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Monday, June 28, 2010

Love At First Bite (1979) review


This edition features a picture that was popular at the time of its release and has had lasting cult movie appeal. However, it has yet to get its well deserved DVD special edition most especially in a musically unaltered version. This entry we look at the late 70's cult comedy horror classic...


George Hamilton (Count Dracula), Susan Saint James (Cindy Sondheim), Arte Johnson (Renfield), Richard Benjamin (Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg)

Directed by Stan Dragoti

The Short Version: Immensely entertaining and occasionally hilarious comedy rife with some un PC moments and filled with recognizable character actors. Hamilton, Benjamin and Arte Johnson put up a grand comedic battle for screen supremacy and all three play off some truly funny scenes among them. A great comedy classic with a lot of rewatchability.

The charming and debonair Count Dracula (Hamilton) is in love with magazine cover girl Cindy Sondheim (St. James). He is forced off his Transylvanian land to make way for shopping centers and general modernity ("What do you want from him?!....Blood?!"). Drac and Renfield (Johnson) head for the Big Apple in search of Ms. Sondheim. Once there, Drac ends up having a relationship with Cindy but this doesn't sit well with her jealous and slightly off balance psychiatrist boyfriend Jeffrey Rosenberg (Benjamin) who also happens to be a relative of the late Professor Van Helsing. Once he discovers she has been bitten twice, with the third bite completing the transformation, the stage is set for a very funny showdown between Dracula and Rosenberg as both vie for the attention of the mentally wrecked Cindy.

Check out those oldschool Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes!

One of the very last productions from AIP, a company famous for their low budget horror and exploitation movies. At this time, they were attempting to establish themselves among the big studios. The same year, they released the big budget METEOR, a co-production with the Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong.

LOVE AT FIRST BITE maintains AIP's horror roots, but possesses a helluva cast and features possibly Hamilton's most famous role (a tanned vampire no less). He plays Dracula in the tradition of a lovelorn Lugosi. Hamilton is very funny and the film lets you know where it's going after the hauntingly Gothic opening credits amidst fog and howling wolves. We then see Dracula playing his organ then bellowing... "Children of the night...Shut up!"

Hamilton hams it up as a Dracula who time has seemingly passed him by. No one is afraid of him anymore. Forced out of his country (to make way for a gymnasium no less), he makes his way to New York to meet the love of his life, Cindy Sondheim; a woman who turns out to be not quite what the blood drinking, love deprived Count was expecting. In this new world (the big city), Dracula is just a big joke to pretty much everybody around him (New Yorkers don't scare easily). The inner city residents present more of a threat than the Transylvanian lord of the undead could ever hope to.

"Finally after 712 have someone bite ME again!"

James is good as the emotionally reclusive, neurotic, drug and pill obsessed fashion model. Just like the time period in which the film was made, the character of Cindy represents the typical sexually liberated individual living in the fast lane. She has a bizarrely humorous relationship with Rosenberg (Benjamin) in that he is her financial crutch while he sits by and contemplates his delusional plans for a future together. Meanwhile, she pretty much does what she wants.

Her scenes with Benjamin are a riot particularly after each failed attempt to destroy Dracula, Rosenberg finds himself incarcerated (several times) and placed in a padded cell in Bellvue eventually wearing a straight jacket. One very funny moment has Rosenberg pull out a star of David to repel Dracula and another where the two attempt to hypnotize each other--"You're getting sleeeepy..." "No, it is you who are getting sleepy..." "No, you are!" "No, you are!"

Richard Benjamin is spot on here and has many of the best scenes. Benjamin would also play in a horror comedy the following year in Roger Corman's New World Pictures release, SATURDAY THE 14TH starring alongside his wife, Paula Prentiss. Another hilarious bit has Dr. Rosenberg convincing a cop to release a repeat offender on the basis of his psychiatric observations. Immediately thereafter, Rosenberg tells the cop with deadpan delivery that vampires are running loose in the city and must be destroyed.

"Everything that you mentioned is dead. Don't you have anything that's alive...and kicking?"

Comic actor, Arte Johnson perfectly mimics Dwight Frye's performance as Renfield from the 1931 film. One of the best bits with him has Renfield relay to Dracula how he was able to get the address of Ms. Sondheim by showing his "lunch" to the lady agent; the contents of which, brings Dracula to hurl his own "lunch". Johnson was the voice to Depatie-Freleng's MR. JAWS cartoon and also played the mad German pilot that drops Burt Reynolds inside a bomb capsule at the opening of THE CANNONBALL RUN PART 2 (1984).

A number of cameo's are sprinkled throughout LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979). Two that will be instantly recognizable are Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford from the popular show THE JEFFERSONS, spun off of the equally classic, ALL IN THE FAMILY. Here, Hemsley plays a preacher ("When you is GONE, you is GONE!") and Sanford a judge. Michael Pataki (DRACULA'S DOG, RETURN OF COUNT YORGA) also puts in an appearance towards the end. Having been made in the 70s, there are a number of politically incorrect moments. One funny bit has Dracula on the prowl for blood in bat form. He runs a-fowl (haha) of an apartment full of Mexicans who mistake him for a chicken(!)

Come back, black chicken!!

Arguably the most famous scene in the movie is the disco sequence between Hamilton and St. James with the HUGE one hit wonder, 'I Love the Night Life' by Alicia Bridges playing in the background. Sadly, there must have been rights issues as the old Orion VHS and the recent MGM DVD is missing this number and has been replaced with a riotously inferior substitute. It totally destroys the magic of this wonderful sequence and as popular as this film was, it's a bit of a travesty that MGM couldn't spring for the rights to use the song. Still, in the ending crawl, Bridges song remains among the credits. The Warner VHS from years back features the original song.

"Copyright 1926? Renfield, you bungling moron, this book is as out of I am!"

A very funny movie which is still funny today and recommended for any vampire movie fan. A sequel was announced back in the 90s but it never materialized. Reportedly, Director Stan Dragoti was arrested for drug possession the night of the films premiere.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD


I Like Horror Movies said...

Havent seen this one either V, but someone's Netflix que just got a little fuller muwahaha.. MGM is notorious for cheaping out on the music rights.. Just look at the RotLD series!

venoms5 said...

If you've not seen it before, the scene won't bother you, but to me and others who love the film, the disco sequence is totally ruined by not having Alica Bridges song in there. Both the song and that scene were one of the most famous aspects of the picture and a lot of people were PISSED that it wasn't reinstated. The Orion VHS was the same musically altered version. The old WB tape was complete and also when it plays on television.

I just revisited George Hamilton in ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE (1981), another really funny movie which featured Hamilton in a dual role as both Zorro and his homosexual brother. Incidentally, I also got an Umberto Lenzi war movie which stars George Hamilton and George Peppard called FROM HELL TO VICTORY.

Anonymous said...

I love this movie, and I'm pretty sure repeated viewings on HBO in the early 80s marked my introduction to the world of vampires. So while everyone else may remember George Hamilton as a crispy tan man, to me he'll always be Dracula!

venoms5 said...

That's how I first saw it, initforthekills. The song also stuck out to me as I heard it a lot in the late 70's especially when me and my mom and dad moved to NC during that time. Great movie and I hope a musically unaltered version surfaces someday.

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