Thursday, August 25, 2005

LOVE AT FIRST BITE

In 1979, there was a major Dracula revival. Frank Langella had resurrected the role on Broadway, NBC's CLIFFHANGERS series offered a "Dracula '79" weekly serial with Michael Nouri, and Louis Jourdan starred in a BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel which aired on PBS stations in America. Meanwhile, the John Badham DRACULA remake (with Frank Langella) and Werner Herzog's NOSFERATU remake (with Klaus Kinski) both hit the big screen. LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979), which was one of the final releases from the legendary American International Pictures, cunningly exploited this trend with probably the best vampire spoof ever made.

Suave George Hamilton (best known nowadays as a shill for Ritz chips) does his best Bela Lugosi impression as Count Dracula, who, along with his insect-eating assistant Renfield (Arte Johnson, LAUGH IN) are evicted from their Transylvanian castle by the Communist government. Looking for romance, Dracula travels to New York City, and courts self-absorbed fashion model Cindy Sondheim (Susan St. James). Of course, her psychiatrist and non-committed boyfriend (Richard Benjamin, WESTWORLD) is a descendant of the Count's legendary nemesis, Fritz(?) Van Helsing, and is determined to save her from the vampire's clutches. But does she really need saving?

Simply put, this is how to parody a horror icon. The movie, while never fall-down funny, is filled with chuckle-inducing gags and flawless comic performances. Also, being made in the Seventies, there's no political correctness to suck the fun out of the comedy. Hamilton is respectful of the Dracula character and remarkably sympathetic as the Old World romantic stuck in a society that places no value on romance, and somehow, his plight is even more poignant today.

Sony/MGM's DVD presents the film in it's original 1.85: 1 widescreen format, and is enhanced for anamorphic displays. (There's a cropped, full-frame version on the flip side.) The transfer is remarkably crisp and clean for a 26-year-old movie, and looks great. The soundtrack is Dolby mono, and clear.

Unfortunately, the Alicia Bridges disco anthem, "I Love the Night Life," which originally served as the backdrop to Hamilton and St. James' dance floor seduction scene, has been replaced with a highly inferior song. I guess the studio didn't want to pay for the rights, which is ironic since nearly the whole song can be heard in the theatrical trailer, which is included on the disc.

Soundtrack aberration aside, for horror fans with a sense of humor, LOVE AT FIRST BITE is essential viewing. Sure, some of the topical humor is dated, but overall, the movie and the comedy hold up well, thanks to the great performances of the entire cast.

BUY: Love at First Bite