ARNOLD (1973) Reviews and overview of dark comedy horror

 

‘Eight murders and Arnold is the suspect!’

Arnold is a 1973 American dark comedy horror film about an old dead man whose preserved corpse marries his young lover to spite his widow.

Produced and directed by Georg Fenady (Terror in the Wax Museum) from a screenplay co-written by Jameson Brewer (The New Scooby-Doo Movies; The Addams Family series) and John Fenton Murray (The Lost Saucer series; Sigmund and the Sea Monsters series; The Atomic Kid).

The Fenady Productions-Bing Crosby Productions (BCP) movie stars Stella Stevens (Megaconda; Glass Trap; Wacko; The Manitou), Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester, Shani Wallis, Farley Granger and Victor Buono (The EvilThe Mad Butcher; The Strangler; Hush… Hush, Sweet CharlotteWhat Ever Happened to Baby Jane?)

Review:

Arnold, distinguished by a brief but memorable ad campaign in the early 1970s (sadly, the opening theme song belted out by supporting actress Shani Wallis never charted), was the work of divers hands who had done many sitcoms and children’s material for American TV. One senses these restless creatives trying to push boundaries further beyond the era’s usual small-screen strict censorship and getting to luxuriate in the “sick humour” trend of the era that found best expressions in black comedies such as Harold and Maude or Where’s Poppa?

Still, even with the creative multiple-deaths framework soon to be gleefully adopted by the slasher genre, it’s a very mild comedy-thriller by most any modern standards – a bit of gore here and there, some mildly titillating innuendo (mainly Stella Stevens in lingerie) and overtones of corpse carnality that would hardly make a dent in the Jorg Buttgereit legacy.

Perhaps the best way to watch it is as a sort of embryonic form of the colourful, star-laden, eye-rolling gothic-kitsch horror-comedy that would later be associated with Tim Burton (who would go to the eye-watering expense of simulating the garish colour of what were probably just some leftover backlot sets and costumes and character actors here).

Lord Arnold Dwellyn (Norman Stuart), an industrial chemical industry tycoon who made his fortune in cosmetics (and some more lethal concoctions), has just died. Bizarre terms of his will leave his estate to his curvaceous young mistress Karen (aforementioned Stella Stevens), but only as long as she `faithfully’ lives with his embalmed corpse in the mansion.

The silent, smiling Arnold is ever-present around the house in his mobile coffin. Thanks to a steady supply of audio-cassette tapes and convenient tape players (which was quite advanced technology back then, [sigh]) around the place, Arnold also regularly, sardonically comments on the state of affairs among his disgruntled relatives, who are, of course, dissatisfied with the terms of the inheritance.

The relatives include Arnold’s caddish younger brother Robert (Roddy McDowall) (with whom Karen has been indulging in a secret affair), his widow Lady Jocelyn (Shani Wallis) and his elderly solicitor cousin Douglas Whitehead (Patric Knowles); Arnold’s sister Hester (Elsa Lanchester) appears to be only one who is happy with the bizarre situation.

Arnold has also allegedly hidden a huge sum of money somewhere on the property. As his dejected family and staff skulk around in search of the elusive fortune, they fall victim to fiendish death traps that the wealthy dead man appears to have prepared in advance. It is as though Arnold uncannily anticipated everyone’s actions. Or is Arnold not really dead? Or is he undead?

The film is not particularly scary, or surprising, but to complain very much about that would be like being offended at not getting nightmares from looking at the whimsical-macabre illustrations of artist Edward Gorey. Arnold is nonetheless welcome as a genre spoof that flirts with bad-taste naughtiness and employs a number of stalwart troupers.

To note how times and tastes had changed, compare Arnold to Paramount’s 1944 dark-and-stormy-mansion comedy-thriller One Body Too Many, which is also about a wealthy ever-present corpse and an inheritance; such was the censorship in that era, however, that the deceased is never actually shown on camera, only his coffin.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“The humor is intentionally obvious, filled with “groaner” puns, and the entire film is something of a “camp” treat, especially given the cast. No one does his or her best work here, but all involved are at least in the proper spirit, and it’s hard not to get caught up in that spirit — but it’s also not hard to “fall out of it” after 15 or 20 minutes.” AllMovie

Arnold is a chore to get through. The lighting is flat, the music is ghastly, the sets are flimsy, and Stevens gives an embarrassingly bad leading performance. Worst of all, Arnold is timid. Had the folks at Bing Crosby Productions (yes, really!) bothered to contrive a storytelling style as crass as the film’s underlying premise, Arnold might have become a bad-cinema milestone. As is, it’s just tacky.” Every ’70s Movie

” …the direction is flat and dull, and it just isn’t very funny. Victor Buono comes off best as the minister who performs the marriage, but it’s a cameo, and most of the funnier bits are consigned to characters who aren’t associated with the main action of the movie.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“As though having fired off its best scene first, the rest of the humour becomes very broad. There are some occasionally entertaining despatches offered up for the various cast members – the most amusing of which is when Roddy McDowall puts on one of Arnold’s suits only to get strangled by it.” Moria

“It has too much of the contrived old-fashioned horror movie elements without adding anything new to it. Even done in the spirit of parody it is too clichéd. The sets are unimaginative and cheap […] The humor is sparse and relies mainly on corny one-liners.” Scopophilia

“A thoroughly inept black comedy/horror send-up […] The plot itself isn’t so bad; it’s the relentlessly chirpy American humour trowelled over everything , the impossible ballad, and the way the performers pause in delivery as if waiting for laughter, that really makes Arnold unbearable.” Time Out (London)

“Lots of bizarre and creative deaths in this horror spoof, including acid-laced face cream and a shrinking suit; quoth the local policeman, “If they keep dying this way, we’ll have to bury them piggy-back!” Unusual wedding scene is a must-see.” Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Films and Trash Flicks

Choice dialogue:

Robbie: “Damned Hindu zombie. He is the perfect houseboy for a corpse.”

Cast and characters:

Stella Stevens … Karen
Roddy McDowall … Robert
Elsa Lanchester … Hester
Shani Wallis … Lady Jocelyn Dwellyn
Farley Granger … Evan Lyons
Victor Buono … Minister
John McGiver … Governor
Bernard Fox … Constable Hooke
Patric Knowles … Douglas Whitehead
Jamie Farr … Dybbi
Norman Stuart … Lord Arnold Dwellyn
Ben Wright … Jonesy
Wanda Bailey … Flo
Steven Marlo … First Dart Player
Leslie Thompson … Second Dart Player
Murray Matheson … Lord Arnold Dwellyn (voice) (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Paramount Studios – 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Technical details:

94 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono

Release:

In the USA, Arnold was released by Cinerama Releasing Corporation (CRC) on November 16, 1973. It was released on VHS by Lightning Video but there does not seem to have been a DVD release.

Trailer:

YouTube reviews:

MOVIES and MANIA rating:

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