A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #13: “Transylvania 6-5000” (1985)
by A.J. Hakari
I don’t know why so many filmmakers take doing a comedy as permission to not give a shit. It’s not as if they’re exempt from adhering to any cinematic common sense — even when jokes are on the line, you need appealing characters, a coherent plot, and some structure to help them connect with an audience. Otherwise, you’ve got a chaotic, ambling, and impressively unfunny mess like Transylvania 6-5000, which brews up a proverbial pot’s worth of gags to chuck at the wall, only about ten percent of which are clever enough to stick.
While journalist Jack Harrison (Jeff Goldblum) would love to be writing Big Important Stories about human suffering and whatnot, he has to amuse himself for the moment by working for a shameless tabloid rag. When footage supposedly showing Frankenstein’s monster alive and well (not to mention nonfictional) surfaces, cynical Jack and his bumbling partner Gil (Ed Begley, Jr.) are tasked with whipping up an expose in the heart of Transylvania itself. At first, the place looks like it’s out of the Parade of Homes more than a Universal horror picture, with nary a ghoul in sight. But soon enough, Jack and Gil find themselves up to their necks in sex-starved vampires and mad scientists, all of whom tie into an even greater conspiracy at work.
It’s one thing for Monster High to be as dumb as it was, with creative control being essentially assumed by a bunch of frat boys whose idea of comedy entails as many random tit shots as they can stomach. But Transylvania 6-5000 has collected so much talent and throws around surprising production value on a $3 million price tag, there’s almost no valid excuse for the ensuing humor to be as worn and hackneyed as it is. Writer/director Rudy De Luca collaborated with Mel Brooks on a number of occasions, which comes through in the movie’s anarchic and audaciously vulgar attitude. But even having packed the supporting cast with people like Michael Richards, Geena Davis, Carol Kane, and Norman Fell, De Luca either saddles everyone with bad vaudeville bits or prods them into forced improv routines that were bad ideas before they began.
Transylvania 6-5000 starts off as sweet and silly, but by the end, I was praying that Colin Clive would whisk me away for an impromptu brain removal. What really sucks is that Goldblum and Begley have great chemistry, so much so that even when the screenplay isn’t doing them any favors, you can count on their rapport to get you through a scene. But alas, they’re no match for Transylvania 6-5000‘s cringingly forced laughs or the inescapable cloud of dead air that soon follows.