FORGOTTEN GEM: “Haunted Honeymoon”

Gene Wilder was a comic genius back in the 80’s, a sort of Steve Carell – Will Ferrell equivalent nowadays. A not so known movie of his was “Haunted Honeymoon”, released in 1986; a horror-comedy spoof with a great cast accompanying him and the haunted house premise to play around with and create a mesmerizing story. He succeeded when the movie came out in the late 80’s. Nowadays, if you watch it, it is a bit silly and the gags do not seem as funny as one would expect.

“Funny enough to have a giggle, and scary enough to prove
to my friends that I am old enough to watch horror movies without being scared.”

I remember I watched this movie probably two or three years after it came out. Back in the VHS era, the local video-club was a haven of anything the local retailer would bring and offer the masses. Horror and comedy were always two of my favorite genders, and seeing the cover (Wilder and his wife Gilda Radner, with a drag queen version of Dom De Luise) it looked funny enough to have a giggle, and scary enough to prove to my friends that I am old enough to watch horror movies without being scared. After the movie finished, I realised I had discovered that a movie can be loved and it became the first movie to ever be in my Top Ten of all time (It made me realise I needed to find nine more to make it proper – so my quest started).

Though a commercial flop at the time of its release, only grossing $8,000,000 in America entering the box office at number 8, then slipping to 14 the following week, “Haunted Honeymoon” is film perfection for all its flaws. Having since become a cult classic, on revisiting a childhood favourite, its charm was once again immediately evident.

The story: Gene Wilder is getting married to his sweetheart. They both are successful radio actors (the movie was set in the ‘50s) on a very successful horror radio show – the ones with a lot of human made sound effects and cheesy dialogue.  Wilder’s character is scared of anything spooky, and before he gets married, he needs to overcome this so what should he do? Go to the spookiest haunted mansion where all his family are gathered for his wedding. And of course, scary things start happening, and Gene Wilder needs to overcome his fear in order to save his sweetheart and uncover what is going on.

And funnily enough, it works. The characters that Gene Wilder has created are unique enough but common at the same time for the viewer to feel immediately drawn to them in their characters own specific way. By the end, you want the bad guys to lose and the good guys to win. Tackling comedic, sometimes slapstick, elements with classic horror ones (werewolf, ghosts, ghouls etc.), and also creating the family characters as classic stereotypes it creates a great atmosphere where you easily get scared as you are easily laughing.

The stereotypical characters include: the mysterious magician, the classic film noir femme fatale, the loser cousin – which is usually the one that will get killed first, the butler who is loyal to their master, the hysterical maid and the list of usual suspects continues.

“A Forgotten Gem for all the wrong and right reasons.”

The direction is simple enough, and the photography is quite atmospheric. This is not an amazing movie of course, but it works in all the levels and does not feel it was put together on the spot. All actors play their parts well, with Dom DeLuise stealing the show as Gene Wilder’s auntie. Yes, he is in drag, when it was still politically correct to use male actors to camp it up. Despite his on screen charisma, DeLuise’s efforts were rewarded with the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor.

For all it’s comedy gold, another reason that “Haunted Honeymoon” warrants celebration has a more tragic tone. Though unknown at the time, “Haunted Honeymoon” was to be Gilda Radner’s final screen appearance, with her premature death in 1989 at the age of just 42.

Overall, this is a Forgotten Gem for all the wrong and right reasons. Very old-fashioned nowadays, it does not fail to still entertain and to remind this generation why Gene Wilder was a comic genius. It is obvious how the current comedians have learned so much from him. A true inspiration.

Words: George Mathioudakis

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