The poor, terrified little girl. She had been through so much already. After ninety minutes of ruthless horror, she should have been cuddled and eased into warmth and security. Instead, she found herself alone in a room inside a house that was not her own. That is when she saw it – a brutal reminder of her terrifying experience. She screamed. She cried. All that blood!
But it wasn’t really blood. It was the markings of a red crayon pressed upon several of the keys on a toy organ. My older cousin Susie, then at the age of five, had stumbled upon this organ in the upstairs bedroom of my parents house. She was staying there for the night and my two older sisters had arranged for her to find this sight. They had done their best to mimic that scary, self-playing organ that was featured in the movie they had taken their little cousin to see earlier in the evening. This ninety minute movie was brought to them by the letter “G”. “G” for Gore? Gruesome? Ghastly? None of that. “G” is the rating as in “General” audiences. It shares the same rating as films such as Bambi and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So as it turned out, my cousin was all freaked out over some scenes from a silly comedy movie starring none other than Don Knotts, the comedian known mostly for his role as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. The movie was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. All this happened before I was born. I guess people were more innocent in ‘them there olden days’ of 1966.
Years after the fact, my family would rehash the details that led up to “Little Susie’s scare.” My uncle laughed out loud when remembering how “the world’s least scary movie” had frightened his daughter. I was a young’un when I first heard these comedic tales of “Little Susie’s Scare.” But I didn’t see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken until I was an adult. I first saw it a couple of years ago when it aired on Svengoolie , a television program that features a hilarious horror host (That’s Svengoolie!) that presents viewers with a weekly movie. Then I watched it again on Svengoolie the following year. Finally I saw it for a third time a month ago (Guess what show?) After the third time, I finally made it a point to write up this review. After all, this is a haunted house movie.
Here is a Svengoolie Song parody of the movie:
Since I sat though this movie three times, one would assume that I liked this movie. Well, let me explain – I tune into Svengoolie regularly, often watching repeat movies, even ones I don’t like as much. And sometimes, since I tune in for the laughs and antics of the host , I don’t always pay attention to the key plot details of a movie. Sometimes I pick up on the story on the second viewing, or even a third. Now, do I like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken? Sure, I mean, what’s not to like? Perhaps its Don Knotts. Yes, the man has his critics. I will get into this criticism in a moment. But first, let me go over the general storyline.
The main character of the Ghost and Mr. Chicken is the gullible and awkward Luther Heggs. To this I say, “Atta’ boy Luther!” This is a reoccurring joke that happens whenever Luther is in a crowd. Someone shouts this greeting to him. And guess who plays Luther? If you said “Don Knotts, the you’d be correct! Luther is a typesetter for the local newspaper, but he aspires to be more. Suddenly he receives an offer that could be his big break into investigative journalism. He must spend the night in the town’s haunted house, The Simmons mansion, and then write up a report about any strange goings ons that he might encounter. A very frightened Luther accepts the job and he is frightened out of his wits. Inside this cobwebbed house, he finds knives puncturing bleeding portraits. He stumbles upon secret passageways. Finally, he discovers an organ with bloody fingerprints on its keys. It plays all by itself! Oh my!
Luther’s first-hand account of his stay at the haunted house is printed in the paper. The out-of-town estate owner sues poor Luther for libel. How dare that buffoon defame his mansion with tales of ghosts! Will poor Luther be able to get the court to believe his story? Will the haunting reoccur before the eyes of court appointed witnesses?
As previously mentioned, Don Knotts is primarily known for playing Barney Fife , Sheriff Andy Taylor’s inept deputy and sidekick. So how does Knotts do in the leading role? Some will say “not so well”. They might say that he became a caricature of his own self; that his budging eyes became bulgier, his signature look of surprise becomes what might resemble a man having a seizure. They could say he overacts; gives a “slapstick on steroids” kind of performance. With all of this I would agree. However, this does not ruin the film for me. See, I feel right at home with the post Andy Griffith Don Knotts. I was not introduced to him as the tamer Barney Fife but as the goofy bank robber that slid up a wall in the movie The Apple Dumpling Gang. Then I would go on to seem as the flamboyant Mr. Furley on television show Three’s Company. All this before I ever saw a single episode of Andy Griffith. To me, Don Knotts was always a living cartoon character. His physical features were naturally comedic and his acting style was always exaggerated .
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken has the humor of simpler times. It’s a dated movie and many might think that it fails the test of time. For whatever time period it makes the grade, I do enjoy watching it. It is directed by Alan Rafkin, a man known primarily for directing television comedies. He directed four episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, twenty-three episodes of The Bob Newhart Show, seventeen episodes of Sanford and Son, twenty two episodes of Laverne and Shirley and a whopping one hundred and twenty-three episodes of One Day at a Time. And there is much more where all that came from! Check out his resume.
I say give The Ghost and Mr. Chicken a try. Who knows, maybe it will make you cry and scream like a little girl Susie! (Hey it could still happen? Okay..fine! That will never ever happen again)