arnold | george fenady | jameson brewer | john fenton murray | stella stevens | roddy mcdowall | elsa lanchester | comedy | thriller | united states | shani wallis | farley granger | victor buono | john mcgiver | bernard fox | patric knowles | jamie farr | old dark house
Director: Georg Fenady
Writer: Jameson Brewer and John Fenton Murray
Starring: Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall and Elsa Lanchester
This film is one that I learned about through the Horror Show Guide encyclopedia I’m working through. It is interesting to revisit this as I didn’t realize how stacked the cast was. I thought this was fine during my first watch and now giving it a second go for my Traverse through the Threes.
Synopsis: upon his death, Arnold (Norman Stuart) marries his lover, Karen (Stella Stevens), despite his widow and leaves deathtraps accompanied by audiotapes along with his preserved and articulate corpse for those who cared only for his money.
We start this in a cemetery. There is a raven that is bothering a cat, but just avoiding being killed. We then meet the caretaker of this cemetery, Jonesy (Ben Wright). He is joined by the constable, who is kind of bumbling and named Hooke (Bernard Fox). They watch as a casket is carried to a church. You’d assume for a funeral service, but it’s a wedding. A party of women go past into the church as well. Constable Hooke is confused and goes to tell them that they have mixed up something. He watches on.
Inside we see that this is not the case. There is a wedding between Lord Arnold Dwellyn and the much younger Karen. We see that everyone attending is shocked by the ceremony. They are his younger brother Robert (Roddy McDowall), his sister Hester (Elsa Lanchester), his widow of Lady Jocelyn (Shani Wallis), his cousin and lawyer Douglas Whitehead (Patrick Knowles). He also brought along a younger man who is learning, Evan Lyons (Farley Granger). A servant is also there, Dybbi (Jamie Farr) and the minister is played by Victor Buono.
We then shift to the will reading. It is here we learn more about the parties involved. Arnold and Jocelyn’s marriage was quite loveless. She didn’t do much to help him when her husband became terminally ill. Karen was his mistress and agreed to marry him upon his death. Robert is a mooch. Hester is eccentric. Not shocking as well is that Arnold was a vindictive man. He is nice to those that showed him respect, allowing Hester to live in his house for as long as she would like. He leaves Robert nothing, since he does nothing. He leaves his widow one share in his corporation. He leaves the rest to Karen, as long as she stays loyal to their marriage. His will reading has all been done by tape, including responses he knows that people will have, so it is like they are speaking to each other.
This isn’t the only thing he foresaw. More tapes come and Arnold has plans for those in attendance. We see that someone is watching through the eye of a painting. Jocelyn has been seeing Evan and she is punished. Robert also has been secretly seeing Karen. He puts on a suit from Arnold’s collection and meets a terrible fate. This makes you question if Arnold is alive or dead. Also, how far has he planned to punish his greedy family members.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll start is saying that I came in not knowing anything about this film and was pleasantly surprised. I saw a comment stating that this is kind of like The Abominable Dr. Phibes and I can see that. It seems also like a Saw-type plot, made thirty years before they came about. I am a fan of the fact that Arnold is ahead of the game and knows what these people will do. He knows they’re greedy and he’s giving them the chance to do the right thing. When they don’t, they’re punished. There is someone helping him though, we see that early on looking from the eye of the painting. That seems more plausible than some revenge films.
What makes this work though is the acting. We have the likes of McDowall, Lanchester, Granger, Fox and Knowles leading the way. They were all at the top of the game at different times. Each one takes on such different characters here that feel like a dysfunctional family. Stevens is someone I didn’t know a lot about, but I liked her. She is a modern woman who knows that she can use her sexuality to manipulate Arnold, Robert, Douglas and even Evan. It doesn’t work out well for her, but she is trying. I should also say that Wallis was solid. We get cameos by John McGiver and Farr who work as well. I do have to bring up, it is a bit racist for the latter. He is taking on an Indian character so he's in brown face. That doesn’t ruin it but makes it problematic today instead of hiring an actor of that descent. I also think the brand of comedy works. It is a black comedy and our players understand the assignment. Credit here for sure for a solid cast across the board.
Another thing that works is filmmaking. The deaths are interesting. We get a face cream to kill one. A suit that gets tighter which makes me think of a medieval torture device. There is creativity here and going practical helps bring character. I was impressed there. The setting is also a plus. We are getting a bit of the ‘old dark house’ with secret passages. Making it seem like Arnold is alive helps here. The cemetery is also always foggy. What is funny there is that characters’ commenting on it. I’d say that cinematography is well done to hide things. This comes in with a PG rating so that is impressive there. What doesn’t necessarily work is the soundtrack. We get these odd musical interludes that are sung by Wallis. They are cheesy, I will give them that. This is a well-made movie despite that little blip.
There isn’t anything else that I want to delve into here so in conclusion, this is a fun horror film with black comedy elements. The premises aren’t new, with both Dr. Phibes films already being out. I like what they do with it here. What makes this work is the cast. We have the likes of McDowall, Lanchester and Granger here. The rest of the cast are good in support. This is a well-made movie with the deaths being a bright spot along with the cinematography. The only drawback being the songs being made for the movie. That doesn’t ruin this though. I’d recommend this one if you’re fans of cinema of this era as I had fun here.
My Rating: 7 out of 10