Hillbillys in a Haunted House Brings Together Scooby Doo, Cold War Spies and Caged Gorillas
This might just be the most awesomely bad movie ever created. Unlike the other films reviewed in Celluloid Country, Hillbillys in a Haunted House (sequel, of course, to The Las Vegas Hillbillies) knows it’s cheesy and never tries to get above its raising. It’s 90 minutes of pure camp, interspersed with country songs.
Hillbillys in a Haunted House stars Ferlin Husky as ultra-manly country star Woody Wetherby, while American Country Countdown radio host Don Bowman portrays Woody’s business manager, Jeepers. Joi Lansing (most memorable in her recurring role as Gladys Flatt on The Beverly Hillbillies) is girl singer Boots Malone, although based upon the truly impressive bullet bra she sports throughout the film, her name is off by one letter.
Anyway, the three are traveling to Nashville so that Woody and Boots can perform in a jamboree. And what a better way to pass the time than singing a song about how they’re going to Nashville? They decide to stop for the night in the generically named Acme City. It’s a bona fide ghost town; all the inhabitants have relocated to the big city in search of factory work. Talking to a filling station attendant, the trio learns that the only place to stay is the abandoned Beauregard Mansion. In the middle of this conversation, lightning dramatically crackles in the night sky…and then the scene returns to mid-afternoon sunlight. No one says anything about this three-second eclipse. As Boots, Woody and Jeepers drive off to the mansion, the attendant realizes he forgot to tell them the mansion is haunted. Oops!
So now they’re in the abandoned mansion, and Jeepers—totally the Shaggy in this live-action Scooby Doo ripoff—is terrified by every little noise. But when he gets scared, Woody serenades him with “Living in a Trance.” one look at the song lyrics makes me wonder about the strictly business nature of the Jeepers/Woody partnership.
Boring stuff happens, and eventually we learn that the house isn’t abandoned, but is filled with a host of inept Cold War spies—including Lon Chaney, Jr.—trying to steal a secret formula for rocket fuel (Acme City may be a ghost town, but it’s also home to a state of the art laboratory). For some reason these spies have a caged gorilla in their spy lab; I have no idea what this has to do with rocket fuel, but when the gorilla escapes, wackiness ensues.
Hands down the best part of the film is the parade of guest stars. A very young Merle Haggard shows up twice, singing “Swinging Doors;” other country singers with cameo roles include Marcella Wright, Molly Bee, and Sonny James. Sure, it’s a little weird when the plot comes to a screeching halt so that one of these stars can sing, but it’s such a treat to see these artists sing, especially Haggard and Husky.
So if for some reason you must see this movie, don’t worry—for each awful and improbable plot point, there’s a country song to take your mind off it.
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