FEBRUARY 11, 2012
There are fewer actors that are as synonymous with “cheesy” (to my generation anyway) than George Hamilton, and fewer sub-genres in horror more littered with garbage than the horror-comedy, so the fact that Love At First Bite was even watchable was a surprise. That it was actually pretty fun is something of a minor miracle; while the should-be dream team of Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielsen failed to lampoon Dracula in the shockingly bad Dead And Loving It, this one actually manages to more or less work.
Part of the success is due to the fact that it’s not a direct spoof of the Dracula story as the other film was (I only bring it up because I specifically remember the "Fangoria" article about Brooks’ film dismissing this one), which keeps them from having to force comedy into situations that are ill-suited for such things. Hamilton plays Dracula, and he’s got Renfield, and as always he’s looking for his eternal love, but otherwise it doesn’t really follow the Stoker story: no Harker, no Lucy, etc. If anything it’s closer to Vampire In Brooklyn than Dracula.
Interestingly, it also has several African-American supporting characters like that film, although many of them are stereotypes (when Dracula throws a black street punk through an electronic store window, the guy loots a TV as he climbs back out). It feels a BIT racist in retrospect, but it’s not meant to be - you gotta remember that the world wasn't so damn PC back then, and thus it's no different than the language in the classic Chevy/Richard Prior sketch on SNL. And when you have Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford contributing small roles (at the height of The Jeffersons’ popularity), you have to assume that they didn’t have any trouble with the movie’s tone. Hemsley’s scene is pretty hilarious actually; he’s giving a eulogy for a guy whose coffin got mixed up with Dracula’s at the airport, mostly giving the deceased guy props for all of his sexual conquests (a guy in the crowd even proudly joins in: “He banged my old lady!”).
Of course, as with any comedy of this sort, there are as many groaners as laughs (pretty much anything revolving around Renfield is laugh-free), as well as some dated material that distracts from the fun. But again, I was surprised at how much DID still work, particularly the hilariously inept psychiatrist who is also a descendent of Van Helsing. He’s a bit fuzzy on the exact ways to kill a vampire, which has some fun results: after shooting Dracula through the heart with silver bullets, he tries to get out of arrest by pointing out that he mixed him up with a werewolf and that he’s actually fine. The actor is Richard Benjamin, better known for his directing these days, but he’s got a fun sort of Steven Colbert-ish demeanor here, arrogant yet clueless, and ultimately well-meaning.
I should note that it’s barely a horror movie even by horror-comedy standards. I don’t think he kills anyone in the movie (there’s a blood bank scene to explain how he stays nourished), and most of the displays of his power are to telekinetically open doors and turn on “mood music” during his dates with Susan Saint James. He does transform into a bat at one point, which is pretty hilarious (a poor family trying to figure out how to get its next meal assumes it’s a black chicken), but even the climax feels more like a traditional romantic comedy (it involves a race to the airport!) albeit with the male lead in a cape. Not that it bugged me much, but Dead & Loving It and Vampire In Brooklyn, while inferior films IMO, definitely made more of an attempt to cater to both fanbases.
That said (spoilers ahead!) I did like that he actually succeeded for once. Most (all?) Dracula films end with him being burned by sunlight or staked, failing to get his bride, but here he successfully turns James into a vampire, and then they turn bat and fly off together. It’s quite sweet, and it’s not at the expense of the psychiatrist, who gets to walk away with the main cop (shades of Casablanca here) and Dracula’s cape, which both men are convinced will aid considerably in their romantic lives. Everyone walks away happy; it’s nice.
Your tolerance level may vary, but I found this an enjoyably silly diversion. There’s something uniquely charming about watching a movie about a guy who comes to a 30 year old “modern day” time, and Hamilton largely plays it straight, which is always preferable to trying to score a laugh every other line (though he does get the best laugh in the film with his variation on “I never drink wine”). James is gorgeous, and it never wears out its welcome. Just a nice little movie is all.
What say you?