The Movies That Made Me Weird(er): Love at First Bite (1979)

1 07 2011

A metric shitload of awesome comedies came out between 1979 and 1982: Life of Brian, The Jerk, Caddyshack, Airplane, Melvin and Howard, My Favorite Year, The Muppet Movie, History of the World Part I, Victor/Victoria, Night Shift, Stripes—that’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. You can utilize the Googles to find a lot more, if you’re interested.

’79 through ’82 were pretty much my junior high years, and our family moved a few times before settling in Texas for a while, making the universally unpleasant experience of pre-adolescence even more sucky for me. I coped by voraciously consuming comedy–when I wasn’t reading and re-reading the Hitchhiker’s  trilogy or watching stand-up specials on HBO while babysitting, I was sneaking into movies my parents had deemed too risque for my tender sensibilities (Parental Calculus: Violence = OK;   Boobs and/or Dick Jokes = Heavens to Murgatroyd, get the kids out of here!) I’ve grown out of my tween angst, but I will never outgrow my love of dick jokes.

Love at First Bite (1979; trailer here) was a particular favorite of mine back in the day. When the movie came out I was firmly in the grip of a juvenile obsession with vampire movies. Yes, I was one of those young girls obsessed with vampires. Also horses.

But not vampire horses.

Mainly I loved the the old black and white movies (Tod Browning’s Dracula is still a favorite, despite how slow and stagy it becomes after the awesomely atmospheric opening third) but I was also partial to Blacula, which I had discovered on the local all night Monster Chiller Horror Theater (and which sparked a lifelong love of Blaxploitation movies that will likely get discussed in some future post.)

Love at First Bite is a basic fish-out-of-water/romantic comedy, with the Count (George Hamilton, who is AWESOME as the most deeply tanned Dracula since Prince Mamuwalde) getting evicted from his Romanian digs to make room for Nadia Comaneci and the rest of the Romanian gymnastics team. Topical humor, folks: I hope you like that sort of thing, because this flick is chock full of the stuff.  He decides to go to New York City in hopes of finding Cindy Sondheim (Susan St. James, inexplicably blond and maybe slightly miscast but lovely nonetheless), a model whose picture he’s fallen in love with. Apparently she looks just like the lost love he’s pursued over the centuries.

On the plane ride, Renfield (Arte Johnson, even more Renfieldy than the original Renfield) enjoys what appears to be a showing of Ben and creeps out his seat mate while the Count hangs out in his coffin in the luggage hold studying up on the current lingo.

[Editor’s note: You guys! I just figured out how to make screencaps! So there’s gonna be a TON of them in this post!]

There is, of course, a mix-up at the airport. The Count’s coffin ends up at the funeral of one Brother Alvin, who was a swinger. Alvin’s tragic death in Africa is the occasion for the first Random ‘Roots’ Reference of this fine motion picture. (Alvin’s wife at the airport: “Alvin, I told you to go find your roots. But who told you to drink the water?”) In this movie, all black people except George Jefferson the funeral preacher shoehorn a “Roots” reference into the conversation. Anyway, Dracula wakes up in the middle of the funeral and freaks out the mourners. Because this movie never met an easy joke it didn’t like.

So Drac goes out into the night to find the Plaza Hotel. He’s going through a bad neighborhood and is accosted by four young urban (read: Successful and Attractive African-American) fellows. They call him a honky and a turkey and make a reference to ‘Roots’ (“Didn’t you see ‘Roots’? I wouldn’t mess with him. His grandfather was a Watusi!”) and attempt to mug him. He Force Throws the fuck out of them and they run away, but not before one of them steals a TV:

UNFORTUNATE RACIAL STEREOTYPE.

“Hilarious” Running Gag Alert:  This same kid (his name is Russell and he’s played by Eric Laneuville, who you might remember from the TV series St Elsewhere; I don’t, because I didn’t watch that show) shows up later in the film at the police station under arrest for gang activity, and again towards the end stealing hubcaps.

Anyway, the Count finds his way to the Plaza Hotel and assigns Renfield the task of locating Cindy Sondheim by the time the sun sets the next day. Which Renfield does by terrorizing her agent with a cobra until she tells him that Cindy will be at a photo shoot in Central Park. Dracula shows up at the shoot and turns himself into a dog to get closer to her but he gets himself taken to the dog pound instead. (It makes more sense in context than it does in that last sentence.) After he buys a dog license in order to get out of the pound, he decides to go out for a bite to drink. He turns himself into a bat and flies into the window of a couple getting it on. He gets chased out by the dude, who seems to think the bat is his ex-wife:

Then he flies into an apartment occupied by a Latino family–complete with lazy unemployed father–who mistake him for a free dinner:

Yup. It's another UNFORTUNATE RACIAL STEREOTYPE.

He finally finds a drunk bum and snacks it up:

I found this sequence uproariously funny when I was eleven. Mostly because I was eleven.

Anyway, the next night, hungover from the bum, Dracula goes to the nightclub that Cindy hangs out in every night. He approaches her, and his Old World charm defuses her jaded New York independent single lady thing. I find myself going back and forth about whether Susan St. James is miscast in this movie. One the one hand, I kind of don’t buy her as a model/party girl. On the other hand, without St. James’ warm, down-to-earth vibe, Cindy would probably be more of a shallow, bitchy cliche instead of the likable, somewhat kooky chick she is. The two of them dance (originally to the song “I Love the Night Life” but for whatever obscure licensing reason the song is replaced by generic disco noise on the DVD, which is totally lame.)

The Count is a pretty swell dancer, so Cindy takes him back to her messy apartment. She has him wait out on the patio while she slips into something more comfortable. She also takes a bunch of pills and chugs some mouthwash to get in the mood after she takes off her wig. Except it’s totally not a wig. The long hair she had before is the same long hair she always has after, and it’s totally her real hair, so this whole False Wig Gambit bugs me. If hating Obvious Hair Discontinuity is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

I think your hair is a LIE!

The next day Cindy visits her therapist/commitment-phobic boyfriend Jeffrey (Richard Benjamin) and tells him all about her wild night. When she shows him the “dynamite hickey” she got, Jeffrey recognizes it as the bite of a vampire. Turns out Jeffrey’s grandfather was Dr. Van Helsing. In his capacity as the Van Helsing of this fine motion picture, he informs Cindy that if Dracula bites her two more times she will become one of the thirsty undead. Cindy calls him a jealous toad and leaves without paying her therapy bill.

Jeffrey decides it’s up to him to finish the work his grandfather began and destroy Dracula. That  night he meets Cindy and her new boyfriend for dinner (she orders an “Uncola“, which I just love for some reason) where he confronts Dracula with a mirror, some garlic, and a Star of David, none of which prove to be particularly troublesome for the Count. The two men settle for trying to out-hypnotize each other as Cindy leaves in disgust.

The next day, Jeffrey tries and fails to convince a cop (Dick Shawn) that there’s a bloodthirsty creature of the night stalking the city, so he tries setting Drac’s coffin on fire, landing himself in a mental hospital. Cindy brings him a bunch of Kentucky Fried Chicken (because it’s a well-known fact that KFC hath the power to soothe the feverish brain of a madman, right? Either that or product placement) and gets him released. Later that night she and Dracula are at dinner, where he gives her this perfectly awful necklace:

That's what I was wondering.

which she apparently loves. She also loves Dracula, which is causing her to have a bit of a career vs. personal life crisis. Jeffrey shows up and shoots Dracula with three silver bullets through the heart. This has no effect, since Dracula is not a werewolf, and Jeffrey is once again carted away to the nuthouse.

Later, in Cindy’s weird round bed with a hanging drapery thing (ugh, the ’70s) she tells Dracula that a career for a woman is like fooling around for a man: it’s nice until the right person comes along (ugh, the ’70s.)

Without that hideously-gathered Granny sheet hanging over everything, Cindy might not need to chug 'Ludes and mouthwash to get in the mood. Just sayin'.

Renfield and the Count perpetrate a heist at the blood bank. The cop sees the newspaper headlines about it, reconsiders Jeffrey’s story and springs him from the loony bin. They go to Cindy’s, where they discover that 1.) she’s gotten the second bite and 2.) she and Dracula are getting married soon and 3.) she’s registered at Bloomingdale’s. Jeffrey and the cop go to a judge to get a warrant to search Cindy’s apartment for the Count. Since the judge is Weezie Jefferson black, she asks if they’ve seen “Roots”:

and informs them that her people have come an awful long way for those guys to come in there with that voodoo scary Dracula shit before ordering them out of her courtroom.

Which…I mean, I get that “Roots” was an important cultural moment but seriously? Was every black person in the US in 1979 dropping “Roots” references every time they opened their mouths? Is it some kind of in-joke because George Hamilton was in “Roots”? These are the questions that wake me up in a cold sweat at 3 AM, people.

Anyway, Jeffrey and the cop go back to Cindy’s building sans warrant. Jeffrey injects Cindy with some kind of knock-out drug and carries her to the Magical Elevator Full Of Easily-Identifiable Stereotypes: there’s a little old lady, a Russian mobster-type, a priest, a TV repairman, and a gay guy with a little dog. They become trapped on the elevator when a blackout hits. Downstairs in the lobby people start acting all blackout-crazy (the New York City blackout of 1977 is also a topical thing which happened recently! Like “Roots”! We MUST throw in a joke about it!) and a lady steals the pay phone the cop’s using right off the wall:

Dracula rescues Cindy from the elevator. The other passengers, finding the rescue to be romantic, ‘subdue’ the hell out of Jeffrey when he starts squawking about the Prince of Darkness like a crazy man.

Cindy (wearing a hideous orange parka thing) and the Count head for the airport as the power comes back on and Jeffrey gets out of the elevator. He and the cop follow them to JFK. Out on the runway (where they’ve just missed the plane) Cindy asks Dracula to give her the third bite, which he does. The two of them change into bats and fly away right before Jeffrey can drive a stake into Dracula’s heart, leaving behind only his cape and a check for all of Cindy’s therapy expenses. Jeffrey wonders what it was that Dracula guy had over him. The cop surmises that it’s the cape (chicks dig capes) and furthermore can he borrow it on Friday night, because it would drive his wife wild. Jeffrey agrees.

It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Cindy and Dracula head for Happily Ever After in some romantic destination with a well-stocked blood bank and a thriving nightlife.

Despite the fact that some of the humor hasn’t aged that well (which actually makes it SO MUCH FUNNIER to me–your mileage may vary) Love at First Bite is a likable little trifle. It’s broad and campy and full of easy topical jokes that wouldn’t make the cut for a sub-par Saturday Night Live sketch, but it’s also a sweet little story about a nice guy vampire finding the party girl of his dreams. When I was eleven, this movie got five out of five Awesome Dracula Capes from me. After revisiting Love at First Bite as a grown-ass 21st century lady, I’ve decided to scale that back to three and a half out of five Hideous Bat Necklaces. If you’re into the Disco Era, Dracula mythology, or unnecessary bed draperies, check it out. It’s not available through Netflix but you can watch it online.

Could not resist one last screencap of this bed.

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