At last we have an answer.
Or rather, 1986 had an answer, in Gene Wilder's Haunted Honeymoon.
It's Tuesday night again, which means movies with friends. We'd agreed on this one a few weeks ago on the grounds that it had such an impressive cast that we all should have seen it by now: Gene Wilder! Gilda Radner! Dom DeLuise! Jonathan Pryce! How could this possibly go wrong?
The answer is that for a comedy, it sure isn't very funny. The story centers around Larry Abbot and Vickie Pearle (Wilder and Radner, respectively), two versatile radio stars who thrill and entertain the American Public every week on Manhattan Mystery Theater. The year is 19thirtysomething, and Larry and Vickie have just announced their engagement. Larry is flubbing lines, and Vickie thinks he's just nervous about the wedding, so she involves Larry's uncle Paul, a head-shrinker who believes that the cure to Larry's ailment lies in fright; he plans to scare Larry "to death" before the wedding.
After a fairly disastrous broadcast, Larry and Vickie drive out to the old Abbot homestead, a crumbling Victorian manse on the foggy moors of upstate New York (do they have foggy moors in NY?). There we meet the eccentric Abbot family: cousin Charlie (Pryce) is a womanizer. Cousin Francis Jr. is a cross-dresser, and his father, Francis Sr., is a dirty old man. Montego (Jim Carter, who you know as Carson from Downton Abbey) is a magician with real powers. Bryan Pringle stands in for Marty Feldman as Pfister, the butler, and his wife Rachel (Ann Way) is basically the lady from Cold Comfort Farm who saw "something nasty in the woodshed."
And then there's Dom DeLuise as Aunt Katherine Abbot, who gets his own paragraph because he does drag much better than I'd have expected.
Dom in drag is not enough to save the film, however. It's a tedious parody of movies like The Old Dark House and its spawn, and it drags us through the motions without really going anywhere. Larry sees scary stuff. There's probably a murder. No, wait, there isn't a murder, they're just putting it on to scare Larr-- wait, no, there is a murder. The cops show up, and Larry basically retreads the scene from Young Frankenstein where Froederick has to pretend to the night watch that he's not hiding a dead guy behind his back.
This is the problem with Haunted Honeymoon: the few real laughs are awash in unfunny material, and most of them appeared first (usually better) in either Young Frankenstein or Clue. It is depressing to see such talent simply spinning its wheels. All of these people are better than this, and the fourth wall-breaking ending, which comes at the height of the action, is particularly insulting. The film was deservedly a flop at the box office, which is all the more confounding, since Wilder and Radner really believed in it.
I don't know how, exactly, it went wrong. I feel like Wilder was trying to make a movie for his twelve-year-old self. Wilder, born in 1933, would have grown up on the radio serials of the '30s the way my generation grew up on, I dunno, The A-Team or The Rockford Files. I was too young to appreciate those shows when they were new, but they were always around in the background. I discovered them as an adolescent, and they made me nostalgic for a time I didn't really remember. I understand the appeal of revisiting that stuff -- my generation has been reliving the '80s since the late '90s, and forcing it down our childrens' throats. In Haunted Honeymoon, Wilder is trying to evoke a simpler time for an audience that was just too young to appreciate it. Clue managed it with some success by writing jokes for a contemporary audience, but Wilder's script is aimed straight at that 12-year-old in 1945.
It's disappointing, and I'm relegating it to the horror comedy dust heap, along with such Sunday afternoon fare as Ghost Fever and Transylvania 6-5000. Still, I've been curious about Haunted Honeymoon since I first saw it in a video store in the late '80s, so if nothing else, at least I can cross it off my "Aware Of But Haven't Seen" list.
Here's the trailer.