LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979) Reviews and overview of vampire comedy

 

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‘Your favorite pain in the neck is about to bite your funny bone!’

Love at First Bite is a 1979 American horror comedy film directed by Stan Dragoti from a screenplay by Robert Kaufman, using characters originally created by Bram Stoker.

The movie stars George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin (Saturday the 14th) and Arte Johnson.

The original music score was composed by Charles Bernstein.

Plot:

Count Dracula is expelled from his castle by the Communist government of Romania, which plans to convert the structure into a training facility for gymnasts (the head trainer declares that it will include Nadia Comăneci). The world-weary Count travels to New York City with his bug-eating manservant, Renfield, and establishes himself in a hotel.

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While Dracula learns that America contains such wonders as blood banks, sex clubs, and discotheques, he also proceeds to suffer the general ego-crushing that comes from living in the Big Apple in the late 1970s as he romantically pursues flaky fashion model Cindy Sondheim, whom he has admired from afar and believes to be the current reincarnation of his true love.

Dracula is ineptly pursued in turn by Sondheim’s psychiatrist and quasi-boyfriend Jeffrey Rosenberg. Jeffrey is the grandson of Dracula’s old nemesis Fritz (sic) van Helsing but changed his name to Rosenberg “for professional reasons”. Rosenberg’s numerous methods to combat Dracula – mirrors, garlic, a Star of David (which he uses instead of the cross), and hypnosis – are easily averted by the Count. Rosenberg also tries burning Dracula’s coffin with the vampire still inside but is arrested by hotel security.

Subsequently, he tries to shoot him with three silver bullets, but Dracula remains unscathed, patiently explaining that this works only on werewolves. Rosenberg’s increasingly erratic actions eventually cause him to be locked up as a lunatic, but as mysterious cases of blood-bank robberies and vampiric attacks begin to spread, NYPD Lieutenant Ferguson starts to believe the psychiatrist’s claims and gets him released…

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Reviews:

“Hamilton is obviously having fun as the eternally youthful Count, but Saint James, usually an actress of considerable charm, seems to be almost sleepwalking through her role here. Benjamin and Johnson are the most colorful members of a large supporting cast, one which trades on a number of cameos…” Blu-ray.com

Love at First Bite is not overly hilarious, but it still guarantees a good number of laughs and is an enjoyable farce from start to finish. Lots of the jokes and dialog seem like they could have come out of an episode of The Munsters, but of course with more of a late 1970s edge to them.” DVD Drive-In

“Had director Stan Dragoti and the film’s writers been able to maintain a consistent balance of clever jokes and romance, Love at First Bite could have become an offbeat gem. Instead, it’s a mixed bag of fun sequences and stupid discussions, with the clunker gags outnumbering the successful zingers. Still, there’s a reason this was among the few unqualified triumphs of Hamilton’s career…” Every ’70s Movie

“This is one of those movies that could have very easily gone off the rails if a sense of desperation had crept in, but that never happens. It could have used a few more solid laughs, and it runs out of steam towards the end, but it manages to avoid being annoying. I even like it enough that I won’t dock it for having a scene in a disco, though it helps that the song is well chosen and the dancing is fun.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“George Hamilton plays with sly, debonair charm, all suavely rolled r’s and querulously raised eyebrows, and lets us know he is having an enormous amount of fun. Up against him, Susan St James plays with daffy charms. Best of all is Arte Johnson, who plays with a manically perverse glee as Renfield and steals the film with his diet of living creatures and unnervingly maniacal laugh.” Moria

” …a coarse, delightful little movie with a bang-up cast and no pretensions at all […] Sometimes tackiness works to the film’s advantage […] If you’re going to show a bat on screen, it might as well be a silly-looking stuffed bat suspended from obvious wires. Some of the film’s ethnic jokes skate by on very thin ice.” The New York Times, April 13th 1979

“What’s odd is how the film is so bonkers throughout, yet never really feels like the absurdist farce it should be. It’s a film where Van Helsing lights Dracula’s coffin on fire in the middle of a hotel room, and it’s not even the climax. Director Stan Dragoti never quite takes the reins […] The weird material here just struggles to leap off of the screen, so the film settles for sitcom-style flatness.” Oh, the Horror!

“While Hamilton is quite good in the central role, Love at First Bite comes off as a hopelessly dated oddity that’s distinctly lacking in laughs – something that’s exacerbated by the incredibly broad performances from the supporting cast.” Reel Film Reviews

“Briskly paced and plenty funny, Love at First Bite does a pretty fine job of lampooning vampire movie clichés one after another pretty much throughout its running time […] A good score with some catchy tracks included on it helps to add to the enjoyment of the feature while the script offers up a good mix of funny dialogue, kooky characters and amusing sight gags.” Rock! Shock! Pop!

“If the humour is largely at sitcom level, occasional coarse gags aside, then there are a few decent laughs, mostly concentrating on how ridiculous it sounds to have a real vampire stalking the streets of the big city, and the cast takes advantage of whatever chances they get. It’s just that Hamilton is so good, you’ll wish the script had been wittier and the direction had matched his flair.” The Spinning Image

“Atrociously directed and full of groan-making jokes, but the cast are having such a good time that it’s difficult not to respond in a similar way. See it when you feel at your silliest.” Time Out

“It’s a fun notion and George Hamilton makes it work. In the first place, he’s funny just to watch […] Director Stan Dragoti keeps the chuckles coming, spaced by a few good guffaws.” Variety, December 31st 1978

Choice dialogue:

George Hamilton [Count Dracula]: Shh! Children of the night, shut up!

Doctor Jeff Rosenberg [Richard Benjamin]: “Not funny, lieutenant. Horrible! Messy! Unspeakable!”

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Cast and characters:

George Hamilton … Count Dracula
Susan Saint James … Cindy Sondheim
Richard Benjamin … Doctor Jeff Rosenberg
Dick Shawn … Lt. Ferguson
Arte Johnson … Renfield
Sherman Hemsley … Reverend Mike
Isabel Sanford … Judge
Barry Gordon … Flashlight Vendor
Ronnie Schell … Guy in Elevator
Bob Basso … T.V. Repairman
Bryan O’Byrne … Priest
Michael Pataki … Mobster
Hazel Shermet … Lady in Elevator
Stanley Brock … Cab Driver
Danny Dayton … Billy
Robert Ellenstein … VW Man
David Ketchum … Customs Inspector
Lidia Kristen … Commissare Woman
Eric Laneuville … Russell

Technical details:

1 hour 36 minutes
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

Trailer:

Dracula’s disco moves clip:

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