"Stan Helsing" attempts to be a live-action cartoon, but its enthusiasm doesn't generate any laughs whatsoever. It's a crude, lifeless, anti-happy machine emerging from the mind of writer/director Bo Zenga, who makes every last frame feel like undeserved punishment. Even die-hard horror zealots, Zenga's target demographic, would be wise to steer clear of this low-budget comedic trainwreck, which seeks to build a festive farcical mood armed only with hopeless cinematic instincts.
Instructed by his Schlockbuster boss to deliver a few DVDs to a remote gated community, Stan Helsing (Steve Howey) reluctantly accepts the job, ruining a festive costume party night planned with friends Teddy (Keenan Thompson), Mia (Desi Lydic), and ex-girlfriend Nadine (Diora Baird). Off to the mysterious town, the gang is soon locked in by the local community (including a cross-dressing Leslie Nielsen), urged to battle a team of monsters who've long desired a shot at the Helsing name. Stan, coming to terms with his monster-mangling heritage, takes on the threat, battling Needlehead (only with darts, pushpins, and syringes for headwear), doll Lucky (a little person with a love for obscene gestures), Pleatherface (wearing a handbag over his grotesque mug), Fweddy (carrying his razor glove, which has an attachments for toothbrushes, lipstick, and bottle openers), Mason (clad in a hockey jersey to go along with the mask), and Michael Criers (wearing a yarmulke), to save the world from evil.
"Stan Helsing" is a cute title, and the premise offers a more inventive filmmaker carte blanche to poke merciless fun at the horror genre, riffing on icons and conventions that sorely need the spanking. Instead of divine hilarity, "Stan Helsing" is created by the guy who previous gifted the world "Soul Plane." One can only imagine the lows contained within this feature film, but to satisfy that curiosity would require a viewing, and I'm dead set against anyone spending precious hours of their life on this atrocious comedy.
Thinly plotting a tale of ancestral pride reclamation, "Stan Helsing" has an open field to head wherever it wants, staying within a tight budget of course. The possibilities are endless for our hero to do battle with comedically heightened versions of screendom biggest baddies, using the fine art of slapstick to good-naturedly pants franchises and construct its own personality, playing up the Helsing surname for future sequels. Instead, Zenga wants to make poo-poo and pee-pee jokes, dragging his feature through a depressing routine of sex and bathroom gags, frosted with an aggressively zany tone that suggests "Scooby-Doo" crossed with a crystal meth binge.
"Stan Helsing" is sloppily made, committed to the lowest form of comedy to see itself to the end. Why play so aggressively crude? Zenga displays only a tenuous grasp on timing and delivery, throwing out whatever taboo, sexualized, or gross-out idea he can to keep the viewer interested. It's a shame nothing in the film generates laughs, as the picture has energy to spare.
Much of that spunk is lost on the cast, with lead Howey proving yet again, after his agonizing work in "Still Waiting," that comedy just isn't his forte. Most of the dialogue handles like improvisation, pushed on a cast that doesn't have the experience to make the material soar. Even Thompson, currently enjoying a terrific year on "Saturday Night Live," is reduced to a run of high-pitched squeals and gibberish. Baird is here solely to fill the cleavage requirement, while Lydic's character arc is that of a reformed, dim-witted whore -- a one-note joke beaten into the ground. Then again, everything is beaten into the ground under Zenga's watch.
Of course, maybe the idea of Dracula's brides as limber strippers, porn title lampoons, Frankenstein's Monster as the star of hardcore gay porn, or a breast squeeze augmented with a balloon sound is appealing to certain viewers out there. Maybe the endless fart jokes and toothless satire is just what the doctor ordered. By the time the finale comes around, where the monsters team up at a karaoke bar (another of Zenga's ingenious comedic settings) to sing "S.T.A.N." to the tune of "Y.M.C.A.," well, I knew then and there the film was dead to me. Comedy takes a sure hand, not just brightly lit random ideas screamed at the camera by a cast of amateurs.
The VC-1 encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) doesn't really receive much a chance to show off its true potential, with much of the action regulated to either car interiors or tight spaces. Still, colors seem well preserved, with lots of neon lighting to show off, along with bright Halloween ornamentation. Shadow detail is poor, with low-light sequences hiding needed detail. Skintones are abundant (in the case of Ms. Baird at least) and feel natural, with passable make-up work allowed a closer inspection on the BD.
The PCM 5.1 track is anxious, crammed with a cacophony of sound effects farting and squishing around the soundstage. Directionality is good, and never intrudes on the crisp dialogue exchanges. Scoring is buoyant and direct, presenting interesting energy to the mix, while soundtrack selections deploy a pleasing echo texture, heightened during the karaoke sequences, which bring in appropriate crowd atmospherics.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Bo Zenga, and actors Desi Lydic and Keenan Thompson is negligible affair, with most of the time devoted to the participants making their own jokes while watching the picture. Thompson didn't see the film prior to the recording, so he spends his time offering an inner-monologue for his character. The rest of the chat barely covers the basics of the picture's production. Hey, if talk of menstrual cycles and performance platitudes is your thing, this commentary is an ideal distraction. For everyone else, don't waste your time.
"Killer Parody: The Making of 'Stan Helsing'" (11:06) is the making-of featurette, shot Errol Morris style, with the cast and crew addressing the camera lens during their interviews. "Everything is great, everyone is so funny" statements left and right, plus there's an opportunity to watch Nielsen and his fart machine in action. Hooray.
"Extended, Alternate, and Deleted Scenes" (8:01) serve up more wild antics from the movie. One of the offerings is labeled "Deleted Doll Rape," which might paint an accurate picture of the comedic tenor of the supplement.
"Outtakes" (4:59) submit the standard routine of on-set mix-em-ups, with a good chunk devoted to Nielsen and his rascally ways.
32 Production Stills and 51 pages of Storyboards are included.
And a Theatrical Trailer is offered.
The box art for "Stan Helsing" is plastered with references to "Scary Movie," which seems more like a threat than a friendly tonal comparison. At least the "Scary Movie" features had a budget and filmmakers with some genre battle scars. "Stan Helsing" is more Friedberg/Seltzer territory: random, agonizingly desperate, and dripping with laziness.
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