Monday, November 11, 2013

Project Terrible: Hillbillies in a Haunted House

Bob here, formerly of Gaming Creatively, and Al's victim when he wants someone to review something awful in honor of his birthday. I've been involved in Project Terrible rounds a few times now, but I've come to join Al on Mondo Bizarro for them in this and future rounds.

Since this is my first round writing these on Mondo Bizarro, what better way to start than to review Al's own choice for me this round?

...I can think of plenty, but I have to handle this turd eventually.

The fact that they've managed to misspell "Hillbillies" in the title card does not bode well.
I don't like musicals, I'm not fond of country music, and I consider bad comedies probably the worst bad movies one can choose to watch, so one can probably imagine my reaction to a bad comedy country music musical. I am not thrilled right now.

First off, though, I just have to note who happens to be in this film.

Lon Chaney (Jr.)? Basil Rathbone? I mean, poor John Carradine gets stuck with this stuff all the time, but Lon and Basil? In a hillbillies movie? I feel sad now.

Okay, the movie. There is barely a film here to discuss, to be honest. This is a combination of country-western performances, people watching country-western performances, people stumbling around a house acting vaguely scared, and one of the dumber spy plots I can recall ever seeing.

The movie really hits you in the face with the musical bits right from the start. As soon as the opening credits go away, we get the titular hillbillies (two entertainers, Woody and Boots, and their business manager Jeepers) singing away as they drive in their car. By singing, I of course mean "obviously lip-syncing to terrible quality audio". I swear, there's like echo and a little bit of a scratchy record quality to the music recording here. It hurts. I mean, look, I don't know much about making musicals, and I wouldn't be surprised if you told me most or even all did record the singing separate from the visual performance and play a nice pristine recording over the actors lip-syncing, but...they do it better. That's all I'm saying. The first rule of making a musical is to make sure your audio doesn't sound like it was recorded on an 8-track in someone's garage.

Actually the first rule is to have music, but that has to be the second!

Here's the central idea of what film there is. A group of country-western singers is headed to a jamboree in Nashville, but a storm forces them to find a place to stop for the night. They're directed to an old house since there isn't a hotel in the nigh-abandoned town they stop at, and they head there to stay the night. It's kind of a creepy place, so they end up scared it might be haunted. Meanwhile, some horribly inept villains (including Carradine, Chaney, and Rathbone) working for an organization called C.O.N.T.A.C.T. are trying to steal some kind of missile formula (I'm guessing either for the fuel or for a warhead). They're opposed by an organization called M.O.T.H.E.R., but that doesn't matter until pretty much the very end of the movie.

There's not much plot here. The first half-hour is pretty much just our heroes either singing songs, listening to songs being sung, or wandering around the house and being a little creeped out. Even when they encounter one of the villains, Evil Lady just lets them stay in the house for the night because they're just entertainers, so there's no problem. Even once things get going, Boots, Woody, and Jeepers are kind of tangential to the plot. They're involved pretty much by accident--they're happy to just stay where they were told to stay until the villains' pet gorilla goes upstairs and kidnaps Boots, and even once Woody and Jeepers start searching for her they don't really do anything. They're almost completely inconsequential.

The real hero, introduced maybe 10-15 minutes before the plot ends.
I don't have a lot more to say about the plot, to be honest. It's a pretty dull affair, and the villains pretty much continually stop themselves without anyone else even being on scene half the time. When someone does finally take up the heroic role, it's a M.O.T.H.E.R. agent who shows up at the house, and even he doesn't actually resolve the plot himself. There's really nothing much of interest to discuss, plot-wise. I'd argue that the film is just a vehicle for showing off some country-western performances, and that seems to be true, except that it fails on that front too! There are quite a few songs in the first 30-40 minutes, but then the film entirely drops those for 30 more minutes. It's like it was a musical of sorts in the early going and then they just kind of forgot what they were doing.

There's not much the film does well, but not much it does so poorly that it's actually funny or interesting. The "plot" portions are either kind of stupid plans on the villains' parts, or the heroes walking slowly around the house acting scared. The musical parts are the heroes just kind of deciding to sit down and play a few country tunes, or listen to someone else play them. They don't really interrelate at all. It's a horror comedy musical, but someone forgot to include scares, humor, and much of any music related to the events at hand.

Okay...there's not really much of interest to say here, so I'm just going to list off a few parts I found particularly odd in this train wreck.

  • It gets stupid pretty fast. After their little song about how they're headed to a jamboree (and how the Jeepers in the back seat feels ill), the group runs into a shootout between some cops and a group of spies. For unknown reasons, the guy in the back seat doesn't even try to take cover or hold up baggage between himself and bullets or anything like that, and indeed barely looks perturbed by the gunshots. The sheriff, incidentally, has no problem taking cover behind a car that contains a group of civilians, one of whom is directly in the line of fire. Astonishingly, this isn't an excuse to have Jeepers get shot and end up a zombie later or's just a stupid moment that they just kind of pass by quickly. It's kind of related to the main plot, I guess, but nothing actually comes of this particular gunfight--the bad guys don't mention some of their agents being taken down or anything...
  • Why do so many older films have this obsession with showing every last bit of characters walking away from someone they've been talking to, getting in their car, getting situated, turning on the ignition, and finally driving away? I think we can guess what happened if you show them on the road again!
  • In the early part of the film, Woody sings a song to lull a scared Jeepers (his manager, mind, not a scared 8-year-old) to sleep. This is followed almost immediately by a band of country-western singers just happening by the house, having heard his guitar playing. The band says they're headed to the jamboree too, so Woody and Jeepers ask them to sing. They sing a strange song about a cat that's bad luck for a lot of people, and then Boots asks them to sing a love song, which they do. All told, it's probably 6-7 minutes of the movie. The group gets scared away immediately after the second song by an extremely awful skeleton puppet, and is never seen in the movie again.
Hi! We don't matter to the movie at all!
  • Love this bit of dialog:
    • "Didn't you see it?"
    • "See what?"
    • "That horrible-looking thing!"
    • Okay, look, lady. I admit that it would be highly unusual and quite frightening to see a gorilla in an old abandoned house, but I'm pretty sure I could still identify it as a gorilla and not have to resort to trying to describe it as some Lovecraftian monstrosity.
  • Shortly after that, the group is exploring the house a bit more and they find a nice bedroom. In the bedroom, they find some gowns that look to date back to the Civil War. So of course Boots has a dream sequence in which she imagines herself a southern belle from the Civil War era, dressed in a pretty gown and singing about gowns...which has nothing to do with anything.

  • The Evil Lady investigates the trespassers (off camera, mostly), and is chewed out for it by the other villains. So she goes up to investigate some more, of course, needlessly endangering the plan. She comes back sure that the trespassers are just entertainers, so the other villains of course don't believe that and want to investigate them now, despite having been strongly against Evil Lady doing so in the first place.
  • At about the thirty-minute mark, apparently at a loss for how to include more music in the film, the writers decided to have Jeepers sit there watching a television the group brought with them. We see performances from Merle Haggard and...I think they said Jim Kent? Anyway, it has nothing to do with anything, of course, and eats up another 4-6 minutes. Boy, repeatedly watching people listen to other people perform songs is sure scintillating. Why don't all musicals do that? not interesting.
  • It does give us my favorite moment of the movie, though, in which for no apparent reason, the villains' faces start appearing on the TV during the second song. John Carradine in particular makes some hilarious EEEEVIL faces that had me in stitches. I'm not sure that was supposed to be my reaction to that scene, but it's the only bit of entertainment I got out of this, so I'll take it.
Highlight of the movie right here, folks.
  • Little things that bother me...why is it that the secretary for Dr. Fu looks directly at the camera when speaking to the villains by video phone, but Dr. Fu looks at his case off to the side?

  • Apparently peripheral vision doesn't exist in this movie, as Boots is kidnapped while Woody and Jeepers are standing nearby facing sideways from her, and neither of them notices a thing.
...kidnapped by a gorilla, by the way.
  • The bad guys become absolutely convinced that the entertainers are agents of this counterespionage group called M.O.T.H.E.R. to the extent that they start trying to decode Boots Malone's name before asking her any other questions. (Their reasoning is awesome, too. They ponder "Boots" for a few moments, can't make anything of it, and just toss that and move onto her last name. You see, "Ma" is a shortened form of "Mother," and "Lone" could be "L-One," so clearly she's "Mother agent L-1." The fact that her first name means nothing even in their crazy logic, and that no one would give their agent that obvious of a codename, apparently doesn't matter.)
  • The writers clearly have no idea what an Iron Maiden actually is, or they wouldn't think that putting someone in one and closing it would make them talk.
Not how it works.
  • Again, this pretty much ceases to be a musical after about 40 minutes. For another 30 minutes, there's not a hint of any musical performances save for a brief moment where the M.O.T.H.E.R. agent tells Woody to play his guitar to prove he's an entertainer. Woody plays like 5 or 10 seconds of an intro to a song and that's it.
  • And then, with like 13 minutes left to go, the plot's resolved and they reach their jamboree, so we close out the movie with several more songs...involving people who weren't really in the movie until this point (and Merle Haggard, who at least did show up on a television show once...). I'm not kidding. The movie wraps up the plot with 13 minutes left, and we watch like 5 or 6 country-western performances at the jamboree, some of which do not feature any of the main characters--just other singers who I guess the filmmakers liked. It's bizarre. It's like how Upton Sinclair's The Jungle just kind of stops being about one man's family struggle and ends up in a lecture about the glories of socialism, but...this ends up about country western performances.

This was an astonishingly dull watch. I was expecting at least Scooby Doo sorts of comedy horror here, with the "hillbillies" stumbling around the house and accidentally foiling the villains' plans, but that's not really what we get. Instead, we get a film that utterly fails at being a horror film, a comedy, or a showcase for country western acts. I should give a little nod to one other goofy part of the film, though...

Yeah...confederate ghost.
I'm not the target audience for this movie, clearly. I don't like musicals, and I don't really like country western music. But I would be very surprised if people who were part of this film's target audience could enjoy it. It's unevenly spaced and dull, with heroes that basically do nothing, villains that stop themselves, and music that is alternately all-consuming and utterly forgotten. All in all, it's far from the worst thing I've watched, but it's not in any way interesting. I was hoping for some goofy, ridiculous "hijinks" at such luck. Not recommended for any purpose.

And what the heck is with this car? Look at that thing!
Now, if it were the Beverly Hillbillies in a Haunted House, maybe you'd have something.

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