Anyone who has known me for a long time can attest to my love affair with classic monsters. Before George Lucas introduced his little sci-fi franchise to the public in 1977, the walls of my childhood bedroom displayed posters of King Kong, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man. The first comic I read? Not “Batman”. Not “Spider-Man”. It was “Monsters on the Prowl,” issue #29, which featured the story “A Monster at My Window” and a Jack Kirby and John Romita cover that remains etched in my mind nearly 50 years later.
I watched all of Universal’s classic monster movies on WTOG’s “Creature Feature” – and its “ghost” Dr. Paul Bearer injected plenty of schlock into his Saturday afternoon presentations. He served up cheesy, low-budget sketches that mixed humor and macabre. “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein,” a Canadian children’s show, followed a similar path, built around an original sketch format that mirrored “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” with classic monsters performing all the parodies.
There’s no better example of combining humor and horror than “The Addams Family.” The fictional family created by American cartoonist Charles Addams debuted in single-panel cartoons in 1938 and has become an integral part of American culture. My Generation first encountered Gomez and Morticia on TV screens in the 1970s. The TV show “The Addams Family” originally aired from 1964 to 1966. Fortunately, it was resurrected thanks to syndication, so reruns went on for decades.
“The Munsters,” which also aired from 1964 to 1966, was a more direct satire of classic horror movie icons as well as a parody of the wholesome suburban nuclear family that was prevalent in sitcoms of the time.
One way or another, this legacy leads us to the Hotel Transylvania franchise and, most recently, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” the fourth and final film in the series. Another victim of the pandemic, Sony Pictures Releasing canceled the theatrical release of the film in 2021 and sold the distribution rights to Amazon. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” was released exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on January 14.
The computer-animated comedy-adventure film was directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska and features the voice talents of Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Brian Hull, Fran Drescher and many more. It is a sequel to “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation”, released in 2018.
At the start of the film, Drac (Hull) considers announcing his retirement. He intends to leave his daughter Mavis (Gomez) and her husband Johnny (Samberg) in charge of the hotel. At the last minute, Johnny learns of Drac’s plans and, because he’s a talkative idiot, lists all the things he wants to change when he and Mavis take control.
The idea of Johnny altering his life’s work as an undead drives Drac over the edge and he tells Johnny he can’t let them have the hotel because of a legal detail: the new owners have to be monsters. – and Johnny is not a freak. It’s a lie, of course, but Drac thinks it will buy him some time.
Unfortunately, Johnny almost immediately comes up with his own solution: Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Gaffigan), a former monster hunter living in the basement, uses his Monsterification Ray to convert Johnny into a monster. In the ensuing chaos, however, Drac and his monster buddies are accidentally turned into humans, and the crystal powering the Monsterization Beam is destroyed. The only way to get things back to normal is to replace the crystal, which involves a dangerous race across the world.
If the premise seems a little weak, don’t worry: it’s not even as good as it sounds.
“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” stinks of contractual obligations and greedy tycoons hoping another trip back to the pit will generate a few more bucks. The franchise is well past its sell-by date. It became redundant and unimaginative. The script is a convoluted mess that tries to work out the issues, but ends up getting lost in a series of mind-numbing action sequences and a handful of teary-talking about toasted marshmallows. The end result looks a little too familiar, a little tired, and totally uninspiring.
Part of the problem with this movie is that it focuses on the relationship between Johnny and Drac. Whatever endearing qualities Johnny may possess are buried under layers of nasty and repulsive character traits. His reckless fervor and relentless frenzy negate his good intentions. The manic nature of the character makes it difficult for viewers to understand the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity that drive him.
Johnny’s hyper-frenzied personality seems to infect the entire film, making it difficult to cling to specific plot points or savor moments of genuine sentiment or humor. What remains are scattered one-liners, overused cliches, and clunky messaging. It’s a weak finale that may not even be entertaining enough to hold the attention of die-hard fans of the franchise.