HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE
To expectation, Hillbillys in a Haunted House falls into the excruciating within the first five minutes about the time we are introduced to Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing and Don Bowman driving along behind obviously back-projected footage singing were going to a jamboree. Added to the bargain is the hayseed idiot character of Jeepers played by Don Bowman with a nasal singsong in a way that becomes excruciating in its moronicism. Or the painfulness of listening to a group that turn up out of the blue (and just as readily disappear again) at the haunted house and sing a song where the chorus line is the infuriatingly upbeat ditty And the cat came back. Did I mention anywhere that I really hate country music?
In reality, Hillbillys in a Haunted House is little more than an Old Dark House thriller. This is a genre that was popular on film during the 1920s adapted from various Broadway plays. The genre gained a new lease of life in the early 1940s with the success of the Bob Hope comedy remake of The Cat and the Canary (1939) after which most of the popular comics of the era made at least one of these. The Old Dark House comedy had fairly much died away by the time of the 1960s but Hillbillys in a Haunted House feels like one of the numerous Bowery Boys Old Dark House comedies see Spooks Run Wild (1941), Ghosts on the Loose (1943) uprooted and conducted in colour where the idiots usual clownings around have been substituted for country and western songs.
To clinch itself with horror audiences, the Woolner Brothers have brought together a cast of genre names Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine and Basil Rathbone. This is a line-up that would have been a star act for the 1940s indeed, the same three had appeared in The Black Sleep (1956), while Roger Corman could have no doubt slung together one of his Edgar Allan Poe films around them but the impoverishment of the surroundings and the fact that all three are clearly getting on in years only makes them seem sad and washed up. The film rarely concerns itself with the haunted house aspect certainly, Jean Yarbrough, a director famous for his poverty row career, fails to establish any atmosphere. There is the minor appearance of a ghost and a lurking ape, one of the staples of the Old Dark House genre, but mostly the film seems to centre more around spy capers, which were then in fad thanks to the success of the James Bond films.
Mostly, the film seems to have been centred around its Country and Western performances. The production seems to have operated by a maxim where there has to be a song about every five minutes. There is a tv set in the house for the sole reason of having someone turn it on and a performer then appear and sing a song. The end of the film consists of the trio making it to Nashville whereupon we are treated to nearly fifteen minutes of singers performing no less than five songs in a row. Of the various performers, who were no doubt big names for the day, the only recognisable name today is that of Merle Haggard who performs two songs throughout.
Jean Yarbrough was a director notorious for his low-budget shooting schedule. He made around a hundred films, mostly comedies and Westerns. His other genre films include The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), The Brute Man (1946), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Creeper (1948), the Bowery Boys Master Minds (1949) and the Abbott and Costello Jack and the Beanstalk (1952). Hillbillys in a Haunted House would be his last theatrical film and he died in 1975.
Full film available online here:-