I am a big fan of Blamire's oeuvre. And his hors d' oeuvres. But his cooking skills aside, let me tell you why all the other people that thought this movie was meh were WRONG.
1) Characterization. Blamire and his now expanded stock company have much more juicy roles to chew on here. The roles in his original, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, are rather flat and lifeless, but this, of course, is on purpose. Paul Armstrong is about as affectless and monotone as you can get, and Betty is as laid back and submissive of a Fifties Femme as you could ever dread running across (she makes Betty Draper/Francis on "Mad Men" seem like Wendy O. Williams...the late punk rocker chick, not the TV talk show host).
Likewise, Ranger Brad is supposed to be portrayed by an actual park ranger that was recruited into the film. Roger Fleming is the only character that is allowed to overact, apart from the malapropisms and social awkwardness of Kro-Bar and Lattis. Animala says about two words. Don't get me wrong, Jennifer Blaire plays the part quite well, including her forbidden animal dance. Ironically, one of the most vital characters is actually DEAD. (That would be the titular skeleton.)
But here in Dark and Stormy Night, we are treated to a truckload of familiar characters, with each one given their very own chunk of drywall to masticate. Let us first consider the case of Jennifer Blaire. In the (arguably) female protagonist role (she is arguably the protagonist, there is no arguing she is female) of Billie Tuesday, she says more in her first sentence of dialog than Animala did in both movies she was in. About the only character purposefully underplaying it is Larry Blamire as Ray Vestinghaus, and perhaps Jeens the butler. Everyone else heaves, cries, howls, shouts, screams and emotes almost as loudly as the constant thunder cracks punctuating every plot point. (This is a good thing...supposed to be a funny movie, remember?)
2)Dialog. LSOC and LSRA were taking on the cracked syntax of 50's zero budget sci-fi, via Ed Wood, Richard Cunha and Jerry Warren. Dialog was loaded with "high tech" buzzwords, and purposefully made to sound obscure to the audience. Here, Blamire is tackling the 1940's Poverty Row horror/mystery. In those films, all they had to keep the audiences' interest were snappy dialog and guys in gorilla suits. Dialog in DSN encompasses several 1930's/1940's movie stereotypes. You've got the pip-pip-cheerio mock posh (mosh?) Britishisms of Burling Famish, Lord Partfine and Sabasha Fanmoore, you've got Mark Redfield's Lionel Barrymore take as Farper Twyly, the snappy 40's patois of reporters Billie Tuesday and 8'O Clock Farraday (I guess their honeymoon night must take place at 8 O'Clock on a Tuesday. Thank you! Try the veal!), and the perfect New Yawk speak of Dan Conroy's wayward cab driver, seemingly a refugee who wandered over from the next soundstage where a Bowery Boys movie was being filmed. ("I just want my turty five cents!") All these stereotypes required extra dialog that had to be written and re-written, not the stunted and blunted phraseology of Dr. Paul Armstrong who can't get any more specific than "real advances in the field of science."
3) Action. In spite of the action all taking place in a confined space, I would submit to you that there is more action here than there is in LSOC. (The Lost Skeleton Returns Again is a different story (no, literally, it is a different story) since that takes place during a jungle safari.) In DSN, people are moving, moving, moving. Maybe moving through the same hallway over and over, but moving nonetheless. Also, there are more characters and plot threads to keep cutting between. Which brings me to...
4)Plot. The plot here is more complex. More characters, more motivations. More bad guys. There's the hooded strangler, the escaped lunatic, the deranged witch, the unwanted ghosts, the possible killers for the sake of greed. Every possible base in the "creepy haunted house" genre is covered, and covered well. The storm, the washed out bridge, the reading of the will, the locked room murders, the secret passageways, the hooded strangler, the ghost, the retarded half-human offspring locked in the attic.
5) Funnier jokes. Yes, LSOC is funny. But damn it, the whole "Have I The Letter?" bit had me ROLLING. And don't even get me started on "It says "You Will Be Next." This is comic gold, people. Worthy of Abbott and Costello at least, or maybe even Monty Python. And that's high praise indeed in my book. Or letter.
I could go on about this at further length. In fact, I will in my upcoming scholarly tome, "Have You The Letter?: The Films of Larry Blamire," due in textbook stores imminently. Look out for it!
LSOC gets a 7. LSRA gets a 7. Dark and Stormy Night gets an 8. Have NOT seen the forehead movie yet, so I will have to wait on that one. Looking forward to anything else Larry does.
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