Love at First Bite


Love at First Bite  (1979)    American International/Comedy-Horror    RT: 94 minutes    Rated PG (vampirism, language, some sensuality, drugs)    Director: Stan Dragoti    Screenplay: Robert Kaufman    Music: Charles Bernstein    Cinematography: Edward Rosson    Release date: April 13, 1979 (US)    Cast: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn, Arte Johnson, Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Barry Gordon, Eric Laneuville, Ronnie Schell, Bob Basso, Bryan O’Byrne, Michael Pataki, Hazel Shermet, Stanley Brock, Danny Dayton.    Box Office: $43.8 million (US)



 In my book, there are a few truly great horror-comedies. The short list consists of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, An American Werewolf in London, The Return of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead and the original Fright Night. Sorry, not a huge fan of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. I like it but not enough to include it on my list. I’d also count the 1979 vampire spoof Love at First Bite among my favorite horror-comedies. It stars George Hamilton as the most famous bloodsucker in movie history. Of course I’m talking about Count Dracula. Right off the bat, this is ideal casting. Hamilton is famous for his debonair style; it made him a perfect romantic lead. With Love at First Bite, the actor with the eternal suntan shows a real flair for comedy. The premise of the movie is GREAT! In a sentence, Dracula takes a bite out of The Big Apple

Love-At-First-Bite-MovieSet in modern-day 1979, Dracula spends every waking hour in his castle pining for his true love. He’s convinced that supermodel Cindy Sondheim (James, Kate & Allie) is the current reincarnation of the girl he first met 700 years earlier. One night, Communist government officials show up to inform him that he has 48 hours to vacate his castle as they plan to convert it into a training facility for gymnasts. The people of Transylvania aren’t sorry to see him go. Dracula and his bug-eating manservant Renfield (Johnson, Laugh-In) decide to go to New York so he can find Cindy and declare his eternal love for her.

 NYC sure knows how to welcome foreign tourists. A mix-up at the airport results in Dracula’s coffin being sent to a black church in Harlem. Needless to say, the mourners are surprised to see a white man rise from the coffin mid-eulogy. The Count is forced to walk through Harlem at night to get to his hotel in Manhattan. Naturally, a group of street thugs target the white guy dressed like a maitre d’. They try to mess with Dracula but they’re no match for somebody that can melt switchblades and telekinetically throw one of them through the front window of an appliance store. Naturally, this guy grabs a TV before fleeing the scene. Ah, the political incorrectness of the late 70s!  

 Dracula quickly learns that navigating life in New York is no easy task. It’s like the people are so used to craziness that a bat flying around doesn’t even faze them. One guy thinks it’s his ex-wife come to interrupt him with his girlfriend and calls him “a skinny-legged yenta”. A Puerto Rican family thinks it’s a black chicken and tries to catch and cook it. When Dracula finally finds somebody’s neck to bite, it’s a wino and he wakes up with a hangover. Fortunately, there’s a little good news. Renfield finds out that Cindy goes to the same discotheque each night. It’s the perfect place for Dracula to hook up with her.

 Here’s where Love at First Bite experiences a hiccup. One of the movie’s biggest scenes has Dracula and Cindy disco-dancing to Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife”. Unfortunately, it’s replaced by some generic disco song on the DVD release (same thing with the VHS release back in the 80s). The makers couldn’t get the rights to the song, I guess. The problem is that the new song doesn’t match the choreography. You can tell Hamilton and James are dancing to a different song. It doesn’t exactly ruin the movie but it sure takes something away from it. It was a great scene with the original song. The producers thought so too as it was prominently featured in the trailers and TV ads. I remember wanting to see the movie based solely on that brief clip. I’m hoping that the producers will someday obtain the rights and restore the scene to its former glory.

 Okay, back to the storyline. Dracula declares his undying love for Cindy and she tells him that she’s not really into the commitment thing. Well, she may not fully understand his idea of commitment. His plan is to turn her into a vampire so they can spend eternity together. To do this, he must bite her on the neck three times. Like any budding relationship, there are complications. She already has a sort-of boyfriend, her psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (Benjamin, The Sunshine Boys). Also, he just happens to be a descendant of Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing. When Rosenberg sees the first bite mark on Cindy’s neck, he immediately deduces that Dracula must be in town. He takes it on himself to do what his grandfather couldn’t, kill Dracula. The problem is that Rosenberg is a complete idiot. He tries to use a Star of David instead of a cross. He also tries shooting Dracula with silver bullets. The incredulous vampire informs him “that is a werewolf”.

 Love at First Bite has been around for nearly 40 years. I’ve seen it many times and it still makes me laugh. Some of the lines are absolutely priceless! Here are a few of my favorites. I’d like to start with one that was also a favorite of my mother’s:

Puerto Rican guy: “Come back, black chicken!”

Dracula (to howling wolves): “Children of the night, shut up!”

Dracula (to Cindy when she offers him wine and weed): “I never drink wine and I do not smoke s—t.”

Dracula (to Renfield): “I’m going out for a bite to drink.”

Directed by Stan Dragoti (Mr. Mom), Love at First Bite is beautifully cast. Diminutive Arte Johnson is a perfect Renfield using the accent he perfected on Laugh-In. I’m a little sorry he didn’t try to work in “vedy interesting”. James is good as flaky Cindy who justifies her messy apartment by claiming that housework killed her mother. Dick Shawn (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) plays a NYC detective who thinks Rosenberg’s claims of a vampire in New York are preposterous…. that is, until a local blood bank is robbed. Benjamin has some funny moments as well. Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford (yep, George and Weezy Jefferson!) cameo as a preacher and a judge respectively. It’s funny to look at Love at First Bite now and see what New York looked like back then. This movie is a comic delight from beginning to end. Sure, it’s totally dated with all the casual unprotected sex and racial stereotypes but it’s still very, VERY funny. This Dracula spoof does not suck! 

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