Monday, February 9, 2009

Haunted Honeymoon (USA, 1986)

Haunted Honeymoon (trailer) is a period costume comedy set in the 30s or 40s cut to the tradition of such classic films as the original The Cat and the Canary (1927) – and certain remakes – or other similar old-dark-house comic horror films of varying quality featuring Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Red Skeleton and dozens of other lesser talents. It is a strange little film that is definitely of the “Either You Love It or Hate It” camp. Maltin’s, that famous film and video bible for Middle American Republicans isn’t shy about what it thinks and rates the film as a Bomb. Well, as is common knowledge, Maltin’s opinions are often more simple than factual — he does, after all, write to the level of his intended audience.
More truthful is that
Haunted Honeymoon is a highly flawed but interesting, entertaining and enjoyable oddity that, much like the forgotten comedy Top Secret! (1984/trailer) is awaiting both rediscovery and reappraisal. Veering between high comedy, hard violence, loving satire and straight theft of both classic jokes and famous visuals, Haunted Honeymoon is both funny and at times scary, as much a “light” horror film as it is a comedy. This type of mixture is very hard to make work, and while Wilder isn’t 100% successful all of the time, he doesn’t exactly fail — and, in fact, he delivers a film far more enjoyable than his bigger hit, the abysmal Woman In Red (1984), if not one of his most enjoyable films since he stopped working with Mel Brooks. Partially due to its quaint, period setting and obvious homage tendencies, Haunted Honeymoon has also dated much better than Wilder’s big hits Silver Streak (1976/trailer) and Stir Crazy (1980), which have become oddly unfunny over the years.
About the biggest flaw in Haunted Honeymoon is that Wilder collected an excellent cast of distinctive character actors for his film and then gave most of them very little to do, often having them simply disappear for long stretches at a time for no logical reason. (Of course, this is also common to all the old dark house films.) He doesn’t exactly waste them, per say, for they all have a scene or two as recognizable, traditional horror film types so common to the kind of film Wilder is both making fun of and giving loving homage, but one nonetheless ends up feeling that he should’ve done more with them.
Likewise, it is both odd and unexplainable how unfunny Dom DeLuise is in drag as Aunt Kate. For that, however, the late Gilda Radner, Wilder’s wife at the time, delivers a wonderful performance and exudes a lively energy and presence that outshines everyone around her and adds much to the film. One of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live back when the show first began and was still both on the edge and funny (and not the dull, creaking, arthritic institution it is now), Radner, like the other original two female comedians of Saturday Night Live, never got as big a boost from the exposure the show gave her as her male counterparts did, despite being much more talented than most of them. Still, her innately humorous but at the same time gently vulnerable presence in Haunted Honeymoon reaffirms the belief that had she not died of cancer in 1989, she might have a long, fruitful and varied career ahead of her.
In Haunted Honeymoon, she plays Vickie Pearle, and works alongside the neurotic Larry Abbot (Gene Wilder) in the Manhattan Mystery Theater, a hit radio program. The two plan to marry and return to Abbot’s family home for sort of family reunion actually planned to help cure the unsuspecting Larry of his neurosis via something best described as shock therapy. Unknown to everyone, someone in the huge mansion is actually out not help cure Larry, but to get him out of the way. A simple plot familiar to anyone who has ever watched afternoon television after school as a kid, but made with a bigger budget and better equipment, excellently filmed and loaded with visual puns swiped from both classics and forgotten film of yesterday. Everything leads up to a jarringly hardcore fistfight that gets most of its violence from the over exaggerated sound effects, every fist making contact with a “POW” louder than a punch thrown by Rambo....
Yep, Haunted Honeymoon is a film you either love or you hate, but that time is proving ain’t all that bad after all.

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