Love at First Bite/Once Bitten: Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (10th February 2015).
The Film

Horror and comedy pair so perfectly it’s almost hard to believe it took filmmakers until the 1980's to really start cranking out some pictures. All those years of pent-up humor exploded at that point, resulting in one movie after the next ditching attempts at absolute terror for a heavy injection of humor. It makes sense why the concept gained traction; after years of seeing horror icons taken so seriously many were plum for roasting. Dracula was one such easy target, what with his Eurotrash romanticism, Misfits devilock-esque ‘do and the roster of staples endemic to vampirism (crosses, garlic, etc.). He’d been indirectly blasted once before by Roman Polanksi in “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967), but 1979 would bring about his first real skewering (staking?).

Without delving too deeply into the specifics, know that 1979 was an atypical year for vampires. No less than seven (!) films on the subject saw release that year, three of which are labeled as “Disco Dracula” titles. Just think about that – not only is there a Disco Dracula subgenre, but it grew in triplicate during one year. Kind of amazing, especially when you consider disco was heavily declining by that time. Of those three films released in 1979, the only one that still has much of a cult following is “Love at First Bite”, starring walking skin cancer anomaly George Hamilton as Count Dracula. Just as Mel Brooks had done five years earlier with “Young Frankenstein” (1974), which spoofed the original “Frankenstein” (1931), “Love at First Bite” takes a direct swipe at Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” (1931). It isn’t as precise as Brooks’ film, though, using only characters and concepts while ditching the Transylvanian landscape for New York City’s cluttered streets.

After being booted out of his castle to make way for an Olympic gymnastics training facility, Dracula (George Hamilton) and his faithful insectivore servant, Renfield (Arte Johnson), head off to start a new life in New York City. Not for no reason; Drac has a crush on a magazine cover model who lives there, Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James). A mix-up at the airport causes Dracula’s coffin to be temporarily switched with that of a recently deceased black man from Harlem – you know where that joke is headed. Things get sorted out and the Count hits the town in search of his bride-to-be, whom he is convinced he already loves. He & Cindy meet due to his magnetic personality and cocksure charm, but once her guard comes down it’s clear she’s a bit of a mess. She’s sloppy and neurotic and, yet, the Count doesn’t care because he sees her as the reincarnation of his long lost love, Mina Harker.

One fly in his ointment, however, is Cindy’s therapist – and part-time-lover – Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who also happens to be grandson to Dracula’s old nemesis Fritz van Helsing. When Rosenberg finds out who has been pursuing Cindy, he runs Dracula through the gamut of apocryphal methods that will supposedly kill the undead vamp. None finds much success. Rosenberg’s very public antics eventually get him arrested, despite his vocal protests that Dracula is a public menace. He’s only taken seriously when a rash of blood bank robberies and sporadic attacks get the attention of the police chief, who authorizes Rosenberg to get back on the trail of Dracula and Cindy.

First off, in case you weren’t aware this release has restored Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife” during the show-stopping disco number. Considering that sequence is one of the film’s highlights – and, really, a perfect fit for this sort of film - it’s amazing anyone thought it was even remotely acceptable to remove it in the first place. Yea, I know… music clearances and all that. Still a boneheaded move.

Having never seen the film, I think what surprised me most was the love story, which I had assumed would be half baked so the focus remained on the humor. Instead, it’s a complicated relationship with some genuine ups-and-downs. Dracula is way into Cindy just based on her looks, but his superficial love is immediately tested when it’s shown that Cindy is far from the glamorous, put-together model he envisioned. She’s a lady with some major hang-ups in life. Truthfully, a whole lot of the humor in this film fell flat for me, and I got most of my enjoyment out of watching these two imperfect lovers try to develop an actual relationship.

Part of the humorlessness that pervades this film comes in the form of Richard Benjamin as Rosenberg. He’s just so… stiff, mono-emotive and not really a good actor. There’s a real lag during the second act when so much of the film is following his character around while Dracula takes a bit of a backseat in his own movie. At least Renfield provides some decent laughs; he’s a little less Dwight Frye and more Marty Feldman’s Igor. It’s a fun, albeit dated, film.

Outshining Hamilton’s bronze resplendence is pale Canadian Jim Carrey, in his first theatrical leading role with “Once Bitten” (1985). This one plays more like a ribald 80's teen comedy, full of horny virgins and plenty of un-p.c. humor. In a somewhat coincidental twist, this film sees an actual supermodel, Lauren Hutton, playing the role of a vampire known as Countess. She looks remarkable for someone who’s “400 if she’s a day”, according to her personal assistant Sebastian (Cleavon Little), but the upkeep on those to-die-for looks is a steady supply of virgin’s blood – three sips before Halloween to be precise. Only problem is, finding a virgin in a city like Los Angeles isn’t easy work. Luckily, one of Countess’ nights on the town coincides with high schooler Mark (Jim Carrey) and his buddies’ own evening of prospect searching. Mark’s girlfriend, Robin (Karen Kopins), refused to have sex with him the night before, so he quickly determines the next best option is to find a willing partner somewhere in Hollywood. Countess and Mark hit it off at a singles bar and the two head back to her place almost immediately.

They hook up, although Mark’s recollection of their steamy night is pretty foggy. Did they have sex? She claims so. But now he’s starting to feel weird and act very different. The sun seems too bright. His fashion sense is getting darker. He’s having incredibly bizarre dreams. And he eats raw meat and drinks animal blood without giving it a second thought. Robin is justifiably concerned. When Countess draws blood from Mark a second time, it leads directly to a dance-off face-off between Mark, Countess and Robin (set to an on-the-nose track entitled “Hands Off”). If Countess manages to siphon some virgin blood from Mark just one more time her beauty will endure, but Robin isn’t willing to let her guy go without a fight.

The humor in “Once Bitten” is typical of 80's teen comedies, but what puts it over the top are Jim Carrey’s physical mannerisms and wacky faces. Fans of his style will be cracking up watching him dance with a sweater, or when he hisses at a couple local kids, or during any of the vampiric nightmares he has throughout. His malleable punim and range of expressions are his bread-and-butter comedy, but he’s also just as able to handle the scenes of serious drama. Cleavon Little kills it here, too, as Countess’ snarky out-of-the-closet assistant who is lightning quick with his quips. Mark’s two eternally-horny buddies are so desperate to get laid it’ll make you cringe, especially when one of them continues to use his staple pickup line, which is the sort of thing a guy with no understanding of women would say to get laid. The scene in the locker room showers where the two of them are looking for a bite on Mark’s thigh, at the behest of Robin, had me rolling because it’s just so wrong.

“Love at First Bite” film rating: C+
“Once Bitten” film rating: B

Video

“Love at First Bite” makes its Blu-ray debut on this double-feature disc, featuring a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that is undoubtedly a step up from previous releases. The print from which this transfer was sourced looks very clean, with only minor flecks here and there. The cinematography presents a decent level of depth which comes through clearly in HD. Detail is only moderate in medium or wide shots, but up close it’s very sharp and lifelike. Colors are accurate and saturation is where it should be. Black levels, too, are strong.

The situation is the same in regard to the 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image for “Once Bitten”. The majority of productions around this time tend to have similar aesthetics, so as long as the source materials are kept in great shape – which these were – the end result is pretty expected. No DNR was used on either film, leaving grain intact as a fine layer over the picture.

Audio

Both films feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, and as you might’ve guessed both are more or less similar in terms of delivery, separation and overall presence. The sound design is typical of 80's comedies, with most of the focus on the dialogue and not much in the way of action. That’s not a complaint, just a fact. Luckily, Scream Factory has a knack for delivering solid stereo tracks, with dialogue clean, centered and well-balanced in the mix. Both films also feature source music that is presented with high fidelity, adding some weight to the track. “Once Bitten” has a little more in the way of discreet effects and separation, more dynamic, but otherwise these two are very similar. English subtitles are included for both films.

Extras

All the blood has been sucked out of the bonus features, which amount to theatrical trailers and radio spots.

“Love at First Bite” has the following extras:

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 3 minutes and 3 seconds.

A handful of radio spots run for 2 minutes and 3 seconds.

“Once Bitten” has the following extras:

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 57 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The inside of the cover art has some promotional materials for each film.

Overall

This is a fun, campy vampy twofer from Scream Factory. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen them before and lack those rose-tinted glasses; I was a first-time viewer for both and had a blast.

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: D Overall: B-

 


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