I’d already pegged Rudy De Luca, the auteur behind Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), as a poor man’s Mel Brooks, before I’d seen his IMDb resume… so I wasn’t too surprised to discover that De Luca had collaborated with the man himself on such lesser known works as Silent Movie and High Anxiety, before branching out on his own. Lord knows what possessed him to make his directorial debut with a comedy-horror flick featuring a mad scientist and a “monster”… as if such a folly could ever flourish in the long shadow of his mentor’s Young Frankenstein!
For those who don’t know, the story starts off quite promisingly, with two hacky tabloid reporters (Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr.) being dispatched to modern-day Transylvania to uncover the truth behind a mysterious “found footage” video of an unseen monster attacking an American tourist. Arriving in town, they encounter various “wacky” locals, including a shifty mayor played by Jeffrey Jones, as well as a series of supposedly supernatural creatures (including a mummy, a werewolf, and a vampire)… all of whom are eventually revealed to be far more mundane human oddities, in an exposition-heavy, anti-climactic finale that hammers the final nail into the coffin of this lumbering, lifeless corpse of a comedy.
Having listened to the commentary, I feel slightly more sympathetic towards De Luca than I might have done if I’d paid to watch this movie at a cinema back in the day… I mean, it can’t be easy flying to a foreign country to make such a (relatively) extravagant movie on a paltry budget, with a crew who don’t speak English, and clock-watching Producers breathing down your neck all the time. On the other hand, it’s easy to pinpoint a major flaw in the creative team’s approach to their craft via their frequent assertions that Comedy simply happens on the day of filming, springing forth spontaneously whenever you put your actors in front of a camera, and allow them to unleash whatever crazy schtick they dreamed up on the flight over. This explains why the story frequently grinds a halt, so that Michael Richards’s butler character can chase Begley around a castle courtyard, or make him smell an ashtray, for no apparent reason. If you took a drink every time De Luca referred to a cast member or comedy bit as “cute” on the commentary, you’d be pretty drunk by the end of it. It sounds like he just stood back benignly and let the comics run wild… then got defensive and angry when one of the more serious actors asked him hard questions about their character’s motivations and such. As far as I can tell the cast had to fill in a lot of blanks for themselves, and improvise entire relationships! It’s just absurd, really. Of course you can plan for Comedy to happen! That’s what the script is supposed to be for! You create funny, consistent characters, and give them funny things to say and do, and then if the actor wants to punch up their scenes with a bit of improv, that’s icing on the cake… but if you have no cake there to start with, the icing just falls on the plate! And who wants that? A plate covered with icing? Feh.
On the commentary, it’s also suggested that this movie has become a cult favourite over the years… and, if true, I suspect that’s mostly thanks to the appearance of Geena Davis as a sexy vampire-lady, wearing a ridiculously skimpy outfit (designed by the Director himself!) She doesn’t really get any jokes though, and precious little dialogue, so she’s mostly just here as eye-candy. Fun fact: Not only is this movie responsible for Davis and Goldblum first meeting and falling in love, it also inspired Brooks to cast the two of them together in The Fly! Meanwhile, Carol Kane was pretty darn adorable as a maid who works at the Mayor’s castle, and is constantly trailing her harried butler husband (John Byner) around like a love-struck groupie. The sentimental scene between them in the finale is ridiculously heavy-handed and unearned, but they both play their parts beautifully. The other major female cast member is Teresa Ganzel, who plays Goldblum’s love interest, a pretty American divorcee with a young daughter in tow. Personally, I found her a bit bland here, but then I guess most actresses would have a hard time making an impression in the straight role, with Davis and Kane stealing all the scenes around them!