The film Stan Helsing, written and directed by Bo Zenga, prominently displays the words “A Parody” in the opening credits, which leads one to believe that the movie will, in fact, be an acceptably humorous spoof. It’s supposed to poke fun at the horror genre, which has been done repeatedly (Scary Movie 1, 2, 3, and 4, anyone?). And so one begins watching the film with certain expectations: that the film will at least clearly reference some past horror classics and reframe it in a comedic context. This is the least a viewer could ask for in horror parody.
Living up to this meager expectation is what made Scary Movie indulgently funny, if not spectacular; after all, there always have been scenes in horror movies that were worth teasing (see: the snot-drippingly honest apology in The Blair Witch Project). However, Stan Helsing’s unforgivable flaw is that it labels itself a parody without really taking the effort to parody anything at all. Instead, the viewer is left in a haze of vague circumstances and reactions that seem familiar but not specific enough to be funny in a new context.
Stan Helsing basically drivels for two hours by regurgitating the same horrible stereotypes and clichés that it’s supposed to be making fun of in the first place. And if that’s what a spoof should be, well, I guess I never got the memo.
The movie starts with Stan Helsing (portrayed by Steve Howey) working at a video rental store (“Schlockbusters:” really clever). This beginning scene is an omen for things to come in the rest of the movie. In the scene, Stan gets a phone call from a customer requesting advice on pornography picks, to which he responds with various “creative” titles (to highlight but a few: “Schindler’s Fist” and “Six Degrees of Penetration”); and with that auspicious start, 120 solid minutes of the same uninteresting sex jokes and stereotypes begins.
One problem is that the sex jokes, toilet humor and racial clichés are neither surprising nor interesting enough to be funny: Perhaps Zenga believes that America has not seen or heard enough of someone having a go in a bathroom stall. Black people loudly commenting on what characters do in a horror movie isn’t funny anymore; by now, it seems practically racist.
Why bother telling the same stale joke for the trillionth time? Having another one-dimensional blonde portrayed as unintelligent and promiscuous isn’t “parody” or “satire,” it’s old. To make matters even worse, the cast never becomes cohesive — comedic timing goes out the window, to say the least — and the movie suffers even more for it. The actors can’t necessarily be blamed for this; there’s really only so much you can do with such an uninspired script.
Admittedly, there is a storyline in place, but it feels like Stan Helsing is just a string of bad jokes and innuendo barely stitched together. The plot involves a series of events which leads to the protagonists being trapped inside a creepy, bizarre town, which sets up the “escape.” In of itself, such a simple plot is not a complete failure. There are other horror spoofs that generally are capable of providing easy laughs. This makes the lack of a plot somewhat of a non-issue. With Helsing, however, the plot just makes the whole thing sink faster.
Even stranger, the movie sometimes gives up on the parody concept altogether, simply taking horror villains fully out of context in vain attempts to conjure some chuckles. I won’t reveal the “climax” of the film, but it definitely can be described as perplexing (to be kind).
To be fair, spoofing anything is a difficult art. There is a thin line between parodying something and succumbing to the film’s unfortunate pitfalls. Stan Helsing doesn’t merely cross this line; it sprints a good 50 meters past it.
There is something mildly terrifying about the trend of certain types of entertainment in this post-modern era of Family Guy and movies like Stan Helsing (or Epic Movie or Dance Flick or Meet the Spartans), where cultural references somehow are necessary to form a cohesive product. Hopefully, this trend does not mark the slow extinction of true originality in culture (which is downright disturbing).
The funniest part of Stan Helsing is that a modern movie studio approved and funded such a cockeyed project. In the end, it probably would be a little too much to expect this film to be the end of mediocre parodies.
Still, you can’t help hoping.