Haunted Honeymoon (1986, dir. Gene Wilder)
Larry Abbot (Wilder) is a famous radio actor and heads to his family’s palatial estate in upstate New York for his wedding to Vicki (Gilda Radner). Larry has been plagued by strange speech problems and goes into fugue states upon hearing certain words. His Uncle Paul has an idea for radical therapy where he will scare Larry into being cured. However, there is a werewolf stalking the property and a murderous conspiracy afoot.
Haunted Honeymoon starts with quite a bit of potential. The tone set by the music and the introduction to the mansion is very reminiscent of Young Frankenstein. We’re teased with some interesting horror and mystery, but then the plot kicks in. The story of Haunted Honeymoon is so overly convoluted and unfunny that the film falls apart within moments. There is the plot thread of Larry’s psychological ailments, a conspiracy to get control of the matriarch’s will, a werewolf stalking the grounds, a mesmerizing magician, Larry’s ex-girlfriend showing up as his cousin’s new girlfriend, the impending wedding of Larry and Pearl and those are just a few. At one point, as members of the family begin arriving there is little to no formal introduction to who these people are and how they are connected so the narrative crumbles. It gets even more confusing when Larry’s therapy begins, and it’s not made clear what’s the therapy and what is part of the murderous conspiracy.
Wilder and Radner’s personal love story seems to be the engine for the film, but it is just not enough to make the movie entertaining. In retrospect, the film is quite sad because the chemistry between the two is apparent. Jonathan Pryce stars as the cousin and does a fine job; he’s one of those actors that always seems to do well. The standout of the cast is Bryan Pringle as the family’s drunk butler. His interactions with Wilder are the closest the film gets to actual comedy. The film has an overall feel of a movie out of the 1940s and attempts that style of comedy but it never quite hits. The only moment that captures the clever physical comedy of the era involves Wilder pretending to own the legs of a person he has knocked unconscious, very apparently inspired by Charlie Chaplin.
The film also highlights a major problem Wilder has in the majority of the films he writes and directs (his work as the writer of Young Frankenstein not included), a lack of firm conclusions. Haunted Honeymoon, much like The Woman in Red, just sort of ends. But even worse than The Woman in Red’s utterly disrespectfully unfunny ending, Haunted Honeymoon doesn’t know how to end itself, so it pulls a “Gotcha! We were just joking”. Then the finale is topped off with a final scene that leaves the audience scratching its head and wondering what the hell the point of all this was.
Gilda would pass away two years later. Wilder’s life during this time was focused solely on her care, and there were no films made until 1989’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil. It began to feel like Wilder just didn’t have many films left in him. Between Gilda’s death and poor reception of his films, he was becoming more and more disenfranchised with the industry. He would make two more movies, never directing another: Funny About Love and Another You. Next time, we’ll look at Funny About Love.