Transylvania Twist (1989)

So here is a little oddball movie that I was suddenly reminded of one day.

Back in 1989 through about 1991, Transylvania Twist appeared fairly regularly on cable channels like Showtime and the like before appearing on VHS in 1993.  The movie is mostly notable to me for starring Robert Vaughn and Angus Scrimm (also known as the bad guy from Superman III and the Tall Man from the Phantasm series).  However, there were one other member of the cast that really caught the attention of a young me – Teri Copley.  Young me really, really liked blondes in the late 80s and early 90s.

But more on that shit later.

The movie is goofy, it’s silly, and it’s definitely going for the “screwball” element that came along with a lot of cable TV movies of the time.  It definitely utilized Teri Copley’s buxom blonde looks as a way to try to align it with some of the more “adult” movies playing on pay TV, but it was actually a PG-rated comedy that tried to go for humor along the lines of hits like Mel Brooks’ movies or Airplane!  It wasn’t all that aggressive with its sexual humor but still included hot chicks and lots of cleavage.  It was something I’d want to watch privately because I was just figuring out some stuff on a sexual level, but it wasn’t overly dirty or anything I would have been embarrassed to have watched with my mom in the room.  I think it played up to the idea that it was kind of a shitty movie, but reveled in it with parodies of popular horror movies and icons and breaking the fourth wall to speak to the audience directly.

This movie is only really available on YouTube these days (unless you want to spend dozens of dollars on the out of print DVD or buy a VHS player to watch it on tape), so I don’t really have anything physical to copy the synopsis from, but I can break it down as such: Teri Copley is hot.  She is related to a vampire who has hot vampire lady daughters.  She has to go to Transylvania to get an inheritance from her dad, but the vampire, played by Robert Vaughn, wants the inheritance himself.  Hilarity ensues.

Enough about that.  Let’s get to Teri Copley and Transylvania Twist because I haven’t seen this movie in like 25 years at least!

The movie starts with a really pretty girl walking alone through the woods late at night and getting chased by Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger (with a goofy set of things on his glove like a cork screw, can opener, scissors, etc.).  They follow her into a run down mine and she defeats them all by revealing she is a vampire.  That takes us directly into the credits.  After the credits a second little scene prior to the official start of the movie itself is shown.  This is basically a commercial for a funeral home called “Death City” as if it is a used car commercial complete with a slimy sales guy and a boobtacular bimbo assistant.  There is a good joke here though with the girl saying she thought a bad joke the guy told with him replying quickly and in his slick way “You think train wrecks are funny.”  It was just nicely paced and it made me laugh.

At Death City, Dexter Ward, our main guy played by Steve Altman (who I vaguely remember seeing on some stand up shows back in the 80s but gained later notoriety as a composer) comes to a funeral for his uncle, but he springs to life to tell Dexter about some book that can summon forth the dark “evil one”.  Later, he tells Dexter more about Ulthar whose book he was talking about before that would free this evil demon.  He says he lent the book out to a guy named Orlock by mistake, and he needs Dexter to track down the borrower’s daughter, Marissa, to get the book back and keep it safe.

We meet singer Marissa Orlock who is filming an action packed music video where she’s punching dudes, blowing stuff up, and firing guns.  I  mean, it would be fucking awesome if this was a real music video because 1) everything is blowing up like it’s a fucking Rambo movie and 2) it’s Teri Copley.  I alluded to it in the opening of this article, but dudes…  I was really into her from this movie.  She’s kind of a dangerous combination of sweet and sexy, but also kind of old timey girly too.  You know how Betty Boop acts and talks?  It kinda makes her unassuming or makes it seem like she’s just some bimbo, but she really kinda isn’t.

Dexter meets Marissa and explains that he’s looking for her father.  He asks if she has her father’s current address, but she says that she hasn’t seen him in over 20 years.  Just then, she receives word that her father is dead and needs to travel to Transylvania to receive her inheritance.

When they get to Transylvania they take a taxi driven by a guy from the Bronx to Castle Orlock where Dexter and Marissa get a little more cozy with one another.

It’s a good time, as we cross over the 20 minute mark already in this movie, to really talk about what kind of movie this really is.  It’s a comedy, yes.  Even though it deals with monsters and zombies and demons and foggy Eastern European places, it doesn’t really even pretend to be anything other than a comedy.  But it’s the kind of comedy that can be incredibly hit or miss with audiences.  As mentioned previously, there were two prologues at the start of the movie.  In one regard, you can state, without question, that the movie may not have known how to actually get started.  But it also sets a tone.  This movie does have a narrative, but it also works from one set piece to the next.  Jokes come in sets and the characters move through set pieces that give the movie a feel of a sketch comedy or variety type of show.  The taxi driver is there to tell jokes parodying the famous “You Talkin’ to Me?” scene from Taxi Driver.  He’s literally set up only to really deliver those types of lines and be a smart-talkin’ New York cab driver.  Scenes exist to deliver the jokes that match the situation.  So it feels more like a sketch show that is stitched together by an overarching plot.

Another thing to note is that the comedy itself is old timey and sets a definite tone of the “nyuk-nyuk” elbow prodding type of humor that both gives it a screwball element and ties into the feel of a variety or sketch type of show.  It almost feels like the actors are playing to a live audience from a stage.  They they literally pause for laughs.  It definitely has that feel that it is capitalizing on things that Jim Wynorski (the director) and Roger Corman (the Executive Producer) each liked from the past.  There are harmless types of jokes with no cursing but built around puns or wacky things happening around the characters.  Hell, it’s such a throwback type of comedy that at one point Dexter and Marissa walk through a door into the set of The Honeymooners – and the scene is done with a laugh track and in black and white.  There is absolutely no reason for it other than either Wynorski or Corman always wanted to shoot something on that set.  While the jokes were played safe and pretty squeaky clean like it was written in the 50s, there are bits of humor in there for the casual pervert.  Like when the camera tracks Dexter and his uncle in a previous scene only to be distracted and switches to follow a girl with big boobs and lots of cleavage or later as Count Orlock’s “daughters” are seen as classic sexy vampire ladies.

The movie may have been trying to please two different crowds – the all ages wacky comedy crowd and the direct to cable guys who wanted to see Teri Copley’s body in tight dresses. (Guess which group I was in, guys…)

While Dexter and Marissa are on their way to Castle Orlock, we are introduced to Victor Van Helsing (played by Jim Wynorski veteran Ace Mask).  He stakes a vampire in a crypt and it does that thing where it sprays a super massive amount of blood out of its body.  It might have been the first time I saw that done in a movie.  Van Helsing was also the one who sent Marissa the telegram saying her father has died and she was to come out to Transylvania.

Before they find each other, Marissa asks a tavern full of people for directions to the castle and they all freak out and raise a bunch of fuss over hearing the name.  This is actually kind of well framed.  So they are near the castle where, spoiler alert, vampires live.  In this small town they have this bar that has a sign on the door that basically says no bats are allowed.  All over the place, and draped around the pretty bar wench, strings of garlic are hanging everywhere.  It’s one of the very few larger jokes that they let people find themselves and not include additional lines to explain the joke.

Marissa and Dexter are suspicious that Van Helsing is for real.  They don’t believe in vampires or that he lives his life as a vampire hunter.  There’s a flashback to when Van Helsing was young and getting his first stake from his father, when he got in trouble at school for staking a kid vampire in class, and when he was in high school and dating a vampire chick.  The best was that he had his awesome mustache even as a little boy.

One music number later, and yes there was a musical number that randomly started for Dexter, and our trio of heroes arrive at Castle Orlock.  They are let in by the butler, Stephan (Angus Scrimm) and as they wait to meet Byron Orlock, Marissa’s uncle, she sees a painting of a woman who looks just like her.  The three vampire daughters of Byron reveal themselves and try to lure Marissa into a trap by having her walk under a chandelier that is rigged to fall onto her.  Byron Orlock reveals himself and Van Helsing tells him that he has Marinas Orlock’s will and they are there to sort out the ownership of the castle.  Byron takes them on a tour and gives Marissa a brief history of the Orlock family.  He also says that he and her father didn’t really get along even at the end.

One of the strangest jokes in the movie occurs right in the middle of this movie.  Dexter is wandering the halls of Castle Orlock looking for Marissa so they can settle in for dinner and the reading of her father’s will.  He opens one door to find a skeleton.  He opens another door, and finds Boris Karloff from a scene in the Corman-made film The Terror.  they have an entire conversation with each other before Dexter exits and moves on.  It’s kinda baffling that it was included and really didn’t serve any purpose other than Corman and Wynorski having a laugh and for Steve Altman to have a chance to do his Jack Nicholson impression (Nicholson was Karloff’s co-star in the movie and even directed most of it for Corman).

At the funeral, everyone pays their respects, but Byron sees Marinas’ fingers start to twitch.  He quickly shuts the coffin and says they are going to take the body to the family crypt.  They return to the Castle to view Marinas Orlock’s video will which is like a TV game show.  He reveals the castle will go to Marissa and as a consolation prize, Byron gets a set of luggage and a home version of “The Newly Dead Game”.  Marinas also gives a clue about where the Book of Ulthar can be found in the castle.

At a seance Van Helsing attempts to speak to Marinas, Marissa gets possessed by her ancestor, the first Marissa Orlock.  She warns them that they do not know what they are dealing with and how she must keep her namesake’s body to find and use the book.  Marissa is freed from her ancestor while the townsfolk plan to find Castle Orlock and destroy it with everyone inside so they can be freed from the monsters inside.  While Marissa and Dexter look for the book, and eventually running into, but defeating, Stephan (doing a parody of Scrimm’s Tall Man from Phantasm), Van Helsing is bitten by Patricia, one of Byron’s daughters, and turned into a vampire.

Dexter and Marissa get separated.  Marissa gets possessed again by her ancestor and when Dexter finds the Book of Ulthar, he gets knocked out by Patricia and her sisters.  Byron plans to use Dexter as a sacrifice to summon forth the Evil One so evil can take over the world.  As Byron starts to call forth the big apocalyptic monster, Marissa returns and confronts him.  She defeats Byron by setting him on fire causing him to explode.  The Evil One rises (which is just the monster from It Conquered the World – another Corman B-Movie) and older Marissa says Dexter must destroy the Book of Ulthar.  When he does, the day is saved.

Marinas even comes back saying he wasn’t actually dead, just suffered from cataleptic spells that make him look dead.  He explains to Marissa she has to stay at Castle Orlock and guard against evil ever returning.  Dexter figures out a way that she can still film her music video from the castle and fulfill her contractual obligations.  Additionally, the villagers who were storming Castle Orlock to destroy them are unable to find the castle and decide to simply go home and give up.  The movie ends with a another song featuring the vampire daughters and Van Helsing playing instruments to back up Marissa, and I kinda start to wonder if this is just a live action adaptation of Sabrina and the Groovie Ghoulies.

I’m not gonna lie, this movie is a lot of fun to watch.  I don’t think it will play too well to people who don’t go along with the spirit, no pun intended, of the comedy and parodies made, but it is inoffensive and just silly.  Wynorski himself said this was the movie he had the most fun making.  It’s obvious too.  Honestly, it really seemed like everyone had a great time making the movie and seemingly got along with each other very well.

Are there some really bad jokes?  Oh yeah, about half the jokes fall flat on their faces.  However, this movie really reminds me more of something like an episode of The Monkees.  It’s over the top with silliness, but it’s charming as hell.  There’s not a single mean-spirited joke in the entire movie, even when they don’t work.  There are even a few that are quite good.

The most charming part of the whole thing is Teri Copley.  She oozed cuteness and, frankly, just was really swell to watch.  She was definitely bubbly and played a part that you would typically have seen a lot in older Abbott and Costello type of comedy movies back in the 1940s.  Here, she’s with Steve Altman and they really did seem to have decent chemistry.  Frankly, I think she’s the anchor of the entire movie.  The other characters around her were playing to type, for better or worse, but she was not only needing to be the heroine of the movie, but also the believable girlfriend who really seemed to be keen on the guy she was matched with, but also our entry to the world of the movie.  She pretty well nails it for what this movie was.

Maybe that’s my inner 13 year old who still has a crush on this lovely blonde with the high pitched voice, but hey…  I don’t think anyone can blame me.

That wraps up this week’s B-Movie Enema.  Check back next week as I take a look at another movie I haven’t seen in a very long time from roughly the same time period starring another lovely blonde I had the hots for – My Stepmother Is an Alien!

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