Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

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Jack and Gil, two tabloid reporters, are sent to Transylvania by their boss to write a follow-up story about Frankenstein, based solely on a cheesy video that was sent to the boss’s office. Jack, who fancies himself as a sophisticated reporter, thinks the whole thing is a huge wasted effort and spends most of his time trying to get fellow tourist Elizabeth to go out on dates with him. But Gil, ever ready to win his boss’s (and father’s) approval, tries his best to track down any lead to the story. After making complete fools of themselves to half the town, Gil thinks he might have actually found a lead in Dr. Malavaqua. The only problem is that the local mayor and inspector are making it hard to talk to the elusive Doctor, as they’re a bit perturbed that their lovely, modern city is still being looked at as some sort of Monsterville. Not one to be deterred, Gil does everything he can to get to the bottom of this story, all the while dragging a very reluctant Jack along for the ride. But they’re both about to be very surprised when their search for one monster turns up a menagerie and the things in the lovely “town” of Transylvania are not what they appear.

Transylvania_6-5000_2With high-quality articles like that, it doesn’t surprise me that they keep referring to the region of Transylvania as a “town”. But that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t irk me.

I figured after the fairly good luck I had with Dead Heat that I’d give another comedy/horror outing from the 80s a try. Thus we have Transylvania 6-5000, the title of which, I have since learned, is a play on Pennsylvania 6-5000, a song by Glenn Miller. On paper, the movie sounds great. It’s filled with a lovely cast of 80s/90s stars like Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Geena Davis, Michael Richards, Carol Kane and Jeffrey Jones, and the plot also revolves around a bevy of famous movie monsters. With all that going for it, what’s not to love? 

Well, as it would turn out, a great deal. Unfortunately, even with all those budding possibilities, the movie does not even come close to living up to its full potential. Since watching the movie, I’ve read that critic Leonard Maltin famously gave only a one word review of the film stating, “Transylvania 6-5000 stinks.” While I wouldn’t go quite that far with my own assessment, I must concur that he wasn’t too terribly off the mark.

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Remember, ladies and gentlemen, these are professionals in their field.

Transylvania 6-5000’s biggest flaw is that it commits the greatest sin that a comedy film can make, and that is the sin of…. just not being very funny. Which is a shame, because the premise for the movie is quite good. You’ve got your mismatched duo of the straight man and the goofball, you send them off to a foreign land to find something preposterous, and not only do they end up finding it, but along the way they meet a bunch of quirky characters and a shit ton of other perceived impossibilities that they have to deal with are thrown at them too. It’s a fun idea, but the script as a whole is terrible, with a bunch of mismatched humor thrown all over the place, in the seemingly futile hope to find something that’ll stick. With all that randomness thrown at you they inevitably land a couple of good jokes, but the vast majority of what’s presented here is just bad or cringy. To add insult to the mix, the filmmakers didn’t seem to have the concept of proper joke timing either, so even some of the good gags overstay their welcome and inadvertently wind up becoming uncomfortable. Like I said, it’s a damn shame.

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The characters laughed in the movie more than I laughed at the movie. Take that as you will.

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Other than that, the rest of the film is, believe it or not, surprisingly decent. The film looks quite nice and was shot in Yugoslavia with a lot of locals used as extras, so it retains a lot of that old world charm. And believe it or not, the primary and secondary cast is actually fairly competent in the acting department (moments of scenery chewing aside), I’m just convinced the problem was that they were given crap material to work with. A lot of the secondary cast, in particular, is quite good. In fact, I’d argue they outshine Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. by a country mile. Which, unfortunately, is another of the film’s flaws. The rest of your cast shouldn’t be given better material than two main players. Begley Jr. does, well, an okay job with the material, but Jeff… Let’s just say that while I love Goldblum to death this film does not play to his stronger points. Switching between scenes that are wacky and scary takes a level of finesse that’s just not present in this film. And again, that’s not necessarily their fault, but more the fault of the script. Some of the secondary characters, like Carol Kane and Michael Richards, just ended up with some better material, and thus wind up being more memorable. But only marginally, as over half the time they end up being more annoying than funny. Sadly, when your secondary cast is getting the rare funny bits it makes the rest of the movie feel terribly dull, especially when you have to spend 80% of your time with the guys who come across as two unfunny schlubs.

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No, is not good. Your shtick is getting old. Go away.

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Poor Geena. This outfit is obnoxiously tacky even by 80s standards.

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You know your film is bad when even Kane’s antics can’t bring it up a notch. *sigh*


I really wanted to like Transylvania 6-5000. It has a lot of good ideas, a good concept for a plot, a lot of very good actors, and I will admit that it does have a good sense of clever irony at times. It’s just that the vast majority of the material, well…–I hate it but I’ll have to confer to Maltin– kinda stinks. Goldblum and Begley try to pull off the Abbott and Costello buddy-buddy routine, but fail. The secondary characters get in a couple of giggles trying to bring the wacky, but wind up being irritating much of the time. In the end it tries it’s best to pull off a heartwarming finale, but by that point there really wasn’t much to be done to salvage it. Which is, as I said, a shame, because I know what the movie was trying to do. It was trying to pull off the kooky charm of a Mel Brooks film. But it doesn’t. It failed. It’s just not funny most of the time. It may have a couple good shticks and a couple good jokes, but that’s about it. If you’re really curious about horror comedies, give it a watch, but for most everyone else I can’t imagine it’d be worth the effort.

Transylvania 6-5000 is available to stream on a variety of streaming services.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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