One of the easiest ways to find a “worst film” today is by searching for a spoof film.
That’s a tragedy. Mel Brooks and the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker team showed it was possibly to use such low brow humor and create something original. Brooks genuinely loves western – that’s why Blazing Saddles works. ZAZ was basically remaking a disaster film from the 1950s – and they clearly enjoy those type of movies even if they think they’re campy trash. The jokes were never mean spirited. Any references to pop culture were done out of affection if they were referenced at all. There’s a reason the Bee Gees let ZAZ use “Stayin Alive” in a scene in Airplane!.
But, since Scary Movie came out, spoofs have become dumb and lazy. Jason Freidberg and Aaron Seltzer – who will be making later appearances in this series – demonstrated this by rushing out “spoofs” of movies that weren’t even a year old. It was impossible to examine the impact certain movies had on pop culture – there hadn’t been enough time and any joke would be instantly dated. A lot of the jokes were nonsensical and only worked as a reminder of a much better movie. Despite these flaws, the movies were cheap to produce and made a good profit until the audiences caught onto the con.
Filmmakers have two templates to use when they want to create a spoof. They can use the Brooks template, which encourages affection, or the Seltzer/Freidberg template, which encourages indifference. What’s strange about Stan Helsing, number 96 on IMDB’s bottom 100, is that the film wants to have it both ways. I can tell director Bo Zenga loves horror films, particularly 1980s slasher films and 1950s Vincent Price vehicles. But he can’t translate that passion into anything coherent in his horror spoof. He’s satisfied with making dumb jokes.
To give him credit, he’s at least trying to make jokes. Yet he’s not making any commentaries on the horror genre and is holding onto the lowest rung possible. One sequence showcases the movie’s Leatherface equivalent using a leaf blower to threaten the protagonists instead of a chainsaw. Umm…OK? That may be worthy of a giggle in a single panel cartoon but that’s not really saying anything about Leatherface or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Here’s an idea – what if Leatherface killed because he was such an inept groundskeeper and kept accidentally murdering people who got too close to his power tools?
Now’s as good a time as any to talk about the plot. It’s very simple – a stoner video store employee (he works for a company called Schlockbuster – the filmmakers thought Blockbuster jokes were still relevant in 2009) Stan Helsing (Steve Howey) is tasked by his boss to deliver some videos to boss’ his mother in a nearby town. He goes with his friends and his ex-girlfriend (Diora Baird, Desi Lydic, and – no joke – SNL’s Kenan Thompson) to the town, which was built on an old Hammer horror style studio that tragically burned down. The town is haunted by “monsters,” who are just expys of all the famous slasher villains from the 1980s. And Stan may just be the person who can destroy them once and for all. (A gay alter boy insists he’s the descendant of the “great monster hunter” Abraham Van Helsing…which isn’t who that character was, but why get hung up on details like that?)
The premise sounds…passable. When I started watching the movie, I thought to myself this won’t be the funniest movie ever made but I can see a halfway decent comedy coming out of its premise. And, shockingly, it did. Stan Helsing’s setting and characters borrow almost everything they can from Wes Craven’s Scream. All the characters are fans of horror films and make jokes about them…but no one uses that knowledge to comment on the situation they’re in. Is it too much to ask someone recognizes Freddy Krueger or Chucky? And why use those characters anyway?
That’s not evening getting into the dumb jokes about a giant cockroach peeing on our protagonist or Michael Jackson running an ice cream truck to lure neighborhood children. (To give you another idea of Stan Helsing’s incredibly dated sensibilities, it was released the same year Jackson died.) And that’s not even getting into the fact one of the female characters only exists so the film can make jokes about her sex appeal and her genitals. In fact, one of the jokes in this movie sees a rat crawl up her dress and her enjoying the sensation.
There is so much misguided humor in this movie. I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention the filmmakers utterly waste their use of the late, great Leslie Neilsen. He plays a waitress at the restaurant the main characters go to where people can order anything. It was great to see him again, but Nielsen clearly wasn’t having as much fun as he was having in any of his other films. Nielsen works because he was a great straight man. All of his jokes are made with a perfect deadpan delivery. He was not a comedian originally – check out Creepshow if you don’t believe me. But his personality lent itself to spoofs because he was simultaneously having fun but acted like he was above the material, which made it far funnier.
My point is that sticking him in a dress and having him directly insult the main characters is far too mean spirited for Nielsen. And his character doesn’t work tonally either because he shifts from hating Stan and his gang of outsiders to promoting them during a final karaoke contest.
Yes, the big climax of a film is a karaoke contest. And, for some reason, a group that previously hated Stan and his friends with a passion are cheering them on. And to be fair, the villains refuse to accept the results because “there is no fair and square,” which is worthy of a cheap laugh. But it was way too late and helped contribute to the film’s weird tone.
Stan Helsing is a bad comedy, but it’s not nearly as bad as some other recent spoofs. The creators at least enjoy horror films and wanted to convey that enjoyment. They just weren’t clever enough to really say anything about the material. There’s a lot to mock about slasher films, as we’ve seen Wes Craven and Rob Zombie do. Scream was charming and I will still defend House of 1000 Corpses as a great parody of horror tropes. But Stan Helsing isn’t nearly as smart as those movies. The jokes are dumb and it doesn’t land any punches on the characters its mocking.
Still, it’s not the worst comedy I’ve ever seen. But I can understand why people dislike it enough to put it on the IMDB bottom 100. Horror fans are very passionate but they’re not above being mocked. Stan Helsing could have been a great spoof. It’s unfortunate the filmmakers decided to court the same audience as Scary Movie.
Still, there are far worse comedies on the IMDB bottom 100. But those will have to wait for now. Next time, we’ll be looking at one of the most reviled sequels of all time – Speed 2: Cruise Control. Who wanted Die Hard on a Carnival Cruise ship? We’ll find out!