Retro Review: Haunted Honeymoon
We’ve covered a lot of Halloween gems in our times. Last year we tackled some fantastic (and not so fantastic) direct to TV spooky specials. This year, for some reason, we’re going to cover a trio of movies all featuring comedian Dom DeLuise. Why? Because I said so. This week we start with a widely panned radio-thriller called Haunted Honeymoon, penned by and starring Young Frankenstein wunderkind Gene Wilder. Does it elicit more screams than groans? Let’s take a look!
Haunted Honeymoon (1986)
Larry (Gene Wilder) and Vickie (Gilda Radner) are two voice actors working for a hit radio serial called Manhattan Mystery Theater. They are also engaged to be married. The only wrinkle in the young lover’s bliss is Larry’s increasingly erratic case of pre-wedding jitters. From manic laughter to uncontrolled sobbing, Larry is losing his grip, and is even jeopardizing the success of their radio program. It is decided that the two will take a trip out to Larry’s family home, the Abbot mansion, a dreary castle secluded from the cares of the world. The young couple believe’s the setting will be idle for their wedding, and that the old family estate will sooth Larry’s nerves. Unbeknownst to them, the producers of the radio play have hired Larry’s uncle, a famous psychotherapist, to perform some unorthodox therapy on Larry…namely to cure his anxiety by “scarring him to death.” My guess is Larry owe’s Uncle Paul some money.
The two arrive on a dark and stormy night, unawares that a series of events, some concocted to scare Larry, others scripted by more malevolent forces (you know, more malevolent than a blood relative attempting to “scare Larry to death,”) await the anxious young couple.
This Family is Cursed!
Right away we make the acquaintance of the Abbot clan, a morose and loopy group of misfits. Vickie and Larry are greated by the half-deaf, heavily intoxicated butler, Fister, who would make Lurch from the Addams Family seem pretty tame. The next guest is a terrifying magician with a gambling problem who is married to Larry’s cousin Susan. Finally the spendthrift ladies man, Charles (Jonathan Pryce) arrives, with Larry’s old flame, Sylvia, on his arm. As the family begins to fall into chaos because of old animosities, Great Aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise) arrives and announces that the entire Abbot family is under the curse of the Werewolf…and that brandy and cake will be served shortly in the study. The upset clan gathers for dinner, in order to hear Kate’s tale of woe and impending doom, but first a song and dance number between Gilda and Dom breaks out.
What could have been a hilarious whodunnit in the mold of Clue quickly comes apart at the seams due to some inexplicably bizarre moments: Dom and Gilda’s dance routine is one such moment, and would even seem pleasantly eccentric if it were the only break in the action. Sadly, it is not.
Just as the night of 1000 scares is about to get under way, we get another scene where Gilda spends five minutes talking to hand shadows in the shape of a duck about her own fears for the upcoming wedding. It pulls you away from the build up to all of the “mysterious” haunting that will soon cause Gene Wilder to shriek like a school boy (which, if you know Gene Wilder’s comedy, is one of his strongest suits.) It leads to little, and seems tacked on just to give Gilda something to do.
Unfortunately, the same is true of Dom DeLuise, who seems to have little to do but deliver ominous non-sequiturs and then fan himself and clutch his pearls. There just wasn’t enough script to go around, it seems. It is too bad, because most of the bits involving Wilder on his own are quite good. Reminiscent of Young Frankenstein, though…
The ultimate problem with Haunted Honeymoon is that if you care enough about Gene Wilder’s style of comedy to stick through all of the dull bits (read: not involving Gene Wilder) you quickly see that this film is a pale shadow of much funnier films. Bits from Young Frankenstein and Clue (released only a year earlier, and clearly the superior “strangers in a mansion must solve a murder mystery” experience) are recycled shamelessly. Small laughs can be found, but the big laughs are all musty and second hand.
As a child, I was too young to see Clue, but conned my way into seeing Haunted Honeymoon. I remember loving it. But as an adult re-experiencing the film, I have to say there are many better horror-comedies out there. The film constantly teases you with the existence of a deep dark secret in the Abbot family. It is too bad that the secret (and the paper-thin surprise twist ending) both show the Abbots to be largely forgettable shadows of a much bigger comedy.