Larry Abbot (Gene Wilder) is a radio actor in the top rated show in America, taking the lead in a variety of murder mysteries with his fiancée Vickie Pearle (Gilda Radner) as audiences tune in loyally across the land. Their upcoming nuptials are the source of some public interest, and the producer allows some press in for a quick interview in the advertising break where Larry and Vickie confirm yes, they are very happy and offer a few quips to the reporters, though Larry seems a little distant at times, getting a faraway look in his eye and acting just strangely enough for Vickie to notice, though she covers up his faltering in front of the media. Then it's back to work, but Larry has a problem with the sound effects man - is there something wrong?
Haunted Honeymoon was star Gene Wilder's last attempt to capture some of the adulation he had won with his collaborations with Mel Brooks, yet by this point audiences were losing interest and as it was also at the end of the cycle of creative types trying to recreate the radio shows and movies in a mystery or horror vein from their nineteen-forties childhoods - though not the very last, as George Lucas was still planning his flop Radioland Murders - this film came and went with some speed at the box office. However, it did pick up some appreciation on home video and television broadcasts, where its mildly amusing banter and setpieces played that bit better when expectations were not as high, though the fact remained the works they were spoofing were more accomplished.
If you didn't feel the need to visit Bob Hope's The Cat and the Canary or Red Skelton's Whistling in the Dark, then Haunted Honeymoon was a substitute of sorts, though so slavish in its faith to the vintage material that you did wonder why Wilder (who co-wrote as well as directing) didn't put more of an original spin on it. Certainly the trappings of such old dark house works were so adhered to in the sources that perhaps he couldn't stray too far from the template, but Neil Simon's Murder by Death had pulled off the same trick with some very seventies humour, so an eighties reading of the subject could have been worth a look, assuming Wilder didn't want to get too crass with the way screen humour had grown by that stage, and even if he did he could still have mined laughs from it.
Many had a problem with the ending, which took the "And then he woke up and it was all a dream" approach to the plot, what we were watching wasn't a dream of course, but it might as well have been judging by the manner it was wrapped up, and it left you wondering why you'd invested the time in watching when the pay-off was essentially that this was too silly to matter very much. That can be liberating, but not in this case since the jokes were goodnatured yet not exactly hilarious, with a few creaky vaudeville set-ups landing the occasional chuckle, and no more than that. With more imagination needed than being the sort of movie that nudged the audience with "remember that bit where...?" references, this did look ahead to the sort of tribute spoofs and homages that would proliferate in genre pictures from now on, but was that funny?
At least the cast were game, many of them British as the movie was filmed in the United Kingdom, some trying American accents and others not bothering when Larry and Vickie head off to get married in his old ancestral home, also doubling as the old dark house we would be familiar with. Dom DeLuise showed up in drag as the maiden aunt, sliding down the hall bannisters and disconcertingly sporting a shadow on the jowls, Jonathan Pryce was the cousin who lacks the money to marry his girlfriend (Eve Ferrett), Bryan Pringle the Boris Karloff-esque butler securing most of the laughs in his interaction with Wilder, Paul L. Smith the psychiatrist who claims Larry's neuroses can be cured by giving him a really big scare, as if they were the hiccups, and so forth, nice to see them all but undeniably straining for better. What made this more poignant was that Gilda Radner found out she had terminal cancer around the time she made this, her last screen appearance (aside from a guest bit on It's Garry Shandling's Show on TV), so the tired quality of the movie was a real pity. Music by John Morris.
With his striking blue eyes that could go from sensitive to crazed with ease, American actor Gene Wilder was a new sort of screen comic presence when he appeared in his film debut Bonnie and Clyde, a scene-stealer as the undertaker, and he quickly captured audience's interest. This led to him getting hired for Mel Brooks' directorial debut The Producers, where he suited the mayhem perfectly, and would go on to appear in two further Brooks classics, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.