05/15/2011 03:59 pm ET | Updated Jul 15, 2011

Where Is Miss Marple When You Really Need Her?

Certain genre spoofs derive an extra layer of fun from the simple fact that they are shot in black and white. Created by filmmakers who are head over heels in love with a certain type of movie, these spoofs boast an incredible amount of attention to detail and tradition.

If you have even the slightest acquaintance with Larry Blamire's work, you know that he is the author of I Didn't Know You Came With Raisins and Tales of the Callamo Mountains. No doubt you are aware that he is also the delightfully demented auteur behind such loving spoofs of Grade-B movies as The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, and The Trail of the Screaming Forehead. Blamire delights in giving his actors unforgettable lines like "I fell into the night and it swallowed me, like a child swallows Jujubes."

Blamire's loving tribute to 1930s "dark house horror flicks," entitled Dark and Stormy Night, embraces and celebrates every cliché of the genre. Among the characters in Blamire's deliciously loony romp are:

  • Happy Codburn (Dan Conroy), the cabbie who drives over a creaky bridge to deliver a cheapskate fare to the Cavinder estate "in the middle of nowhere."
  • 8 o'clock Faraday (Daniel Roebuck), the cabbie's passenger, a penny-pinching gossip reporter from The Sentinel who is eager to crash the reading of Sinas Cavinder's will.
  • Billy Tuesday (Jennifer Blaire) a sassy female reporter from The Sentinel who is Faraday's rival for the big scoop.
  • Jeens (Bruce French), Sinas Cavinder's haughty butler.
  • Jane Hovenham (Trish Geiger), the Cavinder estate's maid, who might just be up to no good.
  • Archie Folde (Robert Deveau), Cavinder's insane cook who doesn't always pay careful attention as he ominously wields his meat cleaver.
  • Ray Vestinhaus (Larry Blamire), a rather odd man who claims to have been driving by in the neighborhood when his car suddenly broke down by accident and he just happened to arrive in time for the reading of the will (oops!). Vestinhaus also wonders if it matters that the only bridge to the island where the Cavinder estate is located collapsed just after he drove over it.
  • Jack Tugdon (Jim Beaver), a rough man with a dark past who was the safari guide for the recently deceased Sinas Cavinder during four of the worst days of his life.
  • Burling Famish, Jr. (Brian Howe), the man who -- one way or another-- expects to inherit the vast Cavinder fortune.
  • Pristy Famish (Christine Romeo), the vapid, aging golddigger wife of Burling Famish, Jr.
  • Lord Partfine (Andrew Parks), a societal dandy and crashing bore who is a friend of the Famishes.
  • Mrs. Hausenstout (played by the late Betty Garrett), a sweet old woman who may have shown up for the reading of the wrong person's will.
  • Kogar (Bob Burns), her pet gorilla.
  • Mrs. Cupcupboard (Alison Martin), a fashionable but demented medium who often speaks in gibberish.
  • Gunny Gunny (Marvin Kaplin), the disembodied spirit who communicates with Mrs. Cupcupboard during her seances.
  • Seyton Ethelquake (James Karen), an easily frightened and confused old man.
  • Sabasha Fanmoore (Fay Masterson), a female ward.
  • Thessaly (Susan McConnell), the insane niece of Sinas Cavinder who has been locked up in the attic for many years.
  • Dr. Van Von Vandervon (H. M. Wynant), a local physician with exceptionally bad timing.

To spill any of the hysterically funny details of Blamire's film could ruin the fun. Let's just say that the lights keep going out, people keep getting killed, secret panels keep opening, phantoms and ghosts wreak havoc while the rain keeps coming down in torrents, and every cliché of the "dark house" genre gets beaten to a bloody and hilarious pulp.

Dark and Stormy Night benefits immensely from Christopher Caliendo's original musical score, Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein's lovingly tacky cinematography, and Jason Garner's delicious art direction. Here's the trailer:

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The only thing missing from The Drummond Will would be some cameo appearances by the ghosts of Terry-Thomas and Margaret Rutherford. This raucously rude and deliciously irreverent farce gets more out of its stark black and white cinematography than most indie films could ever hope to enjoy.

Poster art for The Drummond Will

In his director's statement, Alan Butterworth writes:

"Making the film in black and white was never really a difficult decision. My favorite film (Dr. Strangelove) is in black and white. Kind Hearts and Coronets looks better than The Ladykillers. Manhattan looks better than Annie Hall, and Raging Bull looks better than just about anything.

I also mention Kind Hearts and Coronets as it was a key influence on the story. I only saw it a few years ago and I was blown away by it. The concept of having a central character who was so clearly immoral in a comedy was something that really stuck with me. For our film though, especially with Danny (a character who wasn't exactly immoral but simply unconstrained by traditional moral values) it seemed a more interesting way to go in a modern context.

This film is a deeply affectionate modern retelling of the classic comedies and murder mysteries from the Ealing era of British cinema. The Drummond Will imagines what it would be like to be stuck in a world where the strange rules of Ealing cinema apply. A world where life continues quite as normal in the face of escalating body counts, where sleepy English villages invariably harbor any number of dark secrets, and where you only really know who the murderer is when everybody else has been killed. The thoroughly modern Danny and Marcus are trapped in just such a world, and are quickly swept out of their depth. As they realize they'll need to rely on each other if they are to survive, and modern ideas like forensics, cell phones and common sense won't help them, it quickly becomes clear that, inevitably, nothing is what it seems."

Marcus (Mark Oosterveen) and Danny Drummond (Phillip James )

Marcus Drummond (Mark Oosterveen) is a conservative, middle-aged bureaucrat prone to suffering increasing levels of abuse. His brother, Danny (Phillip James), is the happy-go-lucky fool who can't stop himself from making bad decisions and getting into more trouble. Soon after their return to the tiny village in which they grew up, their father's funeral sets off a chain of unlikely events bound to land the two brothers in a never-ending heap of trouble. Among the people who seem determined to make their lives miserable are:

  • The Constable (Jonathan Hansler) is a familiar stereotype of British whodunits.
  • The Vicar (Nigel Osner) thinks that, even in this day and age, his sexuality would be a secret.
  • Betty the Barmaid (Victoria Jeffrey) has a nasty way with a crossbow.
  • The Colonel (Eryl Lloyd-Parry) desperately wants something.
  • Malcolm the Bastard (Morrison Thomas) is hiding in the closet, clutching a bag of money.
  • Hobo Dave (David Manson) is as drunk as ever.

Marcus (Mark Oosterveen) tries to tidy up the kitchen

Only their loving Uncle Rufus (Keith Parry) seems happy to see the two Drummond boys. But, like everyone else in the village, Rufus has a few secrets up his sleeve.

To spill the beans wouldn't be fair to the filmmaker. Let's just say that The Drummond Will is one of the most refreshingly inventive and lovingly crafted send-ups of a beloved genre to be seen in many a moon. It's the blackest of comedies and a joyful romp rolled into one very pleasing package. Here's the trailer:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape.