Transylvania 9-5000 isn’t exactly bad, but it does feature a pair of complications that, ahem, jump out at you.
Looking for forgotten Halloween specials to cover, I stumbled upon an old staple of my childhood: Transylvania 6-5000. The movie was a box office flop, but saw heavy rotation on cable – not only during the Halloween season, but on the late night schedule. The reasons why it became so popular in those spots is why it was so problematic: it had a stellar (but miscast) roster, it functioned as a cheap knock-off to better comedies (that cost way more to air), and it was gleefully titillating.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
A sleazy tabloid publisher gets wind of a story out of Transylvania purporting to show that Frankenstein’s monster is terrorizing hikers. He sends his best writer, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and reporter, Gil (Ed Begley Jr.) out to the secluded Transylvanian countryside to bring back the scoop.
While both men think the story is likely bunk, they become fascinated by the strange town – Gil by the weird people, and Jack by a pretty journalist from NY. Despite being stonewalled on the story, an old Gypsy tells the pair the truth: the town is hiding a menagerie of monsters, not just the big, green guy with bolts in his neck!
Young Frankenstein B-Roll.
The comedy of Transylvania 6-5000 feels like very heavily reheated Young Frankenstein material. That’s for a good reason, though odd: director Rudy De Luca was a frequent collaborator of Mel Brooks, having co-written Silent Movie, High Anxiety, Life Stinks, and Dracula – Dead and Loving It. The odd thing is…he didn’t work with Mel on Young Frankenstein!
I wish I could say Brooks’ comedic chops rubbed off on De Luca, but the film really just feels like a listless retread of bits from Young Frank, with several roles shamelessly aping Gene Wilder or Marty Feldman’s iconic performances. Comedians like Carol Kane, Michael Richards, and Norman Fell try to do their best with the material, but you can only pump so much voltage into a mediocre script.
Brooks’ proclivity to sprinkle adult or taboo comedy into his farces did seem to rub off on De Luca. There’s quite a bit of bawdy humor and innuendo. This runs up against a weird mismatch in casting.
While Jeff Goldblum certainly had no problem being problematically sexual in his young career, his co-star, Begley Jr. was mostly known to me for his Disney work such as The Absent Minded Professor and Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang. Likewise, Carol Kane’s comedies were feisty, but not as overtly sexy as her role here.
The comedy really failed to gel together, leaving stretches of goofball stuff suddenly interrupted with kinky stuff. Speaking of which…
The really childhood complicating stuff lands front and center with Geena Davis’ character. In Transylvania 6-5000, Davis plays an oversexed vampire named Odette who is desperate to seduce Ed Begley Jr. That could be fine comedy, watching the nice guy Gil try to fend off an extremely aggressive love interest (who is also, maybe, kinda a blood sucking killer?) but the film goes way overboard on sexualizing Odette.
Wow. That is quite a far cry from Barbara Maitland in Beetlejuice or Dottie in A League of Their Own! I’ve seen less revealing X-rays. Elvira Mistress of the Dark would take one look at that outfit and fire her agent on the spot. That’s…that’s quite a bit more than I expected from a silly Halloween special when I was nine or ten years old.
At the end of the day, Transylvania 6-5000 is largely forgettable as a comedy. What it doesn’t steal it largely mishandles. There are some bits that work, but they are all over the place. The kind of audience that would find Michael Richards’ slapstick pranks funny would probably not get Goldblum’s snark or Karol Cane’s sexy innuendo. They definitely would have a hard time reconciling all the goofy pratfalls against Geena Davis vamping the high holy hell out of the place.
I think the enduring legacy of 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000 is most likely the “Jessica Rabbit effect”: causing the sudden and spontaneous onset of puberty in a large subset of its audience. And that’s…weird.