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The early ‘80s were a fun time during which movie makers would look back to the 1940s for a hook on which to hang their wares; in this case, the swinging tune Pennsylvania 6-5000 made popular by Glenn Miller. I'm not sure if it seems more weird to consider a movie made now using a song from 1980 as its ‘hook' or not, and I don't care. Luckily when I rented this at the ripe old age of 14, I was kind-of heavy into ‘40s music, so it all worked out, didn't it? But where was I?
Oh yes, this goof-ball comedy is all about nostalgia, as it also echoes the fine cinematic achievement known as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, in its daft plot. Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. play a friendly pair of journalists sent to Transylvania by a tabloid newspaper, to investigate rumors of old-school Universal Monsters terrorizing a small town. While there, Goldblum immediately begins putting the moves on a single-mom tourist, Begley embarrasses himself by asking where to find the monsters, and the two set up shop at an empty hotel where they meet a vampire, a wolf-man, a Frankenstein's monster, a mad scientist and more!
Plot is mostly secondary to comic gags in writer/director Rudy De Luca's movie, and when plot rears its ugly head, it can feel a bit intrusive. I mean, even in 1984, did we need the "Can't hurt tourism by announcing our town is overrun by monsters" element? No, we didn't. Thankfully, that particular plot element is almost a throwaway. What's really on display is a by-today's-standards sweet, goofy, at times slow moving cavalcade of gags, held together by good, understated chemistry between Goldblum and Begley.
Goldblum's laid-back confidence doesn't oversell the jokes, while Begley's earnest demeanor adds the right amount of realism. Meanwhile, the supporting cast members, (even many of the non-English speaking Yugoslavian extras) are all spot on. Jeffrey Jones is perfect as the uptight, slightly off kilter mayor of the town, while the help at his about-to-open hotel is perfect. John Byner and Carol Kane play his hunchbacked servants. Kane is smokin' hot in her goofy/sexy role, with her perfect comic timing and moves like a suacy ballerina bouncing off Byner's deadpan suffering. Meanwhile, Michael (Kramer) Richards is totally off the leash as a wanna-be comedian butler. When serving guests breakfast, he invites them to smell the quality of the foods being offered. "Smell everything" he utters unctuously. That, and most of his other bits, are all improv, and the more delightful for it.
Joseph Bologna's Jekyll and Hyde mad scientist makes little sense, and at times Bologna seems to be channelling Gene Wilder from Young Frankenstein, yet he brings such manic intensity to the role, it's hard to complain. And of course there's Geena Davis in her sexy vampire get up. Her acting chops, and almost everything else, are in evidence. Things wrap up as they should, with a so-stupid-it's-hilarious hunch-kid, and everyone figuring out where they should be in life. Dorky tabloid headlines bring us home as the insidious theme-song plays. Mildly innocent, slow and silly comedy shouldn't be this satisfying. If you remember this comedy fondly, give it another spin. This Kino-Lorber Blu-ray release, while somewhat light in extras, is Recommended for those who like to laugh.
Kino-Lorber delivers this Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 ratio, 1080p AVC, MPEG-4 presentation, which is likely the best image a person might be able to squeeze out of the film without doing a 4k scan of the original negative. Which is fine! The image is pretty good, with details in the foreground and close-up shots quite clear and distinct. Many other aspects of the footage are at times a little on the soft side, and film grain is present, but resolves itself naturally. Overall, the movie appears much better than it would in DVD form, but is just kind of average for a Blu-ray.
Your English Language Audio track is of the DTS-HD Master Audio in Stereo variety, and also does as good as it can. Dialog is clear, clean, and easy to discern, if a little bit harsh and compressed sounding at times, with a relatively limited range. The score and soundtrack elements are mixed in appropriately, and sport a fairly broad range. You'll get tired of the theme song and related ditty that plays over the menu screens pretty fast.
Extras, though slight, add definite value. Three TV Spots and two Theatrical Trailers in addition to other Kino Trailers are on hand, as well as are English Subtitles. The Commentary Track (ported over from a previous DVD release) with director DeLuca and visual consultant Steve Haberman is pretty exemplary. The pair winds through scene-specific comments and general production notes that are entertaining and revelatory, while sometimes laying back to let the audio play, enabling viewers to understand what they're talking about. I don't mind saying this track makes me love the movie even more. I won't give away anything, except to say that the things that make this movie work were often opposite DeLuca's intentions, many of the comedy scenes consist of straight-up improv, and that Golblum (and many others in the cast) weren't even second or third choice for casting! Considering all that, DeLuca played the hand he was dealt very well.
Transylvania 6-5000 is a real throw-back to 1940s madcap comedy. Though at times not as sprightly as modern audiences might like, the simmering, low-key silliness on display is quite delightful, and performances are roundly fantastic. Fans of the movie should be pleased with the visual upgrade. Extras include a handful of trailers and a commentary track ported over from an earlier DVD release. Newcomers to the movie, and those who don't already own the DVD, should find this Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke