Love at First Bite 1979 ***

After sampling the reputedly toxic, morally corrosive substances emitted by the Joker movie, the immediate consequences involved watching a short season of George Hamilton comedies, something worth holding the film-makers of Joker directly responsible for. Having followed up on their quote of Zorro The Gay Blade, it seemed natural to look back a couple of years to the film that Hamilton was attempting to recapture the magic of; Love at First Bite.

Stan Dragosi’s comedy was a breakout hit in 1979, but has since fallen by the wayside, partly because of some hideous stereotyping; black characters are little more than cheerful thieves in the Manhattan that Count Dracula visits. Copyright issues involving a featured Alicia Bridges song have also muted re-release plans. Dracula goes disco’ would be a better title for this film, in which the Count faces a fish-out-of-water culture clash as he encounters nightclubs, modelling shoots, psychiatry and various other late 70’s touchstones. Along the way, a shrink who is related to nemesis Van Helsing (Richard Benjamin) gets wind of the count’s plans and a duel of wits follows.

Love at First Bite is a more interesting film that a rather sketchy reputation might suggest; this isn’t quite Bram Stoker’s Dracula in that the count can shoot steam jets from his mouth, bend metal with his stare, transform himself into a dog and control a horse and cart with his mind. The world he encounters is recognisably 1970’s, but it’s odd how some characters recognise the Dracula brand, and others don’t; Love at First Bite is so keen to get laughs it can’t maintain a consistent universe.

That said, Hamilton is a laugh here, playing straight and with great style in the way he’s constantly undercutting of his own gravity. Arte Johnson does well as his cockroach-loving sidekick Renfield, and there’s a few wierdly caustic lines like a psychiatrist saying ‘If you don’t pay for it, it won’t get better’ or a conquest who excuses her messy apartment by saying ‘I hate housework, it killed my mother’. The time-frame jokes are many and varied, but the best scene, a hypnosis duel, is timeless and a great moment; sure, Love at First Bite may have a few regrettable scenes, but there’s plenty of comedy meat on these often gnawed bones.

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