Transylvania Twist (1989)

Young Dexter only wanted to do his ageing and worrying Uncle Ephram a favour: get hold of Marissa Orlock and ask her where her father Marinas can be found. Because twenty years ago, Marinas vanished without ever returning a valuable (and dangerous) book he had borrowed from the library Ephram is responsible for. As soon as he meets the beautiful Marissa, Dexter is drawn into a Transylvanian adventure that goes beyond his wildest imagination.

 

This rather lame-ish comedy is the brain-child of notorious director Jim Wynorski (Vampirella), who directed and co-wrote it. And making this film was facilitated by Wynorski’s mentor Roger Corman who lent his name as executive producer (as he would do again with Vampirella).

 

The plot, involving a mysterious inheritance, sibling rivalry, and the hunt for the book, is rather thin; and the filmmakers are not too concerned with the plot itself, they are more focused on shoehorning in lots of puns and side-gags. These side-gags also fill two pointless preliminary scenes which have the effect that the film seems to get off to a somewhat slow start.

I am not sure how you call that kind of humour, but it was all the rage in the 1980s. Whole scenes would turn out of nowhere, entirely unconnected to the universe of the film, yet they would at times still involve the film’s protagonist. I believe that many Leslie Nielsen films featured such scenes.

For example, Dexter and Marissa are walking through Castle Orlock, when an umpire and a commentator emerge out of nowhere and drag them into a game of baseball.

 

80% of the jokes and puns in this film are lame, but some are rather good. There are also a lot of “meta” and “insider” jokes, which I like – but in the case of this film it has to be said that these jokes often feel like an apology for the bad joke writing and not so much like a stylistic element in their own right. These meta-jokes also cause the characters frequently (if briefly and superficially) to break the fourth wall.

 

The acting is OK, but the farcical nature of the film leads to overacting in many smaller roles. Steve Altman is fine as Dexter, especially conidering this was his first acting gig. There are also nice, smaller roles veteran actors Howard Morris, Jay Robinson, and Angus Scrimm (Subspecies; Vampirella), and also for 1980s B-movie stalwart Monique Gabrielle. But one of the things that save this rather lame film is the fact that Teri Copley (Marissa) and Ace Mask (Victor Van Helsing) do such a good job in their roles.

The most famous face in the cast must be Robert Vaughn, who gives a solid performance as Lord Byron Orlock, often hamming it up in the extreme if the script and/or the directing ask for it.

 

Now, after claiming Robert Vaughn’s is the most famous face, one ought to mention that the filmmakers cleverly cut archive footage into this film so that it appears as if Dexter is having a conversation with Boris Karloff. Dexter remarks that no-one has seen Karloff since at least 1969 (the year of Karloff’s death), to which Karloff replies that he has lived in retreat at Castle Orlock for 20 years.

 

 

The score by Chuck Cirino is rather nice, situated somewhere between Hammer horror and 1980s horror comedy. There are also a number of musical numbers in this film which I do mostly not care for and which all feel like padding.

The film does not look half-bad. Although the soundstage feel is extremely noticeable in nearly every scene, nothing looks particularly poorly put together. The costumes, props and set decorations (elements supervised by Gary Randall, Beth Elliott, Wendy Guidery, and Jill Conners) look nice and fitting in a 1960s Hammer horror sort of way, which seems exactly the kind of visual style the film is aiming for. The opening credits also seem to emulate Hammer-era horror films.

One of the few let-downs are the vampire teeth, which seem needlessly obstructive and probably caused the actors all sorts of problems.

 

 

 

I didn’t hate this film, which is actually quite an achievement for a 1980s comedy. The acting was better than you would expect from a production such as this, and although 80% of the jokes are lame, there were just enough amusing jokes and scenes to keep me mildly entertained. Yet, there is really no need for anyone to see this film, and in this as in other regards it reminded me a lot of Love at First Bite. Which is why I am going to give this film a similar rating: 4.5 out of 10.

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