Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (2009) IS A LOVING SPOOF OF "OLD DARK HOUSE" MOVIES WHICH REACHED A CRESCENDO IN THE 1930s AND 1940s ON MOVIE HOUSE SCREENS. Written and directed by Larry Blamire (who brought you 50's sci-fi horror parody "THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA"), the film has a sparklingly witty script and engaging performances. The viewer's enjoyment of the film is probably connected quite closely with a fondness for this type of movie which reaches back to the silent film era ("THE CAT AND THE CANARY" (1927) being a prime example) and even farther back to the Mary Roberts Rinehart stage plays. Blamire himself is obviously quite fond of them and that's what makes this such a winning picture. In fact, while THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA was quite cute it didn't really have the laughs whereas DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is genuinely quite funny. The tone and timing of the writing is spot on and the actors carry off their lines with relish and finesse. All this makes NIGHT Blamire's best film yet.
It all starts off in patented Bulwer-Lytton fashion on a "dark and stormy night" in which reporter Eight O'Clock Faraday (Daniel Roebuck: good ole Arnzt from LOST) is taking a cab to the remote spooky "old dark house" of the late Sinas Cavinder where his greedy family has gathered for the reading of his will natch. Faraday is short "toity-five cents" for the fare and cabbie Happy Codburn (Dan Conroy) insists on being paid. Hoping to get the toity-five cents from someone in the house, Faraday and Codburn knocks on the door followed by wise-cracking rival reporter Billy Tuesday (Jennifer Blaire: the slinky Animala from LOST SKELETON). Inside the storm-tossed mansion is a wacky collection of relatives which are constantly supplemented by strange passers-by who just happen to break down outside the mansion. Oh, and the bridge of course has been washed out by the storm. And the Cavinder estate has been plagued by a weird hooded "Phantom". . . and a serial killer called "The Cavinder Strangler". . . oh, and there's a witch's curse on the place from an ancestor who was burned at the stake 300 years before . . . well, these things happen in all families, I guess. There's the reading of the will and several murders, secret passages and hooded killers and all the other tropes populating every "old dark house" movies you've ever seen. It is clear Blamire has seen most of these films as their are clear homages to such films as THE CAT AND THE CANARY, ROGUES TAVERN, THE THIRTEENTH GUEST, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT, MURDER BY INVITATION and countless others. The reporters played by Roebuck and Blaire are strongly reminiscent of Wallace Ford and Barbara Pepper in ROGUES TAVERN as well as WALLACE FORD and Marian Marsh in MURDER BY INVITATION. Brian Howe as sniveling nephew Burling Famish Jr. somewhat based his characterisation on Terry-Thomas! Jim Beaver (best known from TV's SUPERNATURAL) plays a big game hunter delightfully and Alison Martin plays spiritualist/medium Mrs. Cupcupboard in the vein of similar mediums to be found in both ROGUES TAVERN and FOG ISLAND; I can find no specific verification of my theory that Ms. Martin is the sister of SCTV's Andrea Martin but the resemblance is uncanny. Most (if not all) of the cast of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is here as well as some well-known interlopers such as Daniel Roebuck. Betty Garrett (veteran of stage, screen & television in everything from ON THE TOWN to recurring roles as Irene Lorenzo on ALL IN THE FAMILY to landlady Edna Babish on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY) makes her final film appearance here; not surprising since Andrew Parks (appearing here as Lord Partfine and as Kro-Bar in LOST SKELETON) is her son with actor Larry Parks (of THE AL JOLSON STORY fame). Making a fine cameo appearance as surly lawyer Farper Twyly is character actor Mark Redfield (THE DEATH OF POE, TERROR IN THE TROPICS, DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE {2002}). Veteran character actor James Karen (Craig T. Nelson's boss in POLTERGEIST and perennial PATHMARK supermarket pitchman) plays dotty uncle Seyton Ethelquake and Marvin Kaplan (forever known to me as fence Hymie in HOT STUFF) guests as a disembodied ghostly head at the requisite seance. If that isn't enough, beloved Bob Burns once again dons his legendary gorilla suit as Kogar. This is truly an enjoyable confection which will warm the heart of any classic horror fan. And speaking of warmth . . . the obvious affection Blamire has for these "old dark house" films is in the same league as that on display from Mel Brooks in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. You can't parody something truthfully unless you have a genuine love for it and Larry Blamire's DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is overflowing with it. This is definitely going to be required viewing for me next Halloween!

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