cast: Jim Beaver, Jennifer Blaire, James Karen, Larry Blamire, and Fay Masterson
director: Larry Blamire
93 minutes (PG) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
4 Digital Media DVD Region 2
review by Ian Sales
Dark and Stormy Night poster
Dark And Stormy Night
A yellow cab drives through the night, while rain lashes down and lightning flashes. Inside the taxi, ace reporter 8 o’clock Farrady (Daniel Roebuck) tells the cabby (Dan Conroy) that he’s on his way to cover the reading of the late Sinas Cavinder’s will at the family’s mansion. When they arrive, Farinder short-changes the cabby, who follows him into the house demanding the 35 cents he is owed. On their heels is cub reporter Billy Tuesday (Jennifer Blaire), who also intends to report on the reading. As the night progresses, the principals – relatives, friends, the dead man’s safari guide – gather in the house, while outside a storm rages – and takes out the bridge to the mainland, leaving those present stranded. Then, one by one, people start to turn up dead…
Dark And Stormy Night makes it clear from the first frame that it’s a spoof. That cab bumping along the road to the Cavinder estate? It’s a model. The characters have names like Burling Famish Jr (Brian Howe), Mrs Hausenstout (Betty Garrett), Seyton Ethelquake (James Karen), Mrs Cupcupboard (Alison Martin), and Dr Van Von Vandervon (H.M. Wynant). Some of the names raise a chuckle, but they’re about the only thing in the film which does. Larry Blamire has chosen to spoof the genre he is targeting – the country-house murder-mystery – by dragging out every cliché and then piling them one on top of the other. Not only, it transpires, is the Cavinder estate haunted, but its grounds were also the site of a series of gruesome murders – and all the victims shared a nickname with heiress Sabasha Fanmoore (Fay Masterton). Each of the characters also possesses highly coincidental links with each other and/ or the late Sinas Cavinder. And there is a hooded and cloaked killer, the ‘Phantom’, creeping about the house’s secret passages…
Initially, the film feels like a play, with its claustrophobic staging and over-emphasised dialogue, and not a very good one.
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The wit is heavy-handed, the pastiche is thumpingly obvious. As the plot begins to thicken – along with the cast, it has to be admitted – Dark And Stormy Night begins to open up and feel more like a movie. But it’s one in which every revelation is subsequently over-turned by another which is yet more ludicrous. The jokes are not savoured; they’re chewed to a pulp. The shotgun repartee fires off one-liners and gags in the hope at least one will hit the target. Sadly, few even come close.
As the plot works its way wincingly towards its obvious conclusion, it becomes plain that the cast are having more fun than the viewer. There’s a smugness to the jokes; a knowingness about the punch-lines which suggests the filmmaker has a higher opinion of his wit than what is actually on display. If anything, Dark And Stormy Night feels like a sketch from a comedy show which has been stretched well beyond breaking-point, and this has not only caused its humour to implode but has also made it nearly unwatchable.
It’s not as if the country-house murder-mystery has ever been spoofed before. These days the format might well be immune to pastiche. Certainly, over-egging the clichés is one tried and tested means of doing so, but the wit should be scalpel-sharp and not a blunt instrument. True, the country-house murder-mystery has never placed great store by plausibility. Mrs Marple and Jessica Fletcher, for example, must be feared the length and breadth of their respective countries – wherever they choose to visit, people die. It’s a wonder they have any friends or relatives left.
Of course, the country-house murder-mystery is formulaic to a fault, so much so that the deployment of its clichés in order is a necessary part of its resolution. But there is still plenty of room to manoeuvre. It’s just a shame that Larry Blamire chose to motor straight on through his story, dishing out heavy-handed and obvious humour, instead of looking for the right places for the right jokes to liven up a Dark And Stormy Night.