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  Hillbillys in a Haunted House Y'all come back a-hauntin', y'hear?
Year: 1967
Director: Jean Yarborough
Stars: Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, Don Bowman, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr, Linda Ho, Basil Rathbone, Molly Bee, Merle Haggard, Sonny James, Jim Kent, Marcella Wright, Richard Webb, Larry Barton, George Barrows
Genre: Horror, Musical, Comedy, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Country singers Woody Wetherby (Ferlin Husky) and Boots Malone (Joi Lansing) along with their zonked-out manager, Jeepers (Don Bowman), are a-singing and a-driving their custom built cadillac down to the big Jamboree in Nashville, Tennessee when they stumble into the middle of a shootout between local lawmen and, um, foreign spies, apparently. Poor ol’ Jeepers is so worn out by the road trip he barely notices bullets whizzing past his nose. Badly in need of some R&R the gang stop over at Sleepy Junction which unfortunately proves to be a ghost town. With no hotels in town, a gas station owner recommends they spend the night at the Beauregard House but forgets to tell them it’s haunted. However, these ghosts are actually a cunning ruse devised by mad scientists Dr. Himmel (John Carradine) and Gregor (Basil Rathbone) who are in cahoots with Chinese spy Madame Wong (Linda Ho), her hulking manservant Maximillian (Lon Chaney Jr.) and his crazed pet gorilla Anatole (George Barrows). This motley lot are out to steal a top secret formula from the American government. Well, four of them are, I’m not sure what the gorilla wants. Between spy jinks and spooky shenanigans, Woody, Boots and Jeepers find time to croon a whole lot of country songs.

A movie so dumb it can’t spell its own title, Hillbillys in a Haunted House was the sequel to The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966). While the original marked the epochal screen pairing of trash movie goddesses Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren (as Boots Malone), the sequel swiftly eclipsed its predecessor as an infamous “bad” film classic. The film comes across almost like a live action Scooby-Doo only minus the dog, atmosphere of visceral terror and sophisticated wit, but is actually an extended musical revue padded with scenes of faded horror icons camping it up and sub-James Bond spy antics. What plot there is keeps taking time out so country star Ferlin Husky and various special guest stars can croon a tune although it is a good bet lovely B-movie staple Joi Lansing had her singing voice dubbed. At one point the film grinds to a halt for an extended sequence in which Jeepers watches country legend Merle Haggard perform one of his classic hits on television. Indeed quite a lot of the “action” involves characters watching each other or some other country singers on television. Evidently no-one realised audiences could just as easily avoid this movie and watch Merle at home on their own TV.

Produced by drive-in kingpins the Woolner Brothers, who bankrolled the seminal Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and Italian imports like Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), this is commonly considered an all-time low for seasoned performers Rathbone and Chaney, although Carradine still had Vampire Hookers (1975) and Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula (1979) in his future, and a sad swansong for veteran director Jean Yarborough - the man behind such beloved, if admittedly ropey B-movies as The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941) and She-Wolf of London (1946) along with an array of comedies with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and the Bowery Boys. Although reviled by movie snobs down the decades, Hillbillys in a Haunted House is too good-naturedly goofy to be truly bad. Every month online rental stores stock umpteen Vinnie Jones vehicles that are ten times worse.

Sure it ain’t Citizen Kane by a longshot, but the combination of Ferlin Husky’s cockeyed charisma, Joi Lansing’s blouse-busting pulchritude, cobwebbed skeletons and rubber bats, sub-vaudeville skits and a pretty decent gorilla suit is oddly appealing. And dang it all if the toe-tappin’ country tunes ain’t too shabby. In fact (spoiler warning!) our hillbilly heroes exit the haunted house with fifteen minutes still left of the movie! Inevitably the film climaxes with that Nashville jamboree. Merle Haggard finally appears in person, perky singing sensation Molly Bee takes the stage in a terrific spangly rhinestone outfit, Jeepers gurns his way through a novelty tune, and Joi Lansing (wearing another fantastic sparkly catsuit) mimes a song called “Part-Time Lover.” Good ol’ Woody brings things to a rousing finish with “The One Bridge I’ve Never Crossed.” Yee-haw.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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