that the mansion is the front for these same spies, among them Dr. Himmil (John Carradine), Gregor (Basil Rathbone), Maximillian (Lon Chaney Jr.), a gorilla (George Barrows), and their leader Madame Wong (Linda Ho).

The structure of Hillbillies in a Haunted House is odd. Most of the musical numbers are piled on at the beginning and end of the film. Whether or not you like country music, you still have to sit there and grind through song after song. This makes it feel less like a musical and more like a concert film. You can turn the movie off ten minutes before the end because the story has completely finished. The upside of this is that there are no momentum destroying musical numbers awkwardly stuck in the middle of the action. (I use the term 'action' very loosely here.)

Uh, oh the south has risen again... from the grave!
I expected goofball comedy that would feel right at home in a beach party movie and on that front Hillbillies in a Haunted House delivers for better or worse. The main cast are uninteresting. The villains are the real highlight and it is fun to see horror movie legends, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone together. Carradine and Rathbone are obviously playing it all as a goof, but Chaney is more of a straightforward heavy. There is also the regulation gorilla that is featured in many haunted house and beach movies.

It is a little bit of surprise that things take more than a slight dip into horror by the climax with some murder and a gorilla mangling. Even though this film is a lightweight farce, I was pleased to see it stretch its genre just a little bit. It is difficult to place much dramatic weight on a story like this and I think the film as a whole would have fared much better if the stakes had been upped earlier on in the proceedings. The film also has strange ideas about how an iron maiden works.

Enter the most intelligent character in the film.
The music? Difficult to judge. This is country music before it became the overly produced pop hellscape it is now. It isn’t terrible, but it didn’t turn my personal preferences around. I think if the music choices had been a least a little more relevant to the story they might have been more interesting. As it is, the music feels completely separate from everything else.

Hillbillies in a Haunted House is slight, stupid, and silly. It is a film you can watch and immediately forget. The film isn't as terrible as other reviews would have you think, but it is certainly terrible. Any enjoyment hinges on your level of tolerance for fluff and endless country music.

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