JUNE 8, 2010
Is it possible that 6 year old BC simply just watched the opening credits for Transylvania 6-5000 and nothing else? Because that’s all I remembered. And the one at the end credits is different, so if it was just something that was often on right before whatever I actually wanted to watch (probably Three Amigos or Little Shop of Horrors), that wouldn’t have been the version that stuck in my head. Either way, not a single moment of the film felt familiar to me after the song concluded, and I know my memory’s not THAT bad.
Well, whether I watched it or not, we still have another fondly remembered 80s movie that I have no nostalgia for and have no choice but to see it as it really is (lackluster) and not as something to defend against folks who also missed the boat as an impressionable child (such as Shocker). It’s not a total loss, but I spent most of the movie thinking of ways that it could have been better, which isn’t exactly a rewarding viewing experience (it DOES make me feel better about my chances of fulfilling my dream of raping someone’s childhood by remaking their favorite film, however!*).
The main problem is that writer/director Rudy DeLuca doesn’t capitalize on the film’s best asset - the chemistry between Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. The best scenes in the film are the ones where they are just talking to one another, with bitter wiseass Goldblum constantly mocking the ambitious and naïve Begley. They have a great rapport and score pretty much all of the film’s laughs. The exception is Michael Richards, who is a hoot as the castle’s butler and seemingly aspiring comic, as he’ll purposely slip on banana peels and answer the door with a little puppet. It’s so odd and out of place, it killed me every time.
I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that he came up with all of the shtick himself, because it seems like DeLuca’s own instincts was the film’s biggest problem. He may have worked with Mel Brooks a lot, but, you know, Friedberg and Seltzer worked with Keenan Ivory Wayans (the only one besides Damon with any discernible comic talent) too. On the commentary, he points out his favorite lines, all of which are groaners, and bemoans the loss of the ass shot in his cameo, saying it was the film’s best visual gag. When a guy thinks showing his ass is the highlight of his comedy, then maybe you, the viewer, should just move on (or go back in time and make your 6 year old self watch it).
But back to the splitting of Begley and Goldblum. Their interactions with other characters never live up to the comic joy of their “buddy” scenes, and you can pretty much forget about any scene that doesn’t have either of them. Far too much of the film is given to the antics of Radu and Lupi (Carol Kane, playing her umpteenth dimwit weirdo), scenes that might as well have added an audio track of cricket chirps. And I didn’t find the humor in poor Geena Davis playing a slutty vampire, which just made the fact that she never shared a scene with Goldblum all the more depressing (though, silver lining, it was this movie that led them to being cast in The Fly, which Brooks produced).
Plus, it has a goddamn Scooby-Doo ending! Despite having more monsters than Monster Squad (which is a far more enjoyable movie, nostalgia or not), none of them are actually monsters. The wolfman is just a guy with too much hair, the mummy is a beautiful woman who underwent plastic surgery, etc. It’s not really the worst plot in the world to have the mad scientist be a guy who is just trying to help unfortunate folks be able to live normal lives (his “experiments” are designed to cure them), but the execution is terrible. It takes like 10 straight minutes of explanation for it to make (some) sense, at a point of the film where there should be some action. Worse, as usual, it’s a twist that renders a lot of the earlier scenes a bit nonsensical, as the “monsters” were behaving in terrifying ways instead of just being like “hey I’m actually a good guy”.
Luckily, there are enough gags that work, plus some basic charm, which keeps it watchable. I rather liked the idea that the Gypsy falls asleep and breaks her table so often that her assistant has another on hand (complete with crystal ball) to replace it, and most of Goldblum’s skeptic responses to the stuff around him are great, aided immensely by his trademark off-kilter delivery. Some of the sight gags are pretty hilarious too, like when they get to the would-be scary castle and there’s a sign saying that they accept American Express. And the entire Normal Fell scene that opens the film is great. In fact, the movie works best before the monster plot kicks in, which is a bit odd.
The aforementioned commentary is the only extra of note (a few trailers and some hilariously low-rent storyboards round things out). DeLuca and “visual consultant” Steve Haberman (ghost director?) are pretty upfront with the movie’s shortcomings (and to his credit, DeLuca blames himself), and share a lot of delightful anecdotes, such as the fact that his original plan was to cast Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, only to be turned down by producers who had never heard of Hanks. And as I mentioned, it’s amazing to hear how many of the things I actually thought were funny were of the actors’ design and not his. Maybe the movie would have been better if they never used his script at all.
I’m sure someone is cooking up a remake somewhere, and I’m all for it (maybe if the Monster Squad remake is a hit?). With two good actors and a script that keeps them together for more of the film, it could be a really fun flick, instead of one that manages to look good by comparison to other films (Transylmania, anyone?). My suggestion - reteam Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott (with Rudd in the Goldblum role), and eschew the Scooby Doo shit in favor of actual monsters (though the idea that they are not the real problem can be kept). And keep the theme song.
What say you?
*I am kidding, of course. I never actually understood this phrase - if you don't like remakes, ignore them. All of my favorite horror movies have been remade, it hasn't changed my love OR my memories of any of them. I guarantee you, when I put on Carpenter's Halloween, I don't let Rob Zombie cross my mind.