Love at First Bire / Once Bitten Blu-ray Review
Love at First Bite
Directed by Stan Dragoti
Written by Robert Kaufman
1979, Region A, 96 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on February 10th, 2015
George Hamilton as Count Dracula
Susan Saint James as Cindy Sondheim
Richard Benjamin as Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg
Arte Johnson as Renfield
Dick Shawn as Lt. Ferguson
Sherman Hemsley as Reverend Mike
Isabel Sanford as Judge Thomas
When Count Dracula's castle and property are seized by Transylvanian bureaucrats, he has no choice but to seek new lodging, and so heeds the siren call of Lady Liberty. Unfortunately, Dracula is not ready for the social challenges of the twentieth century and is subjected to countless indignities as he makes his way through the Big Apple. His trusty familiar, Renfield, navigates the particulars of air travel and hotel accommodations, but is at a loss when it comes to women and modern lifestyles. Fashion model Cindy Sondheim is the object of the count's obsession and he goes out of his way to spend time with her. Hindering the count's intentions of securing Cindy as a bride is her ex-boyfriend/ therapist Jeffrey, who also happens to be a descendent of Dracula's legendary nemesis, Van Helsing.
George Hamilton (Zorro, the Gay Blade) is both sexy and funny as the fish-out-of-water version of Dracula. His comic timing and ability to keep a straight face in ludicrous situations are impressive and he treats the material seriously, which really works. Susan Saint James (How to Beat the High Co$t of Living) is particularly engaging as Cindy, the fast-paced modern woman who has Dracula smitten. Richard Benjamin (Saturday the 14th) is a lot of fun here as Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg, a man out of his league with both women and vampires. His best scenes find him paired with Hamilton, whose Dracula is also socially awkward. Arte Johnson (Evil Toons) brings a particular style of comic timing to the role of Renfield, a character that actually benefits from over-the-top interpretation. Sherman Hemsley and his The Jeffersons co-star Isabel Sanford appear as a reverend and a judge, respectively. Dick Shawn (The Producers) is particularly fun as Lieutenant Ferguson, a cop trying to understand these shenanigans, and quirky character actor Michael Pataki (Graduation Day) turns up briefly as a gangster.
Love at First Bite was released during a weird time for movie comedies. Mel Brooks had successfully tackled similar content years before with Young Frankenstein (1974), but audiences were still a year away from Airplane! (1980), a film that influenced almost every comedy that followed for decades to come. Bite plays the material straight for the most part and the laughs come from placing the classical figure in contemporary situations. By taking Dracula out of his element and throwing him into the New York city night life, Director Stan Dragoti (Mr. Mom) and Screenwriter Robert Kaufman (Freebie and the Bean), create a film stacked with jokes both subtle and not so subtle that is still entertaining after more than thirty-five years. Mel Brooks would later mine the legend with Dracula - Dead and Loving It (1995), but score far fewer laughs.
Directed by Howard Storm
Written by David Hines, Jeffrey Hause and Jonathan Roberts
1985, Region A, 93 minutes, Rated PG-13
Blu-ray released on February 10th, 2015
Lauren Hutton as Countess
Jim Carrey as Mark
Karen Kopins as Robin
Cleavon Little as Sebastian
Thomas Ballatore as Jamie
Skip Lackey as Russ
What was the name of that fun vampire movie from 1985? The one with the dopey high school guy who can't get laid by his conservative girlfriend and he meets a vampire with a homosexual familiar and none of his friends believe him? It's got that scene where they go to a club filled with all the rockin' synth pop music and at some point there's a dance-off with a vampire. It sounds an awful lot like Fright Night, but I'm actually talking about Once Bitten, the first starring vehicle for Jim Carrey.
Lauren Hutton stars as the vampire Countess who, in order to maintain her youthful appearance, is in need of a triple shot of virgin blood before the stroke of midnight on Halloween. Her biggest obstacle is finding a virgin in contemporary Los Angeles! She runs into Mark and his goofy friends at a bar and is determined to add him to her family of fellow vampires, but his heart belongs to a traditional “good girl” named Robin. The Countess schemes with her familiar, Sebastian, to win Mark's precious bodily fluids, but there is enough comic bumbling that viewers may wonder why she doesn't simply settle for one of his equally virginal friends.
Once Bitten is a harmless comedy that skirts the edge of being naughty long enough to garner a PG-13 rating for language, but never gets too heavy with the material. There's no staking or onscreen bloodshed and no vampires burst into flames in the sunlight. This is a wacky film that tries really hard to appease its teenage target audience and it succeeds more often than not. I remember enjoying this movie on cable back in the '80s, but honestly can't remember having seen it since. I was surprised this time around by the relatively speedy pacing as Mark and the Countess figuratively and literally dance around the issue of will-he-or-won't-he succumb to her needs.
Jim Carrey (The Majestic) is above the material even at this early stage in his career, but he does a fine job with the physical comedy without going over the top and even manages to make Mark somewhat sympathetic. Lauren Hutton (American Gigolo) is the marquee name here and she is quite fun in the role of the Countess. Her best scenes are with the legendary Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) as Sebastian, a role he fills with real panache and owns every second of his screen time. Karen Kopins (Creator) plays it straight as the cute and pure-of-heart Robin, and gets to have more fun in the second half of the picture once she finally crosses paths with Hutton. Peggy Pope (9 to 5) and the recently deceased Richard Schaal (Hollywood Knights) are welcome additions as Mark's parents, and display a nice bit of comic timing in their limited roles. In a strange bit of casting, genre fans will be happy to spot a trio of alumni from the Friday the 13th franchise: Stu Charno (Part 2) and Carey More (The Final Chapter) appear as part of Hutton's vampire clan, while the inimitable Dominic Brascha (A New Beginning) tries to buy ice cream from Jim Carrey in the opening scene.
Love at First Bite and Once Bitten offer enough laughs to satisfy both the audiences that have known them for years and newcomers alike. Neither is particularly groundbreaking, but together they invite a wave of nostalgia for the style of comedy that came before the broad gross-out humor so popular today. Scream Factory makes the titles more appealing by pairing them as a double feature release and makes me curious if a Transylvania 6-5000 and Transylvania Twist combo can be too far away.
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory pleases once again with a solid set of transfers presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Both films look better than previous releases and are not likely to receive better treatment any time soon. Colors and black levels are respectable and image clarity has never been sharper.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offered on each film gets the job done without going over the top, with a slight edge going to Bitten. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion, and music cues are respectable.
English subtitles are provided for those in need.
Both films receive similar treatment in that the primary supplement is the original teaser trailer (neither include footage from the movie) while First Bite also receives a trio of radio spots.
Grades (Both Films):