Gene Wilder’s charming 1986 horror comedy Haunted Honeymoon comes to Blu-ray
Losing actor/writer/director Gene Wilder late last month was a heartbreak for a couple of reasons. First was the way he went, or at least the way his fans learned of his passing. Wilder died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, a condition most of us had no idea he had, one he kept very private. The other reason is tied to the first. Wilder kept his illness private so as not to cloud people’s worship of his signature role, that of Willy Wonka in the first film adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Indeed, Wilder’s slightly sardonic turn as the eccentric confectioner is beloved by generations of children, young and old and it does hurt to know that man who gave us so much joy in that role suffered so horribly in his final years.
But now that we have said our goodbyes to Wilder, it makes sense to dig back into his vaults to look at some his other parts, some famous (Young Frankenstein), some infamous (The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles) and some pushed into relative obscurity and ripe for re-evaluation. On the latter tip, Wilder’s 1986 horror comedy Haunted Honeymoon is a movie that needs more love. The film was co-written and directed by Wilder and starred his lady love, the late Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, making this her final film role. Famously, the picture was a colossal failure, opening and closing within a week and garnering dismal reviews. Shame that. It seems more cynical ’80s audiences were expecting a more scatological Brooksian comedy, a revival of the saucier films that Wilder and Brooks made their names on in the 1970s. But Haunted Honeymoon isn’t that kind of movie. It’s a faithful quote on the 1940’s radio-era mysteries that it both quotes and sets its action within and its laughs and charm come from its sheer stone-faced absurdity and oddness. And co-writer Terrence Marsh’s production design is superlative, a character unto itself.
Haunted Honeymoon stars Wilder as Larry Abbot, radio drama superstar, who travels with his co-star and fiancee (Radner) to the looming mansion lorded over by his larger-than-life Aunt Kate (Dom De Luise in drag…and yes, the concept alone is funny enough to sustain the running time) along with various relations and hangers on, to help Abbot cope with his array of oddball phobias. But, as we learn from the opening moments, there’s a werewolf loose and Aunt Kate is determined to find out which one of the brood is the murderous beast. This set up is simply an excuse for Wilder and Radner to romp around, De Luise to mug and a first rate supporting cast – including the great Jonathan Pryce, Straw Dogs’ Peter Vaughn and Downtown Abbey’s Jim Carter – to parade around the looming, Gothic sets and engage in all manner of foolishness.
Haunted Honeymoon is a beautiful film to behold, with gorgeous costumes, the aforementioned Hammer-esque production design, Fred Schuler’s delirious cinematography and Wilder’s cheeky direction. All of these elements shine in Kino Lorber‘s new bare-bones Blu-ray release, giving us a crisp 1.85:1 HD print with rich colors and deep blacks; its one of the best Gothic-looking movies I’ve ever seen.
Ultimately, Haunted Honeymoon is Wilder’s love-letter to a simpler, more charming period of entertainment history laced with a gentle dash of blue humor and even a nod or two to the Italian giallo (dig those black leather gloves!). And it’s a snapshot of trio of performers and friends who are no longer with us (Wilder, Radner, De Luise) just having tons of fun and hoping that you will too.