Wilder plays Larry Abbot, an actor on a radio program in which he plays a character who may or may not be a werewolf. Note that his name, “Larry Abbot,” is awful close to that of Lon Chaney Jr’s famous Wolf Man, Larry Talbot. Larry’s fiancee, Vickie (Gilda Radner) is also a performer on the show. They are gearing up for their wedding, but Larry has been falling victim to panic attacks…sometimes on-the-air. This is causing a lot of trouble for the sponsors of the show. Larry’s doctor is his creepy cousin Paul (Paul L Smith), who has determined that the best way to cure Larry is to “scare him to death.”
Larry and Vickie head to the family mansion for a reunion. This is where Larry grew up under the care of his Aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise). Other family members, including cousin Charlie (Jonathan Pryce), show up…all of them are in on the plan to scare Larry. Soon, werewolves are creeping around the grounds, strange monsters walk up the walls…everything seems to be going as planned, except that actual dead bodies begin showing up.
When this movie came out, Gene Wilder was fresh off a big hit as writer, director, and star…”The Woman in Red.” But “Haunted Honeymoon” took a very different approach. The film is set during the radio era, and it feels like Wilder was trying to make a film in the style of that time. I hate to say it, but it doesn’t work. Many of the gags feel ancient. Several of them will probably have you saying, “Yeah, heard that one before and it wasn’t funny the first time.”
One of the central gimmicks of the movie is Dom DeLuise in drag…and again, it doesn’t work. In just about all of his scenes, I found myself wishing the camera would just cut away. DeLuise was a great comic performer, but this was not his finest moment. The one scene I enjoyed was his song and dance with Gilda Radner to the song “Ballin’ the Jack.” It shows a degree of spontaneity that both DeLuise and Radner were skilled at…but which is absent for the rest of this movie. Still, the number feels tacked on. There is no motivation for it, just out of the blue they are dancing and singing!??! While I didn’t enjoy Wilder or DeLuise’s performances, Radner does a good job and pretty much saves the film from being unwatchable.
I think the major problem is the premise. I mean, it’s a haunted house comedy, but we know from the beginning that the house isn’t really haunted. The audience is in on the joke from the start…which has a way of making the joke not funny. Plus, the film completely misses one of the major successes of “Young Frankenstein,” atmosphere. With that film, you could probably convince an uninformed viewer that it was made at the same time as the original Universal Frankenstein films. “Haunted Honeymoon” is too polished in it’s look. Heck, there’s even a shortage of cobwebs.
Ultimately, the film is pretty harmless. It’s appropriate for family viewing and offers a few minor chuckles. But, given what we’ve seen from Wilder in a similarly themed film, “Haunted Honeymoon” leaves the audience wishing for much better.