The black comedy Arnold, directed by Georg Fenady, was released in 1973, when I was just eight years old. I still vividly recall the TV commercials for it. They featured a number of the film’s more gruesome murders and put Arnold on the list of ’70s horror flicks whose advertising campaigns made me afraid to close my eyes at night—a list that also included Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Phantasm, and The House That Dripped Blood (whose title alone was enough to inspire nightmares).
Once I’d gotten a little older and become a full-fledged horror fan, I of course made a point of going back and watching all those movies. The sole exception was Arnold. Though it did get a VHS release, I never came it across it in a video store, and it’s one of the many films of that era that didn’t make the leap to streaming. But recently I discovered that someone had uploaded a copy of the full movie to YouTube, and last week I finally crossed it off my bucket list.
The Arnold of the title is Lord Arnold Dwellyn (Norman Stuart), recently deceased. The movie opens not with a funeral, but a wedding. As his lawyer helpfully explains, Arnold’s death has made his wife (Shani Wallis) a widow, thus freeing the dead man to marry his mistress, Karen (Stella Stevens). The ceremony is held in the chapel of the Dwellyn family cemetery, with the minister (Victor Buono) drinking his way through the vows to help cope with his shame at being a part of this.
After the “I do’s,” the members of the wedding party return to Dwellyn manor for the reading of the will. Arnold has left a recording of the text, which is played back on the tape machine installed in the side of his casket. The widow gets to keep her title and her Rolls Royce, but not much else. Arnold’s devoted sister (Elsa Lanchester) gets a small monthly pension, while his ne’er-do-well brother (Roddy McDowall) gets nothing. The bulk of the estate, including “an enormous hoard of cash… the location of which I shall reveal in the near future,” goes to Karen, on condition that she “keep me with you, always, just as you see me now, for as long as you shall live.”
Nobody is happy with this—least of all Karen, who has no intention of spending the rest of her days shacked up with a corpse. But Arnold is (or was) a master at predicting other people’s behavior, and as Karen and the rest of the cast hunt for the aforementioned hoard of cash, they start getting killed off, their deaths accompanied by Arnold’s pre-recorded taunts.
It’s an enjoyably demented mix of comedy and suspense, and while the horror elements are tame by my current standards, I can see how my younger self would have been creeped out. But the real reason I’m glad I waited to see Arnold is that the adult nature of the humor would have gone completely over my head back then.
If you’d like to check out Arnold for yourself, but don’t feel like wading through dozens of Schwarzenegger videos on YouTube to find it, there’s good news: I just found out that a new Blu-ray edition of the film is being released on Halloween. Fingers crossed that a digital release won’t be far behind.