Greetings from the Edge!
Welp, there’s been a bit of a last minute schedule change for this week, my little edgelings. Apparently I was a little off on the exact date for the anniversary of Iron Man, so we’ll be taking a look at a little bit of cinema I’ve been wanting to highlight for some time now. The horror spoof ( with a surprising amount of musical numbers! ) from 1989, Transylvania Twist. One of those movies that was a little ahead of is time, Transylvania Twist would have launched a thousand memes if it had come out in the 2000’s, but its relative obscurity ( and low budget ) kept it off everyone’s radar. With Roger Corman as executive producer, how could we go wrong!
Starring Steve Altman as Dexter Ward, funny man ( and H.P. Lovecraft in-joke ), Teri Copley as Marissa Orlock, rockstar, hearthrob, and daughter of Marinas Orlock, played by the wacky Howard Morris, Ace Mask as Victor Von Helsing, vampire hunter and executor of Marinas Orlock’s will, Angus Scrimm taking a break from his signature roll as the Tall Man to play Stefen the Orlock family butler, and inexplicably Robert Vaughn as Lord Byron Orlock, cultist, vampire, and chewing more scenery in this film than a wheelbarrow full of Shatners!
Our film opens with a beautiful, red-haired maiden being pursued through a dark and misty forest by three obscured figures ( did I mention she’s carrying a heart shaped basket? ). Soon she is cornered before the entrance to a boarded up mine and turns to face her stalkers… who are Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger ( although this Freddy’s glove includes a bottle opener, a corkscrew, a nail file, and a set of nail trimmers. ) She manages to dislodge some of the boards and slip into the mine followed by our trio of felonious fiends.
Sounds of rending and screaming fill the night as lightning flashes outside, soon revealing the silhouette of our maiden Patricia, played by Monique Gabrielle ( a scream queen in her own right with credits that include Return of Swamp Thing, 975-Evil II, Not of this Earth… and Chained Heat… don’t judge me ) standing in the mine entrance wearing Freddy’s hat and carrying Leatherface’s chainsaw and Jason’s machete. “Ha Amateurs!”
From there we go to a commercial for “Death City, your one stop funeral emporium!”, a skit that made me laugh more than it really should have. Soon we learn that Dexter Ward has been tasked by his Uncle to retrieve the unholy “Book of Ulthar” ( Yet another Lovecraft reference. ) With the aid of pop singer Marissa Orlock and vampire hunter Van Helsing, Dexter must travel to Transylvania and find the book before the forces of darkness ( or in this case, dorkness ) lead by the evil Count Byron Orlock, can use the book to unleash the Great Old Ones and plunge humanity into a millennium of darkness and reality TV… so I’m guessing they failed?
The special effects are delightfully cheap and cheerful, but what really impresses me is just the sheer amount of them. Compared to the typical Corman production, the variety and frequency of effects is astounding. You’ll find stock footage aplenty, though, so you don’t have to worry that Corman went too hog wild on Transylvania Twist.
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my favorites, like when Angus Scrimm and our heroes are playing baseball with the silver death spheres from the Phantasm series.
Or when another Roger Corman allumnist, “It” from It Conquered the World from 1956, makes a guest appearance as a Lovecraftian horror from beyond time and space, summoned with the immortal lines ( Hocus Pocus, Shooby Dooby, Dada do run run, Papa ooh maw maw, Do wa Diddy, In Gadda Da Vida, Shaboom! ). As an avid H.P. Lovecraft fan, I can attest that it makes about as much sense as any incantation of his I’ve ever read.
Although my favorite might be the conversation between Boris Karloff ( in a posthumous cameo thanks to a little left over footage from The Terror from 1963 ) and Steve Altman playing Dexter Ward. They even remember to work in a Jack Nicholson joke, though considering The Terror was both one of Nicholson’s first major roles and another Corman production, I’d have been disappointed if they didn’t. Also, it’s still less creepy than CGI Peter Cushing in Rogue One!
Okay, Transylvania Twist isn’t going to ever dazzle the world with its intricate plot but, for rapid-fire gags, an insane number of inside jokes, horror movie callbacks, and utter insanity, Transylvania Twist has no equal. Unlike the execrable spoof movies of the 2000’s ( I’m looking at you, Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie, ) Transylvania Twist manages to pull off being a funny parody without insulting either the audience or its source material. All that with just a fraction of a big movie budget, maybe actually having some decent jokes, funny actors, and a love of the genre your parodying helps make a good movie! Who’d have thunk!
In fact, Transylvania Twist reminds me a lot of another 1989 parody film that only got recognition much later: Weird Al’s UHF. Transylvania Twist would make a great double feature with UHF. Both movies do a lot with a little budget, both parody what they love without malice, and both are filled with characters that could have easily been overdone to the point of annoyance but wisely know when to pull back from that edge. Remember, kids, there’s a difference between a running gag and lazy writing.
Favorite Lines from Transylvania Twist:
Dexter to Van Helsing: “What are we going to do!”
Van Helsing: “Don’t ask me dear fellow. Vampires I know, but this Lovecraft stuff is out of my league!”
Melissa Orlock to Byron Orlock: “Did you and my father ever straighten out your differences?”
Byron to Melissa: “Even towards the end we didn’t get along particularly well, his last letter to me began “Dear Shithead.”
Transylvania Twist isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you like horror movies and think that Mel Brooks or Airplane is the height of comedic excellence, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s silly, fast paced, cheap, and a bit tacky, but it knows it is and is in on the joke.
If horror isn’t your thing, you’re not going to get as many of the inside jokes, but it’ll still give you a good chuckle, I’m guessing. However, if you don’t like screwball comedy, horror, or parody, Transylvania Twist is really going to fall flat for you. In that case, I recommend not taking yourself so bloody seriously and try to have a good time for a change, hopefully without torturing small animals or fomenting uprisings in third world nations… you know who you are!
In many ways, Transylvania Twist is a loving send up to all of Roger Corman’s decades worth of horror movies. It certainly uses enough stock footage and gags from his massive cinematic backlog. The only thing it’s really missing is a cameo by Vincent Price and a little gratuitous nudity to give it that real Corman feel!
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
Part of me really wishes Transylvania Twist had gotten its teased sequel, but with the amount of horror history it managed to burn through in one movie, I don’t know if it would have had enough left to fill a second movie without diluting the quality.
I just have to say, I love the scene where the grade school ( complete with mustache ) Van Helsing is called up to the front of the class by his teacher to write lines for staking an equally grade school vampire in class with blood and impalement on full display.
Elvira would have made an excellent guest star for Transylvania Twist, but I don’t imagine they could have afforded her during the height of her popularity. Besides, I’m pretty sure if you put Monique Gabrielle and Cassandra Peterson in the same room, they are obligated to fight to the death for scream queen supremacy. That’s how it works, right?
Also, Ace Mask is a treasure. His Van Helsing was never less than a hoot ( Yes I’m southern, you’ll have to forgive the dialectic dissonance. ) I’ve got to see what else he’s been in. If this is his only credit, that is a damn shame.
Come back next week for your prescribed dosage of cinematic sass, filmatic frenzy, and movie mockery here on the Edge!