Ernest Broughton (Kenneth Connor) is a lowly proofreader of horror paperbacks who lives with his flatmate, bookie Sid Butler (Sid James). One evening, as Ernie sits reading one of his novels and Sid has gone out to get fish and chips for tea, a mysterious figure clad in black arrives at the flat. He is Ernie's solicitor (Donald Pleasence), bearing news of uncle Gabriel's death and orders to attend the reading of the will at a spooky mansion on the Yorkshire moors. The promise of an inheritance raises the hopes of Ernie and Sid, but when they arrive at the mansion, a night of terror awaits...
If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were British (bear with me), and had decided to remake The Cat and The Canary, and had both been working in the sixties anyway, then the result might have ended up like What a Carve Up! An old dark house comedy scripted by farce expert Ray Cooney and Tony Hilton, it was based on Frank King's story The Ghoul, which had been filmed before, but you'd be better to forget all about that because it spoils the main twist in this version.
The film gained new recognition in the nineties, when Jonathan Coe's cult novel of the same name was published. Coe used the film as a jumping off point to examine the corruption of the rich, upper classes, and it's true that Ernie's encounters with his better off relations, who he has never met before, makes him more class conscious. Or at least, more conscious of his lower class compared to their snooty condescension - see the scene where he gets his shoe caught in a tigerskin rug and is embarrassed at the hole in his sock. And when the relatives begin to be murdered by a mystery madman, they immediately point the finger at Ernie as the main suspect.
However, first and foremost this is a comedy chiller which revels in the familiar formula. There is the creepy, shuffling butler (Michael Gough), a huge, imposing house which conceals hidden passageways, the lights go out and the phone is cut off, there are paintings with the eyes cut out for the killer to spy on the victims, and even a pipe organ for menacing music (and "Chopsticks"). Some of the lines are pretty hackneyed: "Do you know you're beginning to get on my nerves?" "No, but if you hum it over I might remember the tune!", but many more hit the funny bone: "It's Burke and Hare all over again!" "The only berk round here, mate, is you!"
Connor and James make a successful double act. James is essentially playing his character from Hancock's Half Hour, a no-nonsense, rough diamond with an eye for easy money and attractive young ladies such as Gabriel's nurse (Shirley Eaton). Connor is in fine, jittery form as the cowardly Ernie; he not only jumps at shadows but is nervous around women too - Coe points out he'd rather face a homicidal maniac than spend the night in the beautiful nurse's bedroom. Despite the unoriginal nature of the proceedings (apart from the resolution), the film is a comfortable watch, unpretentious, with a reliable cast and sure to raise a laugh or two if you're a fan of British comedy. Music by Muir Matheson.