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RE-TRO-VIEW: Transylvania 6-5000

Transylvania 6-5000


As I get older and the general responsibilities of adulthood take up more and more of my free time, it is a rare occurrence indeed that I am able to check off a movie from my list of Great Films that I have yet to see; meanwhile, quite inconsiderately, the list continues to grow. One sad fact that keeps me from catching up is that all the burdens that weigh on me throughout the work day leave me mentally exhausted when time comes to relax; so rather than browse the Criterion Collection on Hulu, I'm more inclined to browse Netflix's "Supernatural Sci-Fi" section. This is how I finally ended up watching a movie whose cover on the video store shelf had always intrigued me, but also conveyed its merits and flaws well enough to keep me from actually renting it: Transylvania 6-5000.

Yes, the awkwardly superimposed faces of impossibly young Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley, Jr. seem ready to apologize for the movie before you even remove it from the box. And with good reason: Transylvania 6-500 has about five reasonably funny gags to present over the course of an hour and forty minutes worth of dumb, obnoxious cheapness. The script is almost worthless; the only reprieve comes from the strangely accomplished cast, which includes Carol Kane, Jeffrey Jones, and Donald Gibb, in addition to the two stars I mentioned above. All of these actors are likable in their roles, reveling in the silliness of it all, and emanating a sense of fun that gives the film whatever tiny amount of propulsion it possesses to get you through to its conclusion.

However, if this movie is worth watching, it's because of three outstanding performances: Joseph Bologna, in a tour de force, Mel Brooks-esque performance as a hammy, Borscht Belt mad scientist; Michael Richards, inspired in possibly the best role of his career as a Romanian hick doorman and aspiring practical joker; and finally, in a cameo, Geena Davis as a sexy, nymphomaniac "female Dracula." Davis takes what could have been simply a sexy sight gag and creates a strong, sensitive, magnetic character. Credit should also be given to the costume designer who created her ridiculous outfit, including a Chippendales elastic bow tie.

In the end, the most disappointing aspect of the movie is that the plot twist at the end is actually quite clever; if only some clues had been sprinkled throughout, the movie might actually have come close to engaging its audience. I love scrappy horror comedies, and I would have loved it if the movie really worked. In fact, as a filmmaker, my first thought upon the reveal of the movie's conclusion was that somebody should remake it, axing all the side plots that went no where, and investing in a little bit of atmosphere. But how could you ever get a cast as good as this one? How could you ensure a performance as inspired as Michael Richards's bizarre spectacle? And where could you locate a physical specimen as inspiring as a 6 foot tall, 29 year old Geena Davis? It just isn't possible. There may be better horror comedies out there, but Transylvania 6-5000's small glories belong to it alone. A scary thought, indeed.