Casting perpetually tanned smoothie George Hamilton as a pasty-faced vampire was such a droll bit of comic inspiration—and Hamilton’s ensuing performance was so unexpectedly delightful—that it’s easy to savor fond memories of Love at First Bite if one encountered the movie during its original release and avoided it thereafter. Alas, revisiting the film dispels those fond memories quickly. Hamilton is indeed quite funny, and his costars pour on the charm to infuse their thin characterizations with vitality, but the film’s comedy is so broad (and, at times, so racist) that sensible viewers will cringe as often as they chuckle. On top of insipid one-liners like “I’m going out for a bite to drink,” the picture includes awful sequences with featured players Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford (better known as TV’s The Jeffersons) lampooning African-American patois.
Anyway, here’s the good news: Hamilton, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson, and Susan Saint James look like they’re having a blast delivering silly jokes, so their cheerfulness makes long stretches of the movie palatable. The plot involves Count Dracula (Hamilton) relocating to New York City with his psychotic henchman Renfield (Johnson). Once in Manhattan, Dracula courts neurotic model Cindy Sondheim (Saint James), who, of course, happens to be romantically entangled with shrink Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (Benjamin), a descendant of Dracula’s old nemesis Abraham Van Helsing. And so it goes from there: The vampire woos the model, the doctor becomes a monster hunter, and Renfield eats bugs.
The tone of the picture is set perfectly during the opening Transylvania scenes, because when Hamilton makes his entrance in a spooky castle to the accompaniment of baying wolves, he coos a funny twist on an old Bela Lugosi line: “Children of the night—shut up!” The gimmick is that Dracula is tired of the same old routine, so he’s eager to try new things like dancing in a disco; sure enough, the romantic boogie that Hamilton and Saint James perform to Alicia Bridges’ slinky hit “I Love the Night Life” is a highlight.
Had director Stan Dragoti and the film’s writers been able to maintain a consistent balance of clever jokes and romance, Love at First Bite could have become an offbeat gem. Instead, it’s a mixed bag of fun sequences and stupid discursions, with the clunker gags outnumbering the successful zingers. Still, there’s a reason this was among the few unqualified triumphs of Hamilton’s career—since the actor conveys ironic self-awareness from start to finish, he’s impossible to dislike even when the movie around him is very easy to dislike.
Love at First Bite: FUNKY