Like telemarketing or Spam emails, direct-to-video movies seem as if they couldn’t possibly be profitable. You don’t watch them, no one you know watches them, and yet the shelves at Blockbuster are so consistently full of the most generic looking action movies and horror movies and sex comedies, somebody somewhere must be buying them in bunches, because no matter how terrible they look/are, they will not stop making them.
And maybe once in awhile one slips through that is worthwhile, but that isn’t even the point, because really, how would you know? These things are churned out without such concerns. And that probably doesn’t seem so different from regular theatrically released movies, but direct-to-video is on an entirely different plane. I don’t even consider these in trying to figure out what the worst movies of the year are (never mind best), because it wouldn’t be fair (neither to real movies, nor to me, who would feel obliged to watch them.) They don’t even seem like movies. There ought to be a different name to make sure they never get confused.
And as such, Transylmania becomes one of the more curious offerings with which 2009 has presented us. I don’t think even the people behind it (direct-to-video veterans David and Scott Hillenbrand), expected me to be able to pay to see it in a theater at any point. None of their previous work would indicate that they had any right to such a belief. There’s also no indication that anyone in Transylmania thought they would ever be struck to actual film, never mind get projected. Sitting there, in a theater that had at least five other people in it, felt like some kind of illicit behavior. As if every one of us expected to be the only ones there and were kind of embarrassed to find that we weren’t.
There have been movies in the same vein this year, marketed to the same audience (Miss March), or different ones (Old Dogs, The Ugly Truth) that were just as terrible if not more so. And while I’d like to think the world would be better off without any of those ever playing in theaters either, the audiences for them would largely refute that. But comparing Transylmania to them is kind of like holding those Xena-type shows from syndication Saturdays up to Cold Case or some other equally laborious but ultimately successful primetime TV show. And it would be equally as incongruous to find Xena on CBS at 9pm on Sunday night.
But after enduring over an hour of bland college comedy happenings, and conveniently placed coincidences, maybe Transylmania achieves a sort of hypnotic spell, where anything is possible, and more importantly, acceptable. Because the last twenty minutes or so (not including an interminable epilogue, letting you know just what happened to everyone you couldn’t possibly care about after the events of the movie) are a frenzied, kind of interesting mess, where actors (specifically, Oren Skoog and Jennifer Lyons) that were lucky to be bland beforehand turn in bizarrely fine performances and all the obvious plot points collide to create a climax that is inherently predictable, but still sort of satisfying. I don’t think any of the shameful attendees in the theater ever laughed, or gasped or will ever speak of their time there to anyone, but I don’t think they walked out as annoyed or angry as they may have been had they paid to see Old Dogs or The Ugly Truth with a lot more people.