Comedian Dom DeLuise died on Monday, and the listing of the movie roles has begun. Most obituaries will mention his long partnership with Mel Brooks: as a lead bumbler in Silent Movie, the megaphone-toting director cameo in Blazing Saddles, the gluttonous Emperor in History of the World Part 1. More will play up his long friendship with Burt Reynolds: Cannonball Run 1 & 2, Smokey & the Bandit 2, All Dogs Go to Heaven -- you know, the greats. But I will bet you dollars to donuts (a bet DeLuise made often, and lost) that few, if any, will mention Haunted Honeymoon. Probably because it seems to turn up on a couple of "worst movies of all time" lists, but it's the one I know him best from, and it's one of my favorite films of all time. Despite a brilliant performance by DeLuise and a slew of genuinely funny moments from him, Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner, it doesn't seem to get much respect. My ringing endorsement isn't going to change that, but here goes nothing.
Made in 1986, Honeymoon was the last movie directed by Wilder, and it starred himself and Radner, his real-life wife, as 1930s radio actors who go to visit Wilder's Great-Aunt Kate at her big, spooky mansion in upstate New York, along with the rest of his extended family. "Kate" is, of course, played by Dom DeLuise in drag. He speaks in a strange, nasal voice the entire time, doting over the couple at the same time as he insults the rest of his greedy, suspicious family -- which includes Jonathan Pryce as Wilder's cousin and Paul Smith from Popeye as his uncle. (It don't get any more suspicious than that!) Oh, and Kate accuses one of them of being a werewolf. The movie turns into a locked-house murder-mystery version in the vein of Clue, meaning it's played totally for laughs. That doesn't stop it from being pretty damn scary (to child me, at least) at a couple of points, because the true genius of the movie is that you never know what's real and what's fake. At the beginning, they set up the pretense that Wilder needs to be scared in order to cure him of his panic attacks, and Radner is in on the ruse, but the relatives may actually be trying to kill him, because he's the only one in Kate's will. Is the werewolf real? How about the zombie? Or the self-playing piano? Or is it all just another of Wilder, Radner and DeLuise's radio plays? It's... a bit of a mind-fuck, actually, and worth sticking with until the end. Maybe not the best, but certainly not one of the worst.
Pick up the DVD here, and let us know your favorite DeLuise movie below!