31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.
Nature of Ghost and Mr. Chicken Shame:
Unseen Comedy Classic
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
#31. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
The Horrific days of October have bled into the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m pecking away at this post while my daughters watch the rather dismal Hotel Transylvania 2, a rather potent distraction from composing competent thoughts let alone complete sentences regarding a movie I watched nearly a month ago. I lament the trend to compose bl-g-length posts rather than three or so sentences; I hope I remember this 11 months from now when I again embark on 31 Days of Horror.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken appeared on the 31 Days of Horror schedule as part of the wife-friendly horror marathon, and though the film lacks certain frightful elements… or really any at all… Don Knotts has brought to light an intrinsic link between horror and comedy. Many of our most classic horror films trade in absurdity, yet transcend that absurdity through horrific imagery. How distant is, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween from a parody of John Carpenter’s Halloween? Change to score from haunting synth to a Mickey Moused screwball riff. Swap out scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis for weak-kneed Don Knotts. What do you have? The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Comedy and horror make excellent bedfellows. How potent is a quick laugh in the face of quaking terror? What makes Evil Dead 2 such a successful film? The preposterous coupling of laughter and the innate terror of demons from another dimension coming to get you through the floor. Laughter breaks the tension, allows the viewer to more fully embrace the emotional strain of pure terror. Unrelenting horror often falls short of classic status. The broader audience cannot embrace something as dour and hopeless as Dead and Buried, just to name one recent example from my own 31 Days of Horror experience. And even though that film had a few laughs, it fell short of accomodating a lesser constitution.
The mirror image of Evil Dead 2 looks something like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Horror elements swapped for screwball. The comedic excesses swapped for creepy old mansions and inexplicable goings on. There’s really not much difference between the personalities of Bruce Campbell and Don Knotts anyway.
(This prattle makes perfect sense as I’m typing away, but I’m sure I’m shortchanging a dozen necessary components of this argument — the pint of 750ml Ommegang Three Philosophers I just downed likely has something to do with it. What can I say? It’s the holidays.)
Don Knotts plays Luther Beggs, a typesetter at the local paper with aspirations to be a fully-accredited news reporter. He believes to have seen a murder outside a local “haunted” mansion, but while he details the incident to his boss, the “victim” walks into the room. Luther’s a local joke, a man-child prone to histrionics. So when the opportunity presents itself, Luther volunteers to sleep one night in the haunted mansion. He’ll write about it and sell many papers with his tales of terror.
During his night in the house, Luther encounters secret staircases, creepy passages, self-playing organs and many things that go bump in the night. After writing about them all, Luther becomes a local hero, championed by all. (Apparently Kansas is short of heroes.) That is, until he’s accused of libel by the owner of the mansion and discredited by his old schoolteacher who claimed Luther was always “keyed up” as a boy.
Since this is a feel-good 1960’s comedy the outcome of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is never really in doubt. Romanticizing small town America, the championing of the average Joe, punishment of greed. Comfort food for the 1960’s loving soul. The difference between The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and a true horror movie feels like a canyon — and yet, how far does it actually stray from a haunted house film of the same generation? Compare The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with The Haunting (1963) or The Legend of Hell House (1973), two films that bookend Mr. Chicken by a few years on each side.
Better lighting in the haunted mansion. A slight shift in focus from the source of the spooks to the libel suit and the eventual Scooby Doo unmasking. Dial back the Don Knotts, of course. Consider the ways that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken builds and relieves tension through a Don Knotts pratfall. The real difference is just the repeated efforts to relieve the tension before it festers into something greater.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken remains a frivolous lark of comedy/horror film. Easygoing and legitimately funny (if you care for Don Knotts’ schtick — which I do), despite the soulcrushing weight of civic-sanctioned bullying. It’s a film that at once celebrates the oddball yet fails to condemn small-town America’s gossipmongering. Yet we forgive and enjoy, because 1960’s.
30Hz Movie Rating:
Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries:
#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried