The Bottom Line
Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner yuck it up as radio star newlyweds caught up in a murder mystery at a spooky mansion. Perhaps this review could be summed up in four words: Dom DeLuise in drag.
The Rest Of The Story
In 1986, Gene Wilder was firmly stuck between a rock and a hard place. His biggest hits were over 10 years old, and his last comedy, The Woman In Red, had gone over in a lead balloon. On the upside, he was involved in a happy new relationship with comedienne Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live" fame. He decided his best bet would be to make a movie with her. And what a better concept than to have them married?
The movie opens with a mysterious murder at a countryside mansion. The movie then goes to a non sequitur conversation about another murder - and as the cameras reveal, it's a radio mystery being played out by Larry Abbot (Wilder) and Vickie Pearle (Radner). For some reason Wilder has difficulty saying the word "wolf" - and almost stops the show entirely. After the broadcast wraps up, news reporters surround the couple and demand to know: where are they going to honeymoon? The couple is demure, of course, when they are taken aside by Larry's uncle Paul, a psychiatrist, who explains that Wilder needs to get away for awhile, and suggests their Aunt Kate's residence in the countryside.
Upon arriving, Larry and Vickie run into Larry's brothers Charles (the hypnotic Jonathan Pryce), his conniving wife, the help (the telltale suspicious butler) and of course, Aunt Kate. Played to the full hilt by Dom DeLuise, Aunt Kate is as graceful and charming as Auntie Mame - which makes the contrast all the more interesting. At the opening dinner for the honeymooners, Aunt Kate reveals a terrible secret - that the Abbots are cursed to be werewolves, and someone at the very table has the curse!
The rest of the film plays out as a cross between a whodunit, a screwball comedy (with lots of misunderstandings and physical comedy), and a schlock horror film. There is a classic scene where Wilder, having knocked out the butler, sits on the butler's legs and shares a conversation with two inquiring cops - while the legs flail around beneath him, appearing to be Wilder's. And half the fun is trying to figure out what is actually going on. Is Larry a werewolf? Does Aunt Kate have five o'clock shadow? Will Vickie and Larry survive the night on their Haunted Honeymoon?
The film of course is clever enough to have not one, not two, but three twists to finish it, and the plot itself is original (if a bit daffy), but you can't help feeling that Gene Wilder threw together this whole movie in about three less weeks than he wanted. A lot of the editing is downright horrid, and there are plenty of open-ended plot points by the time the credits roll.
The key to the film's success lies in the comedic prowess of its stars Wilder, Radner, and DeLuise. Each brings a different talent to the cast - Wilder with his subtle mania, Radner with her wiseguy attitude, and DeLuise playing the larger-than-life household matron. Everybody wisely chose to ham it up for what is obviously somewhat of a lightweight film, and there's a lot of ad libbing going on that seems to work well in the "radio show on film" stylings of the movie.
If you liked the Neil Simon caper Murder By Death or the Bob Hope lost classic The Cat And The Canary (and plenty of silliness), this is the movie for you. Not too smart, not too stupid - a great late-night popcorn fest.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Gilda Radner as Vickie Pearle
Gene Wilder as Larry Abbot
Dom DeLuise as Aunt Kate
Jonathan Pryce as Charles
Bryan Pringle as Pfister
Peter Vaughan as Francis Abbot Sr.
Eve Ferret as Sylvia
Paul L. Smith as Dr. Paul Abbot
Julann Griffin as Nora
Jim Carter as Montego
Jo Ross as Susan
Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Francis Abbot Jr.