A comically self-infatuated Count Dracula is expropriated by the communist government. Having been robbed of his Transylvanian castle, Count Dracula travels to New York, where he hopes to find the reincarnation of the love of his life. At first, he finds life in the Big Apple a bit challenging, but soon he is in hot pursuit of the target of his affection, model Cindy Sondheim. But Cindy’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Jeff is not amused…
There is not much to be said about this inconsequential comedy. This 1979 film is full of the silliness and the lame jokes that would come to dominate the comedies of the 1980s. There are a lot of broad, “lowest common denominator” jokes, as well as basic slap-stick and mix-ups. Of course, there are also jokes playing with lore, as well as fish-out-of-water humour.
However, the awkwardness of this silliness is somewhat neutralised, because our vampire is such a ridiculous figure, and because Hamilton acts so perfectly in that ridiculous role. He knows exactly what note to hit in order to match the film’s tone. The way the Dracula role and other leading roles in the film are written and acted basically makes you feel like the filmmakers knew that these jokes were lame and silly, and chose to employ them in a “meta” sort of way. This almost allows you to make your peace with the film’s tone.
“Almost”, because the portrayal of black people in this film is rather appalling. I am not normally a person who gives a damn about how someone may or may not feel offended by digging out an obscure half-sentence from a film and dissecting and twisting until it may or may not be deemed entirely politically correct. But the way black characters were employed in this film made me pretty uncomfortable. Even if most of that stuff is not outright racist, it “has not aged well” (to put it very mildly). And adding insult to injury, the film gives short cameos to Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, yet fully exploits their fame in the trailer in a way which insinuates that they have much bigger roles in the film.
The film’s story progresses nicely, but the character development – especially in the female protagonist, whose development would be crucial in this story – is underdeveloped and rather sloppily handled. That is not the fault of actress Susan Saint James, who does a good job in this film, as does most of the cast. Apart from George Hamilton as Dracula and Richard Benjamin as the love rival, the main roles are played by Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson (Renfield).
As I said, it is Hamilton’s ludicrous portrayal of Dracula that carries this film. But Benjamin also has his moments, especially since he has been given some nice lines of dialogue and is spot-on in the delivery.
The film looks nice but generic, and the score opens on a nice passage in which traditional music is blended with more modern one.
In spite of all of its shortcomings, Love at First Bite is marginally more bearable than similar comedies of the era, like Once Bitten or Transylvania 6-5000. I would rather re-watch Love at First Bite than those two; I guess I would even prefer re-watching Love at First Bite rather than 1995’s Vampire in Brooklyn (which is undoubtedly the better-made film in almost every respect).
So I guess I’ll have to rate Love at First Bite at 4.5 to 5.0 out of 10. This is not a film you need to see, but if you happen to see it, it will prove less painful than other, similar comedies.