Welcome to A Very Spooky… Each week, I will look at and review a classic TV series that is not known for horror but would, on occasion, dip its toes into the waters of terror.
This week we’ll be discussing The Andy Griffith Show season 4, episode 2: Haunted House
I think my generation was the last one to grow up with The Andy Griffith Show. It was shown on Nickelodeon every day, back before Nickelodeon had enough cartoons to fill up twenty four hours. It wasn’t part of Nick at Night, but aired between the cartoons and the ’70s sitcoms, along with Lassie and Leave it to Beaver. Andy Griffith was never one of my favorite shows on Nickelodeon, but I watched it just the same, because like much of Generation X, I was raised on TV.
The show itself presented a look at small town America that never really existed, but we all kind of liked to think it did. Focused on the sheriff of Mayberry, Andy Taylor, his son, Opie, and a few other locals, including Barney, Otis, and Gomer, The Andy Griffith Show is the hallmark of feel good TV. No one ever got hurt, and just about every problem could be solved with a little lecture, and maybe a hug. It was like To Kill a Mockingbird, but without all that troublesome social commentary. Interesting to note, both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Andy Griffith Show debuted in 1960, just three months apart, with Mockingbird being first.
To Kill a Mockingbird certainly hits on some horror elements with Boo Radley, and maybe the writers of Andy Griffith wanted to pay respect to their socially aware cousin, but chances are they just felt like playing on some basic haunted house tropes. Either way, they came up with the second episode of season four, The Haunted House.
The episode opens innocently enough with Opie and his once rival, now friend Arnold discussing baseball. Opie, sure that he is as good as Mickey Mantle, tells Arnold to pitch him a dipsy-doodle, which is, I suppose, some kind of pitch. A slider, maybe? Whatever the pitch is, Opie gets a hold of that there ball and sends it flying through the one remaining unbroken windows of the Rimshaw House.
Now, I’m not Andy Griffith Show historian, but I’d be willing to bet that this is the first mention of the Rimshaw House existing in Mayberry. The Rimshaw House was owned by Old Man Rimshaw until his death. In his will, his last wish was that no one ever live in that house again, and I suppose the town of Mayberry was cool with this, so the house is the only one in town to become dilapidated. Opie and Arnold slowly walk up to the front gate of the house, a foreboding cast iron gate covered in ivy and weeds. The house itself is in really bad shape, covered in weeds with broken windows, a rotted front porch, and a pile of broken wood on the side. Certainly a fixer-upper if ever there was one.
Arnold and Opie dare each other to enter the Rimshaw House, and agree to go in together, though Arnold is concerned about “spooks.” Opie reminds Arnold that ghosts can’t exist in the daylight, so that calms a few nerves. The boys edge their way to the front door, Opie holding his bat, ready to strike at any monsters that may come out. As they reach the front door, the unmistakable cries of the dead can be heard from inside the house. Opie and Arnold take off running.
Meanwhile, at the police station, Andy is about to let the local drunk, Otis, out of his cell when deputy Barney Fife stops him, believing that Otis is still drunk. Barney wants to give Otis a sobriety test in the form of a jump rope competition. Otis can get out of the jump rope contest if he will tell Andy and Barney where he gets his moonshine from, but Otis refuses to squeal.
Opie and Arnold rush into the station freaking out about ghosts. Andy and Barney calm the boys down by reminding them that ghosts don’t exist, then send them home, but not before Andy promises to go get the baseball for them. Being one who likes to screw with his buddy Barney, who is a known scaredy cat, Andy decides to send Barney to the Rimshaw place in his stead. Failing to come up with an excuse why he can’t do it, Barney decides to take Gomer Pyle, local moron, with him.
Barney and Gomer head into the Rimshaw House. As Barney slowly opens the door to the house, they hear the same wailing that the boys heard earlier. Barney and Gomer take off, certain that the Rimshaw House is haunted.
Barney returns to the station where he admits his failure to Andy. Local drunk Otis tells the stories he’s heard about the Rimshaw House – moving walls, floating axes, and paintings with eyes that follow you. None of this makes Barney feel better, so Andy finally decides to investigate himself, bringing Barney and Gomer with him to prove that there are no ghosts.
Upon entering house, the three men find the baseball right away, but Andy wants to investigate a bit. He heads into another room, vanishing behind some curtains. Barney and Gomer, being two big old wimps stay behind, close to the exit. As they look around the living room, Gomer accidentally leans against a secret door and vanishes behind it. Barney, realizing his buddy is gone, freaks the hell out. Andy returns, rather unconcerned about Gomer, just before Gomer comes back from the hidden area. Gomer says he couldn’t find his way out until someone, or something, pushed him out.
Barney becomes obsessed with a painting of Old Man Rimshaw above the fireplace. The three men discuss the rumor that Rimshaw killed his butler with an axe. Considering two of the three guys are the only cops in town, you would think they would know about any axe murders in their jurisdiction, but neither Andy or Barney know if the story is true.
Andy wants to keep investigating the house, sure that there is a squatter. Barney wants to get the hell out as fast as possible. Gomer just kind of stands around. As Andy investigates, Barney realizes that the painting of Old Man Rimshaw is watching him, it’s eyes moving with him. Andy tells Barn to stop being such as baby before he heads upstairs. Barney and Gomer are going to check out the cellar, but get too frightened and decide against it. Andy returns and sees the creepy eyes of the painting himself. Strange knocks start happening, and now even Andy can’t take it. The three men bolt for the door.
Moments after they run out, the secret door that Gomer fell through opens and out walks town drunk Otis with Big Jack Anderson, the local moonshine maker. Anderson has built a still in the cellar and uses the ghost stories of the Rimshaw House to keep people out. Otis and Big Jack celebrate spooking the cops by drinking some of that sweet, sweet moonshine. As soon as Otis takes a shot, he sees an axe floating in the air. Big Jack sees it too. Them ghosts are real!
Outside, Barney and Gomer hide behind the police car, realizing that Andy never made it out of the house. His best friend in trouble, Barney gathers up the courage to go back into the Rimshaw House. Meanwhile, inside the house, Otis and Big Jack stand terrified as the axe continues to move on its own, only now we, the audience get to see the truth – Andy is making the axe float in the air with some well placed fishing wire! Otis and Big Jack run out just as Barney enters. Barney nearly faints from fright before Andy reveals himself to his buddy. Andy grabs the axe and heads into the cellar to destroy the moonshine still.
This isn’t a scary episode, though it does play on the haunted house themes well. A part of me wonders if the format of the episode – the moonshiner acting like a ghost to keep people away – was any inspiration for Scooby Doo. The painting with human eyes is certainly unsettling, and the music in the episode during the scenes at the house really brings in that B-movie feel from the 50s and 60s. I do think a lot of the jokes still work today, with the focus of the humor leaning more on the characters and their reactions to the horror conventions rather than on easy gags. The episode certainly follows the rule of three; we have three points where groups of people come to the Rimshaw House and have to basically dare each other to enter, the painting gag is played to effect three times, and there’s a good bit about how light can affect how we see things that plays out between Andy, Barney and Gomer. Interesting, at least to me, is that there is no moment at the end of the show where Andy brings Opie and Arnold to the house to show them that there were never any ghosts. After the boys set up the premise for the episode, they are not heard from again. I suppose we can assume that, to this day, Opie is frightened of ghosts.
Sadly, Don Knotts never gets to make any of his great Don Knotts faces in this episode, but the script for the episode would later be reworked and stretched out to become the Don Knotts classic, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, where he would make many great faces. The role of Big Jack Anderson is played by Nestor Paiva, who you may know better as Lucas from The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature.
*All Photos: CBS Television