I must confess: I admire quirky niche filmmaker Larry Blamire's work more than I actually like it. I'm aware he's got a lot of hardcore fans out there and I appreciate that he is doing something different in his approach, but it's just not for me. Bearing that in mind, here's my review of his latest genre send-up, Dark & Stormy Night.
Less like a loving homage ala Young Frankenstein and more like a poking-fun-at-it spoof (sans sophomoric humor, thank goodness) along the lines of the Scary Movie franchise, Dark & Stormy Night snarks out on all those great "Old Dark House" B-flicks of the 1930/40s. At times I felt like I was watching a lower-budget 80s comedian-cast ensemble such as Clue or Haunted Honeymoon, with its rancorous, over-the-top humor and sledgehammer subtlety.
The black and white movie hits every cliché note in the ODH songbook, starting with an assemblage of whacky, mysterious characters who've come to a recently-deceased rich relative's mansion to hear the reading of his Will; sustaining with a few murders and red herrings along the way; and ending with the outrageous villainous reveal and confession.
For fans of scary stories and haunted, ghoulish stuff, there's an ancient, deformed witch, a séance-spewing medium whose spirit guide is an Airedale, plus a long-cloaked phantom (who, in one hilarious scene, gets its 'sheet' caught in the doorjamb of one of the many hidden passageways).
My difficulties with this Blamire film are the same one I've had with his previous cult hits (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Trail of the Screaming Forehead) — the cinematography doesn't properly approximate the look and feel of a real old black and white B-movie; it comes off much like a stage play in its static presentation and windy dialogue; and there is more slapstick and run-on jokes than I'd like.
However, on the plus side, it's the best Blamire I've seen to date! I found the cast, story, music, and costuming to be excellent. The trio of heroes — two hard-bitten ace reporters (Daniel Roebuck and Jennifer Blaire) and a wide-eyed cabbie caught in the conundrum (Dan Conroy) — are sublime in every way. What's more, the comic timing of their costars is also awe-inspiring; my favorite was definitely Brian Howe as the insufferable upper crust chap/chump, Colonel Blimp. There's also a spot-on perfect cameo by the legendary Bob Burns as a run amuck ape called Kogar.
When it comes to the extras, they're pretty awesome. Unless you are an absolute purist, I strongly suggest skipping the flat, listless black-and-white transfer and watching the "colorized version" instead. Don't get me wrong, I **love** black and white movies, but we're not talking Citizen Kane or Sunset Blvd., here. Clearly Dark & Stormy Night DP Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein is much more comfortable working in color (and that's how this was shot; it was converted into black and white, and that technique seldom works unless you're Roger Deakins). In color, everything pops — the vintage-inspired costumes and rich makeups bring the ladies life. The play of artificially colorful light (the fog is green) and the shadows add drama and dimension.
The interview with Larry Blamire is hilarious (he really is a very funny fellow, and I like his acting quite a bit, too… it's just his directing that doesn't grab me), as is the cast commentary led by him. So many of the folks take part I couldn't possibly name them all off here, but they have an easy interplay and an obvious fondness for one another, which is always pleasant for commentaries like this. It's jokey and playful (when Dan Roebuck and Dan Conroy are shown in a cab together, someone says, "Which one is Dan?" to which Blamire replies, "That's Dan on the left. And that's Dan there on the right.") but it's also informative and refreshingly candid (Blamire talks about some difficult blocking during one of the biggest, most revelatory scenes in the film).
Overall, I'd say if you're a fan of movies like Old Dark House (1932), Murder in the Blue Room (1944), or The Spiral Staircase (1945) then you'll appreciate what's offered here. If not, then take a pass.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson