Only One Scene In Weekend At Bernie's Wasn't A Real Body

What if you died but could somehow manage to still entertain guests at your exclusive beach house party, mark up the price for your Porsche by 20 grand and sell it, and perform in the bedroom like you never have before ... all while evading a hitman? That's the 1989 dark comedy "Weekend at Bernie's" in a nutshell. Terry Kiser stars as the titular character, which means he plays a corpse for most of the film. And almost the entire film uses Kiser playing dead. However, his co-star Andrew McCarthy revealed that there is one scene in which a real body wasn't used. (Side note: we talked to Andrew McCarthy about his memoir and '80s nostalgia in 2022.)

In "Weekend at Bernie's," Larry (McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman), two young professionals looking to climb the corporate ladder at their New York City insurance company, show their boss, Bernie Lomax, that someone within the company has committed insurance fraud. Unbeknownst to them, the culprit is Bernie himself, who suckers the pair into coming to his party at his beach home over Labor Day weekend. It's a setup for him to hire mob boss Vito (Louis Giambalvo) to kill them. However, when it becomes obvious that Bernie creeps in between the sheets with Vito's girlfriend, the mobster directs hitman Paulie (Don Calfa) to take out Bernie instead. 

Larry and Richard discover Bernie's body at the beach house and hear a voice message from Bernie instructing Paulie to not kill them while he's around. In fear for their lives, they carry Bernie's corpse everywhere they go. This somehow fools everyone into believing Bernie is alive. Paulie returns to finish the job, again, and again. Though the movie is hilariously unbelievable, one over-the-top stunt was impossible for any living person to perform.

Man overboard! Stop the boat!

At one point, our protagonists try to escape on a speedboat. The inexperienced boaters wildly swerve, narrowly avoiding collisions with fishermen and other sea vehicles. Bernie's body flies overboard. The corpse rides the waves and soars in the air. Of course, the onlookers think he's just showboating. His head clanks against the metal channel markers. "There was only a dummy when we were dragging him behind the boat," Andrew McCarthy said in a 2017 interview with The A.V. Club. "Serpentine! Serpentine!" he added a reference to a line his character yells in that scene. 

It's slapstick comedy, but "Weekend at Bernie's" isn't everyone's cup of tea, and this particular scene turned off even one of the movie's own cast members. Catherine Mary Stewart plays Gwen, Richard's love interest. She discussed her visceral reaction to the bit while reading the script. According to a 2020 Mel Magazine article, she explained:

"I read the script thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is so silly. How are they going to make this work? A dead guy? Come on!' I thought it was a little barbaric having that scene where he falls off the back of the boat and he's being dragged along through the water and banging into buoys and stuff like that. I thought, 'Yuck that's not funny. That's horrible.'"

If she thought that one scene was horrible, I wonder what she thinks about the ghoulish prank involving Drew Barrymore's granddad that possibly inspired the entire movie. Personally, I take the film for what it is: an outrageous slapstick. I'm just glad the directors used a dummy for that scene. Someone could have gotten seriously hurt, or worse. And speaking of injuries ...

Terry Kiser's body took a beating on set

Playing a dead guy for most of the movie didn't prevent Terry Kiser from getting hurt on set — quite the opposite, actually. His body was at the mercy of his co-stars, and as Andrew McCarthy told The A.V. Club, Kiser got "really Bernie'd up," so much so that he needed heavy medication and a stuntman to jump in for him during some scenes.  

Kiser himself talked about being put through the wringer. "I broke three ribs during the course of filming," he told Mel Magazine. "I had a nerve in the back of my neck press down that was causing violent dizziness when they kept dropping me on the couch on my head." Yikes! Maybe they should have used that dummy for the whole movie.  

Playing a stiff wasn't all bad for him. He used the role to have a little fun and try to make the crew laugh and his fellow actors break character. He came up with the signature "Bernie smirk," a sly grin the character wears throughout the movie. He explained what happened after the first time he did the smirk. "The next day, we go to dailies and I see myself dead with this Bernie smirk, and everybody starts laughing," he said. "That changed the whole character of the thing: Every time you saw him, he was funny."

The "Bernie smirk" is one of the hilarious details about the character, especially when it drives Paulie insane after he kills Bernie for like the hundredth time. I'm curious now: what does method acting look like for someone who's playing a stiff? Andrew McCarthy knows the answer to that.