Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)

With Halloween approaching swiftly I think I should go through some of my favorite scary films.
I remember first seeing this film when I was about 11 or 12, and we had borrowed the VHS from someone. I wasn't expecting much from it, least of all to be scared. My dad had built up a reputation of it frightening him as a child and so I had some image of an evil chicken terrorizing people. (I was under the impression it was The Ghost OF Mr. Chicken) However, the film I did see ended up being laugh out loud funny and it became a family tradition and I've seen it countless times to the point where I can recite any line or sound effect from the film as they come. Although I wasn't expecting it, the organ music which Don Knotts' character, Luther Heggs hears in the haunted Simmons mansion actually did frighten me. It's manic and insane enough to evoke in my head the images of the bloody murders that occurred there.
Don Knotts is superb in this film. The character of Barney Fife translates wonderfully to the big screen, as the setting of this film may as well have been Maybury. He's one of the most perfect candidates to enter a haunted house and its a hoot watching him shakily traverse the dusty corridors. The supporting cast is near perfect. Populated by many of the 60s' favorite character actors, including Dick Sargent. One of the best scenes doesn't involve Luther being scared of anything supernatural, but of something very ordinary: public speaking. As he stutters and shudders over every line, his body and facial gestures go through a nervous dance of the sort only Knotts could produce. What's great about this film is that for the most part the spooky scenes are played fairly straight.
The film would not be complete without Vic Mizzy's delicious score. Its creepy in a fun way with a team of fuzz guitars and a harpsichord assisting the small orchestra for the scenes of spooky hijinks, as well as having a heartwarming theme for Luther to help gain our sympathy for him.
Its a yearly tradition to watch it and I usually see it with a new audience. They always enjoy it as much as I do. All else I can say is:
"Atta boy, Luther!"

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