I probably shouldn’t like Transylvania 6-5000 as much as I do, but I just can’t help it. The jokes are clever and the talents on screen deliver them brilliantly, even if they don’t necessarily have to. Perhaps the film’s hook isn’t the most intriguing, but the narrative plays out entertainingly as though it were.
The movie follows Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Gil (Ed Begley Jr.), two writers for a supermarket tabloid, who are sent to Transylvania to uncover a rumored Frankenstein monster sighting. Their hotel is a 17th century castle-turned-tourist destination, run by the mayor, Lepescu (Jeffrey Jones). When they get there, they’re ridiculed by locals for inquiring about the monster. Lepescu, despite making fun of the Americans for their inquiry, appears, in secret, to have concerns about their curiosity. He’s hiding something, and Gil and Jack plan to find out what.
Among the characters working in the castle are Fejos (Michael Richards), a strange butler with a passion for stereotypical American slapstick. Lepescu’s manservant, Radu (John Byner) kowtows to everyone, calling them “Master”, yet gets annoyed with the subordination of his own over-exaggerated subservient wife, Lupi (Carol Kane), who constantly follows him everywhere trying to help with everything.
Richards and Kane are the biggest standouts, both giving genuinely hysterical improvised performances. I can get behind all the ad-libbing since the talents on screen make it work so well, but some of the moments get dragged out slightly too long. Not because they’re not funny, but because they affect the overall pacing of the movie, contributing to the already-existing issue of a thin premise constantly being put on hold for one reason or another.
Director Rudy De Luca, known for his work with Mel Brooks, gives his stars a lot of freedom on set, but also films each scene as a single shot with not much editing at all. At one point, the camera is just set on Richards as he ad-libs while Goldblum is visibly laughing the entire time. These sequences, while really funny, don’t always feel like they’re part of a movie, but a sketch comedy show.
Fortunately, even the scripted gags contains smart humor. There are some really great bits, and the dynamics of the characters are often more brilliant than they have any right to be. Goldblum plays his normal patronizing self as he’s the only normal person amidst a cast of slapstick entertainers. Like Jim Halpert in The Office. Without him, the movie would just be completely out of control.
With him, however, the film plays out as a fairly reverent parody, like Airplane meets Clue. This time, the parody is of classic horror films and the ignorant tourists who travel to these locations hoping these monsters are all real–though, if they thought about it, they’d realize they shouldn’t want them to be. Even the tabloid journalists fall for their own deception.
Transylvania 6-5000 falters a bit towards the end of the 2nd act when it keeps us in the dark for awhile as it sets up the climax. We end up realizing the stakes are actually pretty low, but we have to remind ourselves this is a parody film after all.