my lovely wife George and I were sitting in our local Turkish restaurant,
waiting for our falafel plates and listening to the T-pop they were piping
in (did I mention I sometimes love living in Chicago?), when George
changes the subject and asks, “So, what’s the deal with Transylvania
the deal, indeed.
just recently bought the aforementioned movie on a trip to the in-laws,
visiting her parents and her brother and his fiancée; the men of that
clan are notorious collectors of visual media, so when the women went off
after lunch, we went to Best Buy to trawl through the DVD aisles.
Thankfully, they’ve finally started treating DVDs like VHS tapes,
and releasing any old trash they feel like.
So came Transylvania 6-5000 into our possession, which
sparked the question.
have fond high-school memories of seeing Transylvania 6-5000 on the
HBO. I recalled it as a
madcap comedy with a loose grounding in the classic horror stereotypes,
and a cast of well-recognized Hollywood luminaries camping it up, but
frankly, I’d glimpsed nary a frame since, and when I saw it on the Best
Buy aisle, I felt compelled to purchase it (it was the same way with Top
Secret; oh, how the cinematic Muse moves through our lives…).
As it happens, George had heard of it, but not seen it, so it was
clear that a viewing was soon to be in order.
brings us to this review, naturally enough.
you have to realize that Transylvania 6-5000 is supposed to be a
screwball comedy. It has
Stooge-like elements, fish-out-of-water elements, some fairly random
visual gags, and, yes, a number of things that fall flat on their own, but
which can be enjoyed in the context of the
greater whole, I think. Then
again, I’ve been known to be quite forgiving if properly charmed by a
film. The leads in Transylvania
6-5000 are Jeff Goldblum (of Earth Girls are Easy, with Jim
Carrey and Damon Wayans, The Favor, the Gold Watch, and the Very Big
Fish, with Brits Natasha Richardson and Bob Hoskins, and a number of
more successful mainstream pictures) and Ed Begley, Jr. (from Meet the
Applegates and many, many others, stretching back into the ‘60s). The partnership is quite good; it was just for this one film,
but they seem to have an almost Road-movie “bickering opposites” kind
of chemistry, which makes me wish they’d done more together.
They’re both pretty good with language, which works for the word
jokes, and it’s nice to see them able to take a good physical gag here
and there. Pratfalls can be
worth it. But it’s mostly
when they play off each other that they really shine.
It’s good, I think, when the buddies in a buddy-movie start off
with a functioning (if prickly) relationship.
Of course, things get unhinged later, but that’s after the comedy
is well underway.
play a rather Abbott & Costello-like pair of reporters working for a
trashy Enquirer-like rag: Goldblum’s Jack Harrison is a serious
journalist fallen on hard times, and Begley’s Gil Turner is the hapless
but earnest son of the publisher, Mac Turner (Norman Fell, handling
himself about as well as he did in Hexed).
Some tourists shot a video of what they claim was the Frankenstein
monster (mis-identified, as is usual in these movies, as Frankenstein,
himself), so Jack and Gil are sent to Transylvania (which, I initially
thought, looks not too unlike a Northern California town, though with more
lederhosen. (I later find out
it was shot in Yugoslavia, which surprises me, and still doesn’t explain
the lederhosen)) to look for Frankenstein. However, once they arrive, the first thing that catches
Jack’s eye is Elizabeth Ellison (played by Teresa Ganzel, the unwealthy
man’s Goldie Hawn). You’d
think since they just came off a long bus trip from wherever the train
station was supposed to be, he’d have noticed her when they were both
still on the enclosed space of the bus, but apparently not.
Elizabeth is vacationing in Transylvania with her daughter, Laura
(Sara Grdjan, in her only film role to date), trying to get some distance
from her messy divorce. She’s
handy with a
bottle, which is mentioned in passing and then becomes more and more
evident as we approach the conclusion.
on the other hand, besides being the dim-witted foil for Jack’s antics,
is immensely credulous of the whole Frankenstein monster story, as well as
any of the other legendary monsters.
It takes him only a few moments of conversation in the local hotel
to turn them into the laughingstock of the whole village, particularly the
Mayor, a man named Lepescu (Jeffrey Jones, of Ferris Bueller’s Day
Off and Howard the Duck) and the local police commander,
Inspector Percek (Bozidar Smiljanic).
hotel is actually an ancient castle, in the process of being renovated.
They are met at the gate by the bellman/manservant, Fejos (Michael
Richards, of “Seinfeld” fame, in an almost incoherent performance
filled with lunatic energy). Fejos performs an inexplicable puppet routine, the first of
many completely random and surreal “comedy” bits.
In a way, Fejos’s antics must be accepted in the same way that
the bloodshed in Dead Alive must be accepted – let it wash
over you, and past you, and you might see the genius on the other side.
Not that Michael Richards is necessarily a genius, but the oddity
of his physical comedy in this film, the sheer strangeness, has its own
charm, if you can transcend the annoyingness of it.
And with Richards, Jones, Goldblum, and Begley, they’re the
tallest cast in show business, already.
And when we finally meet Geena Davis, that height average just
is just one of the strange inhabitants of the castle; the actual owner is
Lepescu, who wishes to turn the place into a tourist attraction. The domestic staff is comprised of diminutive “hunchback”
Radu (the redoubtable John Byner) and his equally diminutive and bent-over
wife Lupi (Carol Kane, of “SCTV” fame), and they comprise the lower
end of the height range in the film.
Neither has an actual lump on their back, but they certainly act as
if they do. Lupi’s life
goal is to be near her beloved husband and to help him.
Of course, Lupi’s interpretation of “helping” is not
necessarily the same as that of an objective observer.
actually, some of it is. That’s
the tricky thing with this film; some of it really seems forced, but
that’s mixed in with the stuff that seems like it could be demented
genius. Could be.
the bumbling reporters find no indication of Frankenstein, although there
does appear to be something amiss in the town.
An old gypsy tells them of a werewolf, her son (though there’s
a red herring at first). As
the movie goes on, Gil sees things – a sexy vampire woman, for one.
He also gets tipped that that Mayor Lepescu and the Inspector are
up to something. They both go
to intimidate the chief doctor at the local asylum, Doctor Malavaqua, a
good-hearted man (played by Joseph Bologna) with a serious problem –
whenever he enters his secret lab, he musses up his normally slicked-down
hair and just goes nuts. He’s
a mad scientist, but only within a certain defined area.
Which is good for a few gags, but makes you wonder how he travels. He doesn’t seem to realize what happens to him, but he does
remember his activities inside the laboratory.
It’s one of the many things that doesn’t quite hold up to
logical thought, but then again, it’s a madcap comedy, innit?
is it? In portraying it as a
comedy fable, the writer/director, Rudy DeLuca, cloaks his points in the
safety of metaphor. The
Transylvanian town, so intent on dismissing its haunted past in favor of
tourism and merchandising – is it so different from our own culture?
Recall how the Disney corporation wanted to take over a number of
historical sites in and around Washington DC some years ago, no doubt to
sanitize and spin the history of our nation safely, even more so than our textbooks
do, and charge people $3 for a can of soda pop.
Think of how, in recent years, they’ve taken the scariness of the
Grimm’s fairy tales, or the mythology of any number of other stories
from many cultures, and, for the most part, neutered them by de-fanging
the monsters and throwing in a few show-stopping musical numbers.
business conglomerates, personified by Mayor Lepescu, and the
authoritarian forces of the military, as portrayed by Inspector Percek,
allow the media free reign, as long as they don’t question the party
line. As soon as they begin
to root out the uncomfortable truth, the reporters are victimized, framed
and imprisoned. One might
think the film were prescient, except that in modern America, the media is
owned by business conglomerates, and so doesn’t bother to print what
would be bad for business. Unlike
Jack and Gil, the watchdogs of our liberty have been muzzled by their new
of the “monsters,” of which there are a number?
I hope I don’t tip anything when I say they are mere
representations of greater ills in the world, representing the objects of
our intolerance of anything different, of the “other.”
Xenophobia has always run rampant in our culture, and it’s served
the purpose of the government and business to encourage that paranoia all
through the Cold War; it led to greater power and money for those at the
top. It’s been such a
successful tactic, is it any wonder we’re still fear-mongering whenever
get away with it? In the
movie, the forces of the Establishment continue this tactic, ignoring and
denying any presence of the “other” until it makes itself known, and
then trying to whip the crowd into a murderous frenzy.
under the safe illusion of entertainment, does DeLuca illustrate a
scathing criticism of Cold War politics, media repression, and human
understanding the “monsters” of the world really bring about peace and
a bigger readership for this page? Is
Fejos not actually crazy, but merely sane in a crazy world?
if nothing else, the above few paragraphs show how easy it is to ascribe
meaning to the meaningless. Therefore,
read all media criticism with a grain of salt.
For that matter, distrust authority of all sorts.
You’ll be glad you did. (Climbing
the soapbox, now.)
is it worth a watch? I
believe so, if only to see the collection of mid-‘80s talent on display,
and to hear Jeff Goldblum sing snippets of Fiddler On The Roof
while strangling Ed Begley, Jr. It’s
silly, and sometimes so abstract and absurdist as to be nonsensical, and
that can be off-putting to some. When
someone says a given movie is stupid, it could be because they don’t
understand it (an example being the people who just didn’t understand O
Brother Where Art Thou and told my sister it was dumb), or it could be
because the movie really is stupid. I
believe I understand Transylvania 6-5000, and I can tell you this:
it’s tricky. It walks a line between annoyingly juvenile and brilliantly
loony, and everybody’s going to make their own judgments on any given
joke. It’s best to see this
film in a frame of mind where you can be happy with either end result;
that way, no matter how you feel about it at the end, you’ve had a good
-- Copyright © 2003 by E. Mark Mitchell