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September 29, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #91 - Dark and Stormy Night

There's something I've always kind of found amazing about how innocent and naive classic cinema seems today.  Even some of the most shocking films of their times - films like James Whale's The Old Dark House and William Castle's House on Haunted Hill - have this sort of boneheaded charm that was cute in their day and seems completely foreign today.  It's that charm - which is certainly similar to the charm of science fiction films of the 1950s - and its inherent silliness that sets the stage for 2009's wonderful black-and-white spoof, Dark and Stormy Night.
Though its promotional tagline - In a house, everyone can hear you scream - spoofs the famous tagline of Alien, Dark and Stormy Night has its sights set much further into cinema's past.  Writer/director Larry Blamire - who similarly spoofed '50s sci-fi with 2001's The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (one of my favorite comedies EVER) - takes aim at the scenes we've seen play out in classic whodunits here, bringing together a group of cliche characters for the reading of a will in an the old Cavendar mansion on...well....on a dark and stormy night, naturally.
The will reading ends badly.
The will reading is used to introduce the characters, most of whom seem to have walked right out of a film by a low-rent Howard Hawks imitator.  From the wealthy folks who are related to the deceased to the outsiders - which include the likes of a stranded medium, a hunting guide, a seemingly innocent dope, and a cab driver who just wants his thirty-five cents - the film provides an adequate guide to stereotypical characters from classic cinema.  Among other great performers in these roles (Andrew Parks' rich-enough-to-think-his-jokes-about-trousers-are-funny Lord Partfine being one of them), my favorite spoofers in the film are probably the feuding male and female reporters played by character actor/horror superfan Daniel Roebuck and Blamire's wife Jennifer Blaire, who present a cracking spoof of the kind of characters made famous by His Girl Friday.
While the characters provide plenty of laughs on their own, Dark and Stormy Night also does its best to spoof the most memorable twists that made this type of film unique.  The events that are played for laughs include a seance in which the fortune-telling Mrs. Cupcupboard summons her rather unhelpful spirit guide Gunny Gunny Luckcakes, and many other horror cliches of the past are also fair game.  If you're looking for a disfigured sibling trapped in an attic, we've got that.  A guy in an ape suit?  Yup, that's here too.  Heck, the film's even bold enough to feature not one but TWO cloaked killers - The Phantom of Cavendar AND The Cavendar Strangler.  
Shopping in the same place? AWKWARD.
The plot that goes along with these silly characters and silly happenings slightly resembles a game of Clue (and, partially, the movie based on Clue), with the challenge being to see which character will die next and how.  It's a little easier to spot the jokes here than it was in Blamire's first Lost Skeleton film - I'm not sure I've ever seen a film flirt with terrible filmmaking as perfectly as that spoof did (That's a compliment!) - but Dark and Stormy Night still manages to harness the same playful brand of humor that has made Blamire one of my favorite recent comic voices.
As has been the case in each of Blamire's films, no joke is too small for Dark and Stormy Night.  The humor starts with the characters names, which include such mix-and-match oddities as Dr. Van Von VanderVon, Seyton Ethelquake (played by Return of the Living Dead's James Karen!) and, my personal favorite, Roca Santachow.  Blamire also works to make the characters act as silly as their names in many ways, with plenty of gags that revolve around simple tasks and the misuse of grammar.  In one of my favorite scenes, several characters take turns reading an ominous note that states "You will be next!", and also take turns voicing their concern that the letter directly states that they - specifically - will be next.  
The comic troupe - most of whom also starred in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and its sequel - are on board with Blamire's madcap sensibilities, and that's a big part of what makes Dark and Stormy Night a success.  When that is combined with Blamire's vast knowledge of the films he's mimicking, the result is a one of a kind success.  I don't feel like his films are really out to make fun of that cheesy charm these films had, because it seems like Blamire - like me - respects the innocence of those days gone by.  And its this balance between respect and mockery that makes Blamire's spoofs so refreshing to the genre film fan. That balance also makes Dark and Stormy Night one of the funniest horror comedies to hit screens in some time.

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