Love at First Bite (1979) / Once Bitten (1985)
Director(s): Stan Dragoti / Howard Storm
Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James & Richard Benjamin / Jim Carrey, Lauren Hutton & Cleavon Little
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents a pair of neck biting vampire comedies sure to tickle your funny bones! First up, Love at First Bite stars George Hamilton (Zorro: The Gay Blade) as Count Dracula who, after being banished from his castle must relocate to New York City. Out of touch with the times and society, the Count is determined to woo an attractive fashion model if the big city doesn’t swallow him first. Susan Saint James (Kate & Allie), Richard Benjamin (Westworld) and Arte Johnson (Evil Toons) co-star. Next up,Once Bitten finds Jim Carrey, in one of his earliest roles, as shy, awkward Mark Kendall. When a sexy vampire countess (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) targets Mark’s virginal blood to retain her youthful beauty, a frantic race against time ensues to seduce Mark for good before he sheds his virginity. Karen Kopins (Troop Beverly Hills) and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) co-star.
Considered one of the top grossing films of its year, Love at First Bite focuses on the Count when his own locals grow tired of his antics, banishing him from his own castle. Joined by his faithful companion Renfield (Johnson), Count Dracula heads to the Big Apple to start anew while, prowling for flashy fashion model, Cindy Sondheim (Saint James), who he’s admired from afar. George Hamilton makes a convincing, if not strikingly tan, Dracula with a Lugosi-like accent firmly in place. The hard-drinking, psychologist dependent Cindy falls victim to the charms of the Count while, her shrink and beau, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (hilariously played by Richard Benjamin), takes none too kindly to the caped foreigner. As a descendent of Van Helsing, Rosenberg (name changed strictly for “professional reasons”) vows to destroy Count Dracula once and for all. While, Love at First Bite accounts for several humorous moments including, Rosenberg attempting to harm the Count with a Star of David instead of a cross and a barrage of comical cameos from The Jeffersons‘ Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford plus, Barry Gordon (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Michael Pataki (Rocky IV), the film suffers from a slight identity crisis. Favoring its more romantic angle at times over knee-slapping laughs, Love at First Bite doesn’t reach its full potential but, does manage to capture the Big Apple during the last gasps of disco. Joined by a groovy dance sequence between Hamilton and Saint James to Alicia Bridges‘ “I Love the Nightlife” (previously removed on past home video releases), Love at First Bite is a charming time capsule with noticeable wire-hanging bats and a memorable gothic score from Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street).
An unabashed childhood favorite, Once Bitten pushes its teen comedy angle instead of attracting screams. Hollywood newcomer Jim Carrey headlines as the slightly awkward 18-year-old Mark Kendall, determined to lose his virginity to girlfriend Robin (Kopins) to no avail. A far cry from the comedic force the world would know a few short years later, Carrey’s nervousness plays to the advantage of his character. Lauren Hutton stuns as the seductive Countess hellbent on literally milking Mark for his virginal blood. After a one-night stand with the blonde bombshell, Mark begins growing paler and resistant to bright lights as his fixation on her strengthens. Robin, along with Mark’s bumbling Burger Circus employee best friends, Jamie and Russ (Thomas Ballatore and Skip Lackey, respectively), become concerned with his appearance, the trio begin investigating. Hilariously, Jamie and Russ decide to locate fang bites on Mark’s body in the locker room showers prompting gay gossip headlines among the other students. With the Countess aided by her flamboyant butler (Little), a public attempt to lure Mark’s attention takes place at the high school Halloween bop. Marking one of the cheesiest dance-offs of the 1980s, Kopins and Hutton battle for Carrey’s attention to the sounds of Maria Vidal’s “Hands Off” with hilarious choreography to boot. As time looms, the Countess must continue feeding off of Mark’s blood before, his virginity is taken and her youthful looks gone, leading to a final chase and escape sequence at the Countess‘ upscale mansion. Much like its 1970s co-feature, Once Bitten captures mid-80s Hollywood hot spots in all their neon glory with genuine punks and valley girls walking the streets. Complimented with a synth-heavy, guitar riffing score from John Du Prez (UHF), Once Bitten unapologetically follows tropes of past teen comedies but, remains a nostalgic trip of cheese to please.
Scream Factory presents Love at First Bite and Once Bitten with 1080p transfers, both sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios. Marking their Blu-ray debuts, Love at First Bite arrives with slightly murky black levels seen mostly in Dracula’s fog-entrenched castle. Colors are generally satisfying with warm skin tones and inky blacks relayed in Hamilton’s caped attire. Instances of flakes and speckles are apparent but, far from intrude, leaving the film with pleasing clarity. Meanwhile,Once Bitten kicks off with a softer appearance seen in the Countess‘ bright white mansion before transitioning to a lively picture of, at times, bursting color. Skin tones are accurate with bold colors, most noticeably the Burger Circus‘ exterior and Mark’s ice cream truck, leaping off the screen while, scuffs and scratches are virtually nonexistent on this satisfying HD upgrade. Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films have no trouble relaying dialogue while, musical moments such as, Love at First Bite’s “I Love the Nightlife” dance number andOnce Bitten’s Halloween bop sequence, offer a nice additional boost in quality. Relatively light on special features, this double feature of vampiric laughs comes with a Love at First BiteTheatrical Trailer (3:03) and Radio Spots (2:03) whereas, Once Bitten receives a Theatrical Trailer (0:57).
Experimenting with new ground, Scream Factory takes a break from their bonafide horror classics to treat viewers with a double feature of fangtastic comedies. While, Love at First Bitehas its charms with memorable comedic cameos, nostalgia reigns supreme awarding Once Bitten the frontrunner of this collection. Bare on special features, both films make their Blu-ray debuts with pleasing technical honors that should easily appease fans. The blending of frightful funnies is a welcome change of pace for Scream Factory aficionados and one that will hopefully persist in the future.
For more Blu-ray/DVD reviews from Mike Kenny, head over to Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse!