Love At First Bite (1979) Dractober Review

There’s something inherently funny about the idea of an individual as famously permatanned as George Hamilton portraying the notoriously sun-shy Count Dracula but it’s not quite enough to lift this dated and lightweight comedy above the ordinary.

Evicted from his ancestral Castle by the Communist government of Romania who plan to turn it into a training facility for gymnasts, Dracula (George Hamilton) decides to travel to New York City with his faithful manservant Renfield (Arte Johnson) and seduce fashion model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James). He intends to put himself up in a hotel but due to a mix-up at the airport finds himself at the centre of a Harlem funeral, much to the shock of the mourners. As the Count encounters all the delights of modern New York City life, such as blood banks, sex clubs, and discotheques, he also attracts the unwanted attention of Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), Cindy’s psychiatrist and would-be boyfriend and also the grandson of Dracula’s great nemesis Van Helsing.

There’s a certain ditzy charm to “Love At First Bite” but it’s so steeped in the socio-political zeitgeist of the late seventies that it often feels dated and crude instead of charmingly antiquated. Perhaps it just needs a few more years to mature into more of a kitsch vintage the way “Vampira” almost has.

Hamilton is cheesy good value as the imperious Count whose nobility and privilege take a sustained beating by the New York ‘who cares’ attitude but he’s generally the straight man to the zany antics which surround him. Arte Johnson hams it up terrifically as Renfield while Susan Saint James is wonderfully self-absorbed as the neurotic and flaky model searching for something more meaningful. It’s Richard Benjamin, though, who gets the bulk of the comedy action in a series of silly and slapstick attempts to prove Dracula’s evil intent result in him getting in more and more trouble with the authorities he’s desperately trying to convince. Still, it manages to use some interesting bits of vampire lore, specifically the idea that to turn into a vampire you must be bitten by a vampire three times and, for a while, it was one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time but that may speak more to the times than this movie.

There’s a rare happy ending for the Count here as he finally, after all these movies, finds a willing bride but despite the game efforts of the solid cast, the movie never really sparks into life. I’ve fond memories of watching this while growing up, but I definitely remember it being zanier and funnier than it is this time around. Many of the one-liners fall flat and the overall result may raise the occasional wan smile but you’re unlikely to bare your fangs in laughter.


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