Friday, August 18, 2006

Transylvania Twist - review

DVD coverDirector: Jim Wynorski

Release Date: 1990

Contains Spoilers

I caught this on Zone Horror and it is a comedy which, whilst it focus heavily on parodying vampire movies also catches several of the more popular horror films of the time. The point is illustrated in the non-plot related prologue where we see a woman, complete with cleavage revealing wench’s top, walking through the woods with a basket. She is followed and we see a pair of legs, then two and then three (number three showing a hint of blood stained apron). The girl begins to run and reaches, what appeared to be, the entrance to a cave that was blocked off. The camera spins round and we see Jason, Freddy and Leatherface are the three who followed her. She rips boards from the entrance and gets in, followed by the monsters. The camera shakes as it remains outside and we here the noise of fighting. The girl appears with knife in hand and bears vampire fangs, she then declares “Amateurs”.

The film proper sees Dexter Ward (Steve Altman), whose name is a Lovecraft reference, attending the funeral of his uncle Ephram (Jay Robinson) who wakes in the coffin, as he wasn’t actually dead. Ephram is the librarian of Arkham University and “accidentally” lent one Marinas Orlock (Howard Morris) the Book of Ulthar, many years before, and has never had it back. Ulthar was a sorcerer who managed to bind the Evil One and the book contains the counter-spell that will release the entity and bring chaos to the world. He has now discovered that Marinas has a daughter, Marissa (Teri Copley), and sends Dexter to see if he can locate her father and bring back the book.

Marissa is a pop star, shooting a video in LA. Unfortunately we have to sit through the whole God-awful faux pop song before the film continues. There is another musical number at the end unfortunately. In a, frankly, un-amusing scene, where the two enter an old sit-com set and so are in black and white and have a laugh track playing against their conversation, we discover that she doesn’t know where her father is, indeed she has never met him. A messenger enters with a telegram from Victor Van Helsing (Ace Mask) informing her that her father has died and she must go to Transylvania for the reading of the will.

The other surviving family member is Lord Byron Orlock (Robert Vaughn) and he is already at the castle, in Lugosi inspired attire, with his three “daughters” - vampire brides of course. When it is clear that Marissa is to inherit everything the race is on to find the book.

There are several vampire scenes worth noting. When we first see Van Helsing it is in a side scene where two striking cemetery attendants break their own picket line to do a spot of body snatching, the body turning out to be that of a vampire. Van Helsing rescues them and stakes the vamp, receiving a copious spray of blood in the face for his trouble. Actually this scene, and another one where a gypsy woman gives Dexter a cross and then demands payment are incredibly similar to scenes from Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) but whilst this film did them first, Mel Brooks’ film did them with much more style and panache.

movie posterWe see scenes of Van Helsing’s childhood also. A Christmas scene, as a moustachioed child, being given the present of stake and mallet. A scene from school where he has mallet and stake removed by the teacher, for slaying a vampire across a school desk, and given lines “I will not stake vampires in class”. Finally we see him as a “young” teen, in a car with a date. He tells her she is not like other girls, she seems more mature. She admits that she is 19… 19 hundred… he offers her a drink from a hip flask and it is holy water.

Two scenes that have to be mentioned parody Hammer’s Dracula cycle. There is a scene with Van Helsing, approached by one of the brides who begs him to get her away, as Orlock keeps her prisoner. She holds him and is about to bite when Byron Orlock burst in and pulls her away. That scene is taken directly from Horror of Dracula (1958). The other scene is at the climax of the film, when Byron Orlock is reading from the book. Dexter sees an “in case of emergency pull” device, which comes off in his hand leaving him with a metal javelin that he throws, hitting Byron in the stomach. Lightning flashes in the sky and it is channelled by Marissa (possessed by her ancestor) straight to the javelin and setting Byron alight (who then explodes). This is a parody of the finale of Scars of Dracula (1970).

Van Helsing, incidentally, is turned into a vampire though he saves Dexter at the end of the film. When asked why, he tells Dexter that a vampire doesn’t have to be a bad person.

I’ll quickly mention that we also have an ineffectual mob scene, an Exorcist parody, an appearance from pinhead (leaving an acupuncturist’s) and a creepy butler. The butler is played by Angus Scrimm who, during the film, reprises his role as the Tall Man from the Phantasm series.

There is a large amount of vampiric action in this and many, many references to horror films and also to Lovecraft. Yet, despite all that, I felt myself unmoved, and certainly only vaguely amused. Scoring this at 3 out of 10, has as much to do with me playing spot the references as anything else, as the comedy in the film left me, generally, cold.

The imdb page is here.

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