Thank you to everyone who voted in the recent reader poll, scary movie edition to choose the next film for me to analyze! And here you have it, an analysis post about your chosen winner, the horror comedy spoof, Transylvania Twist (1989).
I had never seen this movie before, and I knew little beyond the fact that legendary Hollywood producer Roger Corman (The Little Shop of Horrors) was involved (he served as executive producer). What I knew about the film involving a reel librarian came from the Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography site, which stated that Angus Scrimm plays Stefen, a librarian from Transylvania who tries to collect the fines on a book that’s 200 years overdue.
When looking up the film on its IMDb.com page, however, I encountered some conflicting info:
- From the film’s summary: “The nephew of a librarian must go collect a 200 year old book, ‘The Book of Ulthar,’ that should have never been checked out by the Evil Count Orlock.”
- From the film’s synopsis page: “Marissa Orlock [Teri Copley] and librarian Dexter Ward [Steve Altman] go to Transylvania, she to attend the funeral and will-reading of her dead father Count Orlock and he to retrieve a 200-year overdue book titled ‘The Book of All Evil.'”
So who’s the librarian? The nephew or the uncle? Both? Another character named Stefen? Obviously, I needed to pay careful attention watching this film.
*POSSIBLE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*
The movie doesn’t take long to jump right into the action… and into a coffin!
Dexter Ward, played by Steve Altman, shows up at the funeral for his uncle, played by Jay Robinson. But when Dexter comes up to the casket to pay his respects, his uncle pops up, very much alive — and angry!
Uncle Ephram: The book. The Book of Ulthar. You must find it. You know, it has the power to summon forth the evil one. What am I doing here?
Dexter: You’re dead, Uncle Ephram.
Uncle Ephram: Like hell I am! Get me out of this goddamn thing! What stupid son-of-a-bitch pronounced me dead? … You can all go home. I’m not dead. Get out of here, you miserable toadies.
Turns out, Uncle Ephram is a librarian. And next we see an exterior of the library to set up the next scene inside the library.
Dexter: You’re looking much better since the funeral, Uncle Ephram. You know, I think death agrees with you.
Uncle Ephram: Dexter, you’re the only person who seems genuinely happy that I’m still alive.
Dexter: Remember what they said about that condition of yours. You sure it’s such a good idea to return to work this soon?
Uncle Ephram: This library is my life. For 40 years, I’ve been responsible for the world’s largest collection of books on witchcraft and the black arts.
Dexter: That’s what I call job security.
Uncle Ephram delves into exposition, explaining about the Book of Ulthar and its history and importance. Ulthar was a sorcerer and cast a spell that trapped an evil spirit, and the book contains a counter-spell that would free the forces of evil. And OF COURSE this book would wind up being guarded by a librarian — who, we learn next, wasn’t really up to the task.
Uncle Ephram: He [Ulthar] placed all his mystic incantations in one volume, which has been carefully guarded throughout the ages. Then, 20 years ago, I made a tragic error. I lent the book out.
Dexter: Isn’t that what libraries are supposed to do?
Uncle Ephram: Not with such a priceless volume. The culprit’s name was Meredith Orlock. His academic credentials were impeccable. A few days later, he simply vanished, with my book. For two decades, I vainly attempted to find some trace of him. Finally just recently, I unearthed a clue, a daughter, living in Los Angeles.
Dexter alludes again to his uncle’s health condition — which led him to having an attack and being pronounced dead. That is then why his uncle gives his nephew the task to contact Orlock’s daughter, Marissa, and hunt down the book for him.
Throughout this conversation — which sets up the entire plot of the movie, such as it is — Uncle Ephram and his nephew have a “walk-and-talk” through the library. We therefore get treated to an extended tour of the library stacks, along with a peek of the back area and front counter.
When Dexter tracks down Marissa — who happens to be filming a cheesy music video, as one does in the ’80s — he tells her that in the ’60s, her father borrowed a book from the “Arkham Public Library.” Dexter also describes his uncle as the “head librarian at Arkham.”
Wink, wink, “Arkham” is an integral setting of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and “Arkham Asylum” features in the Batman stories.
Marissa then learns via telegram that her father has died, and she has been summoned to his castle in Transylvania. Dexter and Marissa travel together to Transylvania and are greeted at the castle doors by the butler… named Stefen (played by Angus Scrimm). So Stefen turns out to be a butler who materializes when called, but he certainly is no librarian.
Marissa and Byron then view the last will and testament, via a game-show-themed video, of Meredith Orlock, who reveals that the Book of Ulthar is hidden somewhere in the castle. Marissa inherits the castle, but her Uncle Byron vows to track down the book. The race is on — as is the remainder of the film’s plot.
As a horror spoof, Transylvania Twist helped pave the way for later movies like the Scary Movie franchise. I’m not sure that’s a compliment. The film pokes fun at both classic and ’80s horror movies, including Young Frankenstein, The Horror of Dracula, Hellraiser, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, among others. The film has several positive user reviews on IMDb.com, and I can understand why fans of cheesy horror spoofs might enjoy Transylvania Twist. I have to admit, I am not a personal fan of horror spoofs, so I did not particularly enjoy the film. I found it pretty tedious overall, the jokes and asides and acting included.
Dexter eventually finds the Book of Ulthar hidden in Orlock’s casket. It is kind of clever, structurally, how the book is introduced by a(n undead) character in a coffin, and the book itself winds up hidden in another coffin (one whose body is missing).
After having watched the entire film, here’s what we find out in the end:
- The book is NOT 200 years overdue; it is merely 20 years overdue
- The sole reel librarian in the film turns out to be Uncle Ephram, not the nephew nor the butler Stefen, as erroneously listed in other write-ups
- Uncle Ephram fulfills the role of Comic Relief (by popping up undead out of a coffin, hilarious!), as well as the role of Information Provider
- The reel librarian provides the reason — and blame? — for the entire plot of the movie
- Uncle Ephram is not a very good librarian, as he lent out the “priceless volume” of the Book of Ulthar — causing this whole mess in the first place — and he didn’t even do a thorough background check of the person he lent it out to. Tsk, tsk.
- The film winds up in the Class III category, with a memorable supporting reel librarian character
Transylvania Twist ends with a bang. (Literally.) And a dancing librarian. As you do.
Again, thanks to all who voted in the reader poll. I’ll be back next week with another Halloween-themed post — next time, reviewing an actual ’80s horror classic. Stay tuned!