Judge Paul Pritchard wrote this review on a bright and sunny afternoon.
"I'd say from the position of the knife he's been stabbed."
A parody of 1930s murder mysteries, Dark And Stormy Night begins just after the death of the wealthy Sinas Cavinder. Family, friends, reporters, and a succession of strangers arrive at the Cavinder estate to hear the reading of Sinas' last will and testemant, as a storm rages outside.
Following a reading of the will, Cavinder's attorney reveals an addendum to the document. However, no sooner has he made this revelation, the lights go out, causing panic amongst the gathering. When the lights are restored, our horrified guests discover the dead attorney, face down at his desk with a knife in his back. It seems someone, perhaps one of the guests, has murderous intentions and will stop at nothing to get their hands on the Cavinder fortune. The gathered ensemble must now use their wits to stay alive, while a mysterious phantom stalks the hallways committing murder most foul.
Unlike most modern comedies, which often follow a similar formula to each other, Dark And Stormy Night feels very much like an outsider; something of a departure from the norm. Let's be honest, a film full of (mostly) unknowns, designed to affectionately send up 1930s murder mysteries is hardly a sure-fire guarantee for success (just look at Haunted Honeymoon). And yet, despite my initial concerns that the film could easily end up an embarrassing cringe-fest, and perhaps going against my better judgment, I find myself actually recommending Dark And Stormy Night, with a caveat or two.
Writer/director Larry Blamire's sense of humor is a little off-the-wall, and may not sit well with mainstream audiences. All too often it's easy to believe the cast and crew found the gags funnier than most viewers will, since they clearly share Blamire's comedic leanings. But that's not to say the film isn't funny; on the contrary, Dark And Stormy Night frequently hits the mark. If the jokes are rarely side-splitting, they are certainly capable of raising a titter or two. A nicely written "you will be next" gag (reminiscent of the classic Abbott & Costello "Who's on First?" sketch) is particularly worthy of a mention, as is the totally random and totally unexplained appearance by a Gorilla. Blamire and co. do a good job of satirizing the often wooden acting found in the early talkies, and provide a good number of witty one-liners. Conversely, some of the other skits—including an initially funny gag whenever the lights go out—are often stretched a little too thin, and would have worked better had Blamire not recycled them so often.
Apart from the odd comedic misfire, problems with the film arise primarily from the oversized cast. Even for a parody such as this, there are too many characters that feel surplus to requirements, and only serve to overcomplicate matters. It's easy to understand why Blamire took the decision to go with such a large cast, as it allows him to cram in as many genre archetypes as possible; it's just a shame this leads to some of the more interesting characters getting less screen time than they deserve.
The cast contains few recognizable faces, though Daniel Roebuck and Christine Romeo will have viewers scratching their heads and scouring IMDb in an attempt to work out where they have seen them before. Leading by example, writer-director Larry Blamire delivers an excellent performance as dimwitted stranger Ray Vestinhaus. The rest of the cast follow Blamire's lead, with quick fire deliveries and intentional screw ups (ala Black Dynamite) the order of the day.
Visually, everything from the lighting to the choice of shot feels true to the genre Blamire is aiming at. The writer/director has carved out a career making similarly minded comedy-homages, and is clearly well schooled in his subject matter.
Shout! Factory has put together a decent package for Dark And Stormy Night. Along with a gag reel, you'll also find a behind-the-scenes feaurette, a director and cast commentary track, and a colorized version of the film. The featurette and commentary are the highlights of the supplemental material. The commentary track in particular puts beyond doubt the enthusiasm all involved have toward the film, and may just help sway those viewers who can't quite make up their mind on Dark And Stormy Night.
The black and white transfer clearly aims to mimic the look of 1930's films, and so is a little on the soft side. However, being an artistic decision, this is hardly something that can be leveled as a criticism at the film. The 2.0 soundtrack is more serviceable than mind-blowing.
Thanks to a series of surprisingly appealing performances, which help to cover up the occasional blips in the screenplay, Dark And Stormy Night makes more than passable entertainment for those looking for something a little different.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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