Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1966)


Unfortunately, "Hillbillys in a Haunted House" was Rathbone’s last film -- a sad epitaph for one of the world’s greatest actors.

Marcia Jessen, basilrathbone.net

I survived Hillbillys in a Haunted House and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be. That’s not saying it’s good, but the few minutes of actual story floating among 1960s country music performances are no worse than any other B-movie of the era featuring a man in a gorilla costume. An edit without the songs might make an interesting episode of television.

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On their way to Nashville for a jamboree, two country singers and their business manager seek shelter from a storm and spend the night in an old mansion. While there, Woody Wetherby (Ferlin Husky), Boots Malone (Joi Lansing), and Jeepers (Don Bowman), encounter agents from M.O.T.H.E.R. who are planning to steal a secret formula from a nearby missile plant.

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I don’t know who the heck Ferlin Husky or Don Bowman are, but I sure as heck know who John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone are. I enjoyed seeing them in this unfunny comedy. They move around and take part in some action; they don’t just phone in their lines. They’ve all done worse than this.

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I’m not someone who tolerates slapstick, but Hillbillys in a Haunted House needed some. That’s where I expected the problems. The music was unexpected. I’m not a fan of country music, but I bet if you were, you might have recognized some of the faces and voices back in 1961. I have heard of Merle Haggard, though, and he performs twice in the film.

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This was the final feature film for director Jean Yarbrough, whom we know from The Devil Bat (1940), She-Wolf of London (1946), and The Brute Man (1946.) He was a busy man, making several films a year beginning in the mid-1930s. He had moved to mostly television in the mid-1950s, and this movie feels more like a TV special than a theatrical motion picture.

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I’m curious about hillbillys in the 60s. This was a sequel to The Las Vegas Hillbillys with some of the same cast and characters. Not that it was a long-running franchise, but did their mere existence have anything to do with the popularity of The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran on CBS from 1962-1971? If only there were a way to find out…

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Oh, yeah, how about I Google it? A good starting place seems to be a 29-page article from the Fall 2001/Winter 2002 issue of Appalachian Journal entitled “The Hillbilly in the Living Room: Television Representation of Southern Mountaineers in Situation Comedies, 1952-1971.” That’s a mouthful. It sounds more interesting than this movie, but not nearly as odd.

 

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