Love at First Bite (1979, Stan Dragoti)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: We start in Castle Dracula in Transylvania, then events move to New York City. It’s the modern day.

Faithful to the novel? No, this comedy film is set later than Stoker’s story. As we begin, Count Dracula (George Hamilton) is living in his gloomy castle with a servant called Renfield (Arte Johnson), who has a dirty laugh and enjoys eating insects. When the Count is evicted from his home by the local communist authorities, he flees to New York City in order to find his long-lost love: a woman who has been reborn into successive bodies over the years. He first met her in Poland in 1356, then when she was called Mina Harker in 1930s London. (This last incident is a nod to Universal’s famous 1931 film adaptation.) Her latest incarnation is successful fashion model Cindy Sondheim (a fun Susan Saint James). Dracula woos her and sleeps with her. But then her therapist, Jeffrey Rosenberg (an increasingly demented Richard Benjamin), becomes jealous of the relationship. Rosenberg’s real name is actually Van Helsing (he changed it for professional reasons), and he sets about trying to prove that Dracula is a blood-sucking vampire.

Best performance: George Hamilton, who was also a producer on the film, plays Count Vladimir Dracula with a Bela Lugosi accent and cape – and a fantastically straight face. There are no nods or winks to the audience; it’s a performance that works and is funny because of Hamilton’s commitment to staying in character. This version of Dracula is at least 700 years old and can turn into a bat and a dog.

Best bit: The film’s tone is set up in the opening scene. Dracula sits alone and playing his piano. Outside his castle window he can hear howling wolves. ‘Children of the night,’ he says, a frustrated look on his face. ‘Shut up!’

Review: There was a vogue in the 1970s for contemporary-set Dracula films – and especially for dropping Dracula-ish character into busy, thriving, modern cities. Hammer rebooted its long-running series with the marvellous Dracula A.D. 1972, shifting the Count from a vague Victoriana setting to modern-day London. Comedy film Vampira (1974) was also based in the UK capital in the 70s, while Blaxploitation movie Blacula (1972) and its 1973 sequel took place in an up-to-date Los Angeles, and the risible Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979) in New York City. So Love at First Bite is not doing anything especially new or different. But thanks to some amusing performances and general air of easy-going-ness, it’s a very entertaining hour and a half. The script toys with the usual Draculian clichés, but there’s never any sense of smugness about the humour.

Eight black chickens out of 10

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