DraculaFest: Love at First Bite

What was it about 1979, anyway? Apparently that year saw the release of no fewer than five Dracula films, three of them from major studios. With that much output, reason dictates that one of them had to be a silly parody. Et voilà!

Studio 666

You are the dancing count.

Love at First Bite (1979) emerged at the exact same time as Nosferatu, the Vampyre and Universal’s Dracula remake, and it goes without saying it lies on the lighter end of the spectrum. It certainly bears little resemblance to Werner Herzog’s frightfest. It’s helpful to remember that Airplane! arrived the following year. This film is very much in the same comedic vein. Pratfalls, double entendres, gratuitous extended disco dancing, you get the picture.

Count Vladimir Dracula (George Hamilton) is driven from his castle in Transylvania by the Communist regime and arrives in New York City with his faithful servant, Renfield (Arte Johnson). While engaging in Manhattan hijinks the Count runs across supermodel Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James) and–say it with me now–discovers she is his lost love reincarnate. He pursues her with a variety of magical parlor tricks that have nothing to do with being a vampire, which draws the ire of her would-be beau, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin). Luckily the good doctor is a Van Helsing descendent, though not as adept at chasing vampires as his famous ancestor. Many shenanigans later, Dracula vampirizes–‘zat a word?–his true love and they fly off together as bats.

Here's sun in your eye.

Here’s sun in your eye.

Of course, a plot summary is more or less pointless in describing a film like this. It’s parody and slapstick and ribald humor roughly pressed into the shape of a Dracula story. As these pursuits go, it’s fairly well done and even laugh-out-loud funny in places. After a fun opening with a few well-placed zingers (“Children of the night–shut up!”) the pace drags as the Count and Renfield conduct a two-man road show. Hamilton and Johnson are essentially Hollywood Squares novelty actors, and are directly aping their Universal forebearers, Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye. They’re adequate. Things pick up considerably with the arrival of Saint James as a glamorous but slovenly model, sardonic and self-deprecating in amusing ways. Benjamin also works well as her loony boyfriend, bumbling through several attempts to destroy his competition with a garlic necklace, a Star of David and a can of kerosene. Writer Robert Kaufman manages several good riffs on Dracula standards (“I don’t drink…wine and I don’t smoke…shit,” says Dracula when Cindy offers him booze and a spliff.) As with Blacula, a few cringe-worthy stereotypes mar the fun. For the most part, however, this is a pleasant enough way to spend ninety minutes and change. If you enjoy parody movies, this is your jam. Me, I don’t mind one every now and again.

Love at First Bite earns .75 out of 2 fangs out. A trifle, but a pretty funny one.

Up next: The Spirit of ’79 continues!

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