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Haunted Honeymoon
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"Harmless Gene Wilder Time-Killer"
3 stars

Because of its considerable cost and meager box-office take, this marked Gene Wilder's last foray in the directing chair.

Gene Wilder’s slight but engaging Haunted Honeymoon is a homage to those “comedy-chillers” of the 1950s, and though it doesn’t have the laugh quotient of the previous movie Wilder wrote and directed and starred in, The Woman in Red, it manages to put a smile on your face at least half the time, which isn’t exactly the worst recommendation in the world. Set in the 1940s, before television became the leading entertainment medium, Wilder plays actor Larry Abbott, who has the number-one radio show in the country, Manhattan Mystery Theater, whose current episode is titled “Haunted Honeymoon,” which is fitting in that Larry and his co-star Vickie Pearl (Gilda Radner) are set to be married at his aunt’s lavish upstate mansion the upcoming weekend. But Larry’s been acting rather peculiar the last couple of weeks, much to the chagrin of the show’s sponsor -- whenever Larry hears the sound of thunder, even if its simulated thunder in the studio, he temporarily freezes up and worriedly asks the nearest someone if his tie is straight: “Your tie is fine,” is the response; “Yes, but is it straight?” Larry persists. To calm the angry sponsor, Larry’s famous psychiatrist uncle (Midnight Express’s Paul L. Smith), shows up and assures him that Larry is frightened about being married since his mother was killed by a lightning strike through the stain-glass window of a church during her wedding vows; his plan is to scare Larry “to death” to knock him out of his funk. And what an ominous-looking mansion Larry’s headed to! (The movie was shot in the remote countryside of Hertfordshire, England.) Larry was raised there by his eccentric Aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise; yes, that Dom DeLuise), and as Larry and Vickie arrive, Kate, having seen what she thinks was a werewolf earlier in the evening, has instructed her attorney that Larry is to be the sole beneficiary of her will, with the rest of her kin equally entitled to the inheritance should Larry die. (The story opens at the mansion with a pudgy man with a physicality similar to Kate murdered with a knife to the back, with the gray wig of the man flying out the window that passes by someone with a werewolf-like face.) The Abbot clan gathers, consisting of not only the uncle but his cousin (Brazil’s Jonathan Pryce), a playboy complaining about being broke and hesitant to marry his ready-for-action girlfriend who just happens to be a past girlfriend of Larry’s. There’s also the senile butler and his nitpicky maid-wife who’s always complaining of her husband constantly taking swigs from his whiskey-filled flask. Over the course of the evening, Larry is subjected to a cobra in his dresser drawer, a corpse in his bed that mysteriously disappears, a ghostly apparition, an arm grabbing his throat from a coffin, a grotesque creature that can walk on walls, and the very same werewolf-like person we saw at the beginning. Are these figments of Larry’s fertile imagination (he’s an emotionally-troubled actor, after all), or is he really in danger by a malevolent someone anxious to get their hands on the Abbott fortune? And everything culminates with a twist ending that’s oddly amusing in a weird sort of way that may not exactly add up but ends things satisfactorily.

Exquisitely shot by cinematographer Fred Schuler, Haunted Honeymoon is an exceedingly good-looking production (quite unexpected in that Wilder’s other directorial efforts were visually crude), and the adroit editing propels it forth with nary a dead moment in its eighty-two-minute running time. Wilder has improved as a moviemaker, and he stages a wonderful little song-and-dance number with Radner and DeLuise doing a nifty rendition of “Ballin’ the Jack” that’s the movie’s high point -- it puts the kind of goofy smile on your face that takes several minutes to wear off; and with DeLuise fearlessly going so far into his characterization, you really do forget that this is a male playing a female. Haunted Honeymoon convincingly transports us to another time and place, and if you’re willing to sit back and not expect anything grandiose out of it you’re likely to have a perfectly agreeable time, especially if you’re familiar with the vintage movies Wilder and co-writer Terence Marsh (who scripted the semi-original 1984 action comedy Finders Keepers) are paying tribute to. Not surprisingly, Wilder does commendable work with his actors, giving them the aesthetic leeway to add their own little tics and facets, only Wilder the writer hasn’t given Wilder the actor enough to do. Mel Brooks used him to considerable advantage in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein playing colorful types, and although he was a straight man in Silver Steak and Stir Crazy he at least had Richard Pryor to bounce off of; as Larry, even with his off-screen marriage to SNL-alum Radner figuring into the equation, he’s borderline-bland and more reactive than active, and isn’t particularly interesting -- it’s only Wilder’s instinctive deftness that keeps the character afloat. So with a lackadaisical hero at the center, the movie badly needs some girth in the supporting ranks, and though the actors do what they can, their roles aren’t any better written, which is why the movie is weightless. And when it comes to playing fair with the audience, Wilder cheats in that the villain is able to be at any place at any given time regardless of spatial logistics; it may seem like a small thing, but when the main setting is a mansion populated with multiple characters, and the intention is to generate suspense, some doses of logic are needed to get us to play along. And, like Brooks, Wilder has the tendency to repeat a gag when two times was more than enough -- a hard-of-hearing character and shouting has never been a favorite of mine. Plus, there’s a dreadful bit with Vickie making quacking noises while doing a hand-shadow of a duck that wouldn’t have been funny even after finishing off a bottle of Thunderbird. But overall Haunted Honeymoon is affable-enough entertainment, even if as a comedy-chiller it doesn’t possess much in the way of chills (unless you count the mere thought of DeLuise getting into his character’s wardrobe) or humorous lines (“Poor Pfister, his memory’s going” “I wish we were”). It’s what some would refer to as a “pleasant picture,” the kind of harmless cinematic endeavor perfectly fitting for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and that's good enough.

Though the DVD offers only a theatrical trailer as an extra, the video and audio are excellent.

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originally posted: 04/14/15 02:04:01
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User Comments

1/06/17 Anne I watched it for 15 minutes...yet the haunted mansion concept was great 2 stars
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  25-Jul-1986 (PG)



Directed by
  Gene Wilder

Written by
  Gene Wilder
  Terence Marsh

  Gene Wilder
  Gilda Radner
  Dom DeLuise
  Jonathan Pryce
  Bryan Pringle

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