I was perhaps all of ten years old when I first saw a trailer advertising the Gene Wilder/Gilda Radner comedy Haunted Honeymoon. It was in the (singular) local movie house of the small(minded) town I grew up in, and I recall being more confused by it than intrigued. Why was Dom DeLuise dressed as a woman? And, most importantly of all, why wasn’t anyone laughing at the preview ‒ my easily amused ten-year-old self included? The immediate theory my preadolescent brain formed was, based on the evidence at hand (i.e. the startlingly unfunny trailer and the lack of a reaction from anyone in the crowd) was that Haunted Honeymoon wasn’t going to be anywhere near as funny as it purported itself to be.
Indeed, it wasn’t. Opening to a dreadful reception, the movie lasted an entire week in cinemas before it was yanked from empty auditoriums by Orion Pictures ‒ who produced the film as part of a 14-picture deal with HBO, presumably so HBO could broadcast something other than Clash of the Titans and Strange Brew for a change (although I never missed an airing of either). Earning less than 62% of its 13-million dollar budget (a great portion of which must have gone to personal expenses) back, this ‒ the final of three collaborations for the late Gene Wilder and his real-life wife, the late Gilda Radner, as well as the last of a trio of pictures Wilder made with the late Dom DeLuise ‒ was a huge failure at the box-office.
In fact, this disaster of a murder mystery comedy rang the final death knell Gene Wilders film career, who had been making one panned picture after another since 1982’s Hanky Panky, a trend which would continue (and finally conclude) with his final film appearance, Another You in 1991. Haunted Honeymoon also rang the death knell for Gilda Radner herself: the beloved comedienne not only suffered a miscarriage during production, but later learned of the stage IV ovarian cancer which would take her life three years later (this would prove to be her final film). And even if that devastating series of unfortunate events had not plagued Haunted Honeymoon, it would still be a stifling stale and dull comedy.
Written by Wilder and award-winning production designer Terence Marsh (who had previously worked on several of Wilder’s better films during the previous decade), Haunted Honeymoon finds Gene and Gilda as Larry Abbot and Vickie Pearle: two radio mystery stars who are about to tie the knot. Unbeknownst to the very skittish Larry, who may or may not be a lycanthrope, he’s set to inherit his vast family estate from his loving aunt (Dom DeLuise in drag, who earned a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress for his troubles) once she kicks off. But someone else in the family doesn’t want to wait that long when the family gathers at the ancestral home for Larry and Vickie’s wedding, and that’s when the trouble starts.
Actually, the trouble starts with the crack of the first joke. In fact, there was only one joke I found remotely worthy of a laugh, which happens when the movie’s daft butler ‒ as played by Bryan Pringle ‒ announces the power has gone off (and most of that joke occurs offscreen!). A few other moments of light levity abound during the brisk 82-minute runtime of this film, which outwardly tries too damn hard to recreate some of the magic Wilder captured and shared with us along with Mel Brooks during the ’70s. The fact the all of the cast give darn good performances makes it that much harder to bear. Jonathan Pryce, Peter Vaughan (Game of Thrones), and Paul L. Smith represent some of the wasted talent.
Haunted Honeymoon sat on video store shelves in various formats for nearly thirty years, but managed to find an audience just the same once it went out of print. Fortunately, Kino-Lorber has saved the few fans the movie still has from paying too much on eBay/Amazon by re-releasing the title to DVD, as well as debuting it on Blu-ray. While the title hasn’t been remastered, the High-Definition image looks pretty good, and the LPCM 2.0 Stereo soundtrack delivers nicely too. Three trailers are included on this catalog release: the preview I saw all those years ago in the theater, a preview for Wilder’s much better comedy The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and Mel Brooks’ extremely unfunny Life Stinks.
I can only guess Kino-Lorber included the trailer to that one Mel Brooks movie not because of Wilder’s acclaimed association with said filmmaker, but so anyone who may have actually seen Life Stinks would be able to appreciate Haunted Honeymoon that much more. Either way, this is a decent release of a not-quite-as-decent comedy, and anyone who is curious to give it a try (or who already knows they like it) should be most grateful Kino-Lorber has shown it more respect than most moviegoers ever have (my humble self sadly included).
Recommended to fans and the morbidly curious.