We are in 1979. Ageing matinee idol George Hamilton is Dracula. I can hear hands slapping against foreheads, but go with me here. George Hamilton is Dracula, sending up his suave charmer persona just as he did so well in Zorro, the Gay Blade. He has the Lugosi accent. He has the faultless evening dress and cape. He has rather striking makeup – pallor over permatan? He also has great dance moves, but we’ll come to that later.
We find Dracula holed up in his Transylvanian castle with only his bug-eating sidekick Renfield (Arte Johnson, of Gong Show fame) for company, and an extensive library of fashion magazines for entertainment. Then disaster strikes – the People’s Commissar is expropriating his castle and turning it into a training centre for Nadia Comaneci and the Romanian gymnastics team (yes, this is up-to-the-minute satire!). So, packing his bags and gathering up Renfield, the Count heads for New York. Hilarity ensues.
Putting Dracula in disco-era New York sounds like it would have plenty of opportunities for fish-out-of-water gags, and indeed it does, beginning with a wonderful sequence at a Harlem funeral. The plot, such as it is, involves Dracula courting his object of desire, supermodel Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James, of Kate and Allie fame). Being a modern woman, she, of course, doesn’t believe in such things as vampires, but takes him to be either a magician or a handwriting analyst. Nonetheless, he begins to win her over.
The fly in the ointment, and there always has to be one, is Cindy’s whiny Jewish psychiatrist cum boyfriend (Richard Benjamin, who at this time had cornered the market in whiny Jewish men). The shrink, it transpires, is the grandson of the famed Van Helsing, having changed his name to Rosenberg for professional reasons. Enlisting a reluctant police lieutenant (Dick Shawn, of Producers fame), he goes vampire hunting.
This was the era before Airplane! set the standard for movie spoofery, and Mel Brooks still ruled the roost. Unfortunately, Love at First Bite is not directed by Mel Brooks. It’s directed by Stan Dragoti. Technically, the movie is atrocious. The effects are about two or three steps up from Ed Wood. The jokes are so politically incorrect that these days, only the Wayans brothers would dare to use them. To be honest, many of the jokes are so terrible that only the Wayans brothers would dare to use them.
But for all that, the film does have a certain cracked charm. Yes, it’s obvious that the cast is having a whale of a time, but there are plenty of movies (Ocean’s Twelve springs to mind, as does Cannonball Run 2) where the cast’s enjoyment fails to make it as far as the audience. This is not one of those pictures. It has a weird style all of its own, and if you’re in a particularly silly frame of mind is as irresistible as a gap-toothed grin on a toddler.
Oh, and if you stick it out, there is one truly inspired sequence – Dracula strutting his stuff Travolta-style at Studio 54, to the accompaniment of Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife”. You just couldn’t be bad to that.