Film Review: Schmaltzy plot in Monster mashup movie

Dracula (Adam Sandler) is forced to make room for a human (Andy Samberg) at his monster inn in "Hotel Transylvania."

Sony Pictures Animation

Dracula (Adam Sandler) is forced to make room for a human (Andy Samberg) at his monster inn in "Hotel Transylvania."

I'm a member of what has come to be called the "monster kid" generation. The honorific (horrorific?) refers to those kids who grew up in the 1960s reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, building Aurora monster models, watching such programs as Memphis' "Fantastic Features" and otherwise being obsessed with all things monster-ous if not monstrous.

Many adults did not consider this a wholesome interest. They might have been more tolerant if they knew that the supernatural shape-shifters, science-fiction creatures and Gothic villains portrayed by such distinguished actors as Boris Karloff and Vincent Price would by the end of the 1970s be replaced by impersonal masked sadists and knife-wielding maniacs whose R-rated depredations were more suitable for midnight movies than kiddie matinees.

Welcome to the Hotel Transylvania, Dracula's lavish five-stake resort, where monsters and their families can live it up, free to be the monsters they are ...

Rating: PG for some rude humor, action and scary images

Length: 91 minutes

Released: September 28, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

Writer: Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, David Feiss

More info and showtimes »

The latest 3D digital feature from Sony Pictures Animation ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"), the spoofy "Hotel Transylvania" more or less pretends the past 50 years of horror movies never existed, even though the film is aimed at youngsters who may be more familiar with Freddy, Jason and Chucky than Bela, Boris and Vincent.

A sort of computer-animated revamp of the 1967 stop-motion Rankin/Bass production "Mad Monster Party?," in which Baron Frankenstein (voiced by Karloff) hosts a comedic convention of monsters, "Hotel Transylvania" should be right up my dark alley. I appreciate its affinity for old-school ghouls, but, unfortunately, the movie's classic-monster context supports an utterly conventional and schmaltzy story about a father who doesn't want to admit his little girl is all grown up.

The fact that the father is Dracula and the "teenage" girl is celebrating her 118th birthday contributes novelty to the scenario (credited to five writers), but no real surprises follow.

Did I say schmaltz? This Lugosi-inspired Dracula's "human-free" hotel may be located in the Carpathian Mountains, beyond the "haunted woods" and the "land of the undead," but it might as well be in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills. Dracula is voiced by Adam Sandler, who also is one of the movie's executive producers; as in many Sandler projects, the emphasis on Jewish ethnicity and identity is not just a catalyst for jokes but a motivating theme.

The Frankenstein monster (Kevin James) and his bride (presented as a kvetching jewelry-laden yenta, with the braying voice of Fran Drescher) are repeatedly and pointedly referred to as "the Steins"; the mummy has the voice of Cee Lo Green, but his name is Murray; "I vant to kiss your tush," is Drac's cooing comment to his baby daughter.

Dracula — who serves his guests "bagels with scream cheese," but doesn't drink human blood because it's "so fatty" — created his Hotel Transylvania as a refuge from the "persecution" of the "real monsters," with their "pitchforks, torches (and) angry mobs." Is it too much to see this as yet another parable of the Holocaust and the desire for the security of a homeland? I don't think so. (In which case the movie's conclusion is a wish-fulfillment fantasy of international acceptance that has yet to occur.)

Such thoughts offer a distraction from the groaning obviousness of a story that loses interest following the introduction of an annoying backpacking "dude" (voiced by a no-doubt-embarrassed if richly compensated Andy Samberg) who stumbles into the Hotel Transylvania, falls for Dracula's Goth-punk-chic vampire daughter (Selena Gomez) and teaches the uptight Drac to have "fun."

The adult viewer will sympathize with Dracula's desire to shield his daughter from this crusty suitor, who brags, "I got tickets to six Dave Matthews concerts" and, after being disguised in green face paint, declares: "Check it out — I'm a Frankenhomie!"

The movie is more successful when it sticks to corny or absurdist monster comedy, as when the Invisible Man (David Spade) is embarrassed when he's "pantsed." Steve Buscemi is appropriately weary as a werewolf dad with a litter of umpteen out-of-control pups, but the most amusing voice characterization is contributed by Memphis' Chris Parnell, as the Fly.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky ("Samurai Jack," "Star Wars: Clone Wars") has a nice eye for detail (note how Dracula glides from place to place, like Lon Chaney Jr. in "Son of Dracula"), but too often he indulges Sandler's thirst for bathos, as when Dracula admits: "Children need to discover things for themselves." Considering the hotel's zombie labor force, I'd have been happier if Dracula instead had quoted the memorable title of a 1973 horror movie about the undead: "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things."

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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