Transylvania 6-5000 is a silly and pretty unambitious comedy from 1985, and one of the very few films screen writer Rudy De Luca ever directed. It is referencing many a creature from the classical film canon: a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy, a version of Frankenstein’s monster, etc., etc.
Jack Harrison (Jeff Goldblum) and Gil Turner (Ed Begley Jr.) play two American journalists with very different personalities and ambitions. Jack has a sharp mind and wants to do “proper” journalism, covering “real” news, while Gil is happy to follow the orders of his father/editor (Norman Fell), who wants them to find eye-catching horror stories to sell more papers. When a video turns up that allegedly shows tourists being attacked by a monster, the newspaper sends this mismatched journalistic duo to a Transylvanian town to investigate. The locals laugh about the stupid Americans who believe in fairy tales, but the authorities are less amused, regarding the two journalists as a nuisance and as a threat to the fledgling tourism industry.
Jack and Gil (*groan*) will soon find out that nothing in this town is what it seems, and a number of local weirdoes make their stay awkward and uncomfortable – but Jack is trying to make the best of it. He knows there are no monsters and that their journey is a waste of time, so he intends to at least enjoy himself. So, while Gil is busy chasing ghosts, Jack is busy chasing a single mother he met on the bus.
This film is full of misjudged elements. The opening theme music is annoying on a scale that really only 1980s music can achieve; and the film closes on a very unfortunate electronic version of Jerry Gray’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000”. The film’s third act and final climax are weak and too protracted. The humour consists of aimless slapstick and nonsense, with some roles chosen to be built wholly or in part on improvisation, especially those of Carol Kane and Michael Richards. As is often the case in films, the improv makes these scenes slow and tonally incoherent. Of all of Richards’s improvisation skits, only one actually works.
The film’s story is neither here nor there. There is some decent acting by Begley and Goldblum, but they are fighting a losing battle in a film that offers them absolutely nothing to work with. All the other actors – all of them in supporting roles – seem to have fun, but it is always a bad sign when the cast have way more fun than the audience. They give hammy performances, some outrageously so, but it is a mystery to me what Joseph Bologna or Jeffrey Jones were trying to do with their characters. Some of the few straight and dignified performances in supporting roles come from John Byner, Teresa Ganzel, and veteran Croatian actor Božidar Smiljanić.
The idea behind Transylvania 6-5000 pretty accurately represents what Hollywood in the 1980s considered to be funny. The film tries its hand at over-the-top comedy in the vein of Police Academy or Vacation, but fails almost entirely. This is not a horribly bad film, but it is a comedy that is both pointless and unfunny. And even if you do not mind 1980s humour, or believe that a farce does not necessarily need to have a point, being unfunny certainly is unforgivable in a comedy.
After seeing this film I was not at all surprised to learn that the script was apparently originally written for a made-for-TV film and that the only reason this thing got produced at all was because Dow Chemical had some frozen funds in Yugoslavia that needed to be spent there. This is why this film was shot in Croatia and Slovenia (with all the extras being locals), as Dow hoped to recoup their money in the US through the box office.
I would rate this film at about 3.5 to 4.0 out of 10, and even then I feel I am being gracious. The current imdb-average of 4.9 is definitely too high.
This comedy is not funny, and it not even really enjoyable in a cheesy or so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. The only purpose this film could possibly serve today is to provide talk show hosts with clips with which to embarrass Geena Davis.