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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Love at first bite (1979)

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From: "2,500 Movies Challenge" <>
Date: Apr 29, 2015 4:13 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,717. Love at First Bite (1979)

Posted: 29 Apr 2015 12:46 PM PDT

Directed By: Stan Dragoti

Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin

Tag line: "Your favorite pain in the neck is about to bite your funny bone!"

Trivia: This movie had the same make-up artist as 1931's Dracula: veteran William Tuttle

One day, in the spring of 1979, we were visiting some family friends, and we all decided to take in a movie. The film we settled on was Love at First Bite. The theater, as I remember it, was fairly full, and people (myself included) were laughing throughout the movie. Before today, that was the last time I laid eyes on a single frame of this film. It never played on cable TV when I was growing up, and if it was available to rent on video, I didn't bother to do so. There have been other instances when long gaps of time passed between my first and second viewings of a film, but I don't recall another that stretched 36 years!

Though he has lived there for centuries, Count Dracula (George Hamilton) is being evicted from his castle. It seems the Romanian Communists want to convert it into a gymnasium for loyal party members, and have given the Count and his faithful servant, Renfeild (Arte Johnson), one day to get out. So, with no time to make any plans, Dracula decides to follow his heart to New York City, where Cindy Sondheim (Jill St. John), the girl from the fashion magazines, lives. After a slight mix-up at the airport (his coffin is re-routed to a Harlem funeral home), Dracula and Renfeild get a room at the Plaza Hotel. Before long, Renfeild tracks Ms. Sondheim down, and the Count meets her in, of all places, a discotheque. Almost immediately, the two begin a passionate affair, with Dracula placing the first bite on Cindy's neck during their initial night together (it'll take 3 bites to turn her into a vampire, which is Dracula's ultimate goal). Their happiness is threatened. However, when Cindy confesses all to her psychiatrist (and sometimes boyfriend), Dr. Jeff Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who, as fate would have it, is the grandson of none other than the Count's arch-enemy, Dr. Van Helsing! With the help of Lt. Ferguson (Dick Shawn), one of New York's finest, Dr. Rosenberg makes several attempts to destroy Dracula and sever the hold he has on Miss Sondheim, but what he doesn't know is that the Count and Cindy are genuinely in love, and plan to spend eternity together.

Many of the jokes in Love at First Bite, especially in the opening scene, would have gone right over the head of my 9-year-old self in 1979, mostly because at that point I hadn't yet seen the original Dracula, which this movie pokes fun at (and quite effectively, I might add). I laughed when the Count, playing the piano in one of the dark, foreboding rooms of his castle, got fed up with the constant caterwauling of the wolves outside his window and shouted "Children of the Night! Shut up!" Funnier still was Arte Johnson's take on the character of Renfeild, mimicking that creepy laugh Dwight Frye let out when they found him, half-mad, below decks of the abandoned ship in the classic '31 film. Every moment of this brief Transylvanian sequence had me smiling ear-to-ear, and that smile turned to chuckles once the two arrived in New York City, where, in the late '70s, not even the sight of Count Dracula walking down the street was enough to draw someone's attention (the scene where Dracula, looking for sustenance, transforms into a bat and flies around the city features some of the movie's funniest moments). George Hamilton, doing his best Bela Lugosi impersonation, is at his absolute finest, paying tribute to the actor while, at the same time, satirizing his mannerisms. He makes for a suave Count Dracula, and we can see why Jill St. John's character, a hip New York model, would fall for him as quickly as she does.

Then, at about the halfway point, things start to go very, very wrong. It's around this time that Richard Benjamin's Dr. Rosenberg makes his grand entrance, and while I don't lay the blame for the movie's lackluster second half solely at his feet, he doesn't do much to help his own case, either (his portrayal of this key character is far too quirky to be effective). The main problem, I think, is that, as the film continues, George Hamilton isn't featured nearly as much as he was at the beginning. Instead, we see Rosenberg interacting with Cindy and making half-hearted attempts to kill Dracula. Without Hamilton, Love at First Bite flounders badly, and neither Benjamin nor the usually solid Dick Shawn provide enough laughs to make up for his absence.

Sure, a few of the scenes with Dracula are as corny as those without him, but somehow Hamilton makes them work. When he's not around, the jokes fall flat, and Love at First Bite suffers as a result.

#1,716. Dead Men Walk (1943)

Posted: 28 Apr 2015 09:03 PM PDT

Directed By: Sam Newfield

Starring: George Zucco, Mary Carlisle, Nedrick Young

Tag line: "Devil's sorcery, as a dead man returns for vengeance!"

Trivia: Originally distributed by PRC in 1943, this film was reissued in the USA in 1948 by Madison Pictures Inc

We open with a close-up of a book titled "History of Vampires", which is resting on a table. A hand then reaches in, picks the book up, and tosses it onto a fire. As we watch it burn, the face of a man suddenly appears on-screen, saying "You creatures of the light, how can you say with absolute certainty what does or does not dwell within the limitless ocean of the night?" He continues for a minute or two, talking of "witches and warlocks, werewolves and vampires, and all the spawns of hell". It's a wordy, flamboyant introduction to 1943's Dead Men Walk, a Poverty Row production notable for its cast, namely veterans George Zucco (playing two different characters) and Dwight Frye (a supporting actor, and an important one, in both Dracula and Frankenstein).

The face from the opening scene of Dead Men Walk belonged to Elwyn Clayton (Zucco), who, as the movie begins, is already dead. A student of the occult who worshipped the Devil himself, Elwyn was a menace to society, so much so that his own brother, Dr. Lloyd Clayton (also Zucco), murdered him when he threatened to convert their niece, Gayle (Mary Carlisle), into a follower of the dark arts. Now that Elwyn is dead, Gayle is free to live a normal life and marry Dr. David Bentley (Nedrick Young), an up-and-coming physician who occasionally assists Dr. Clayton. Unfortunately for them all, Elwyn Clayton learned a thing or two about dark magic over the years, and with this help of his hunchback assistant Zolarr (Frye), he returns to life as a vampire. Looking to avenge his own death, Elwyn visits his brother and vows to turn Gayle into a vampire as well. Over several nights, Elwyn slowly drains the blood from Gayle's body, putting her life in jeopardy. Refusing to believe Dr. Clayton when he says his brother has returned, Dr. Bentley accuses his mentor of trying to kill Gayle, and threatens to do the same to him if she should die. Can Dr. Clayton defeat Elwyn and save his beloved niece, or will he himself be blamed for a murder he didn't commit?

Released by PRC, the same poverty row studio behind 1940's The Devil Bat, Dead Men Walk is a low-budget horror / thriller that, at times, reminded me of the classic monster films produced by Universal in the 1930s (the scene where Zolarr exhumes Elwyn Clayton's casket is particularly well-staged, with plenty of shadows and a low-hanging fog that envelops most of the set). Aside from its atmosphere, Dead Men Walk also boasts some impressive performances. George Zucco (The Cat and the Canary, The Mummy's Hand) shines in the dual role of the kindly Dr. Clayton and his sinister brother Elwyn, but what drew me to Dead Men Walk in the first place was that it featured Dwight Frye, who, as he did in Dracula and Frankenstein, plays an assistant willing to obey his master's every command. While he doesn't quite match the intensity he brought to the earlier films, it was good to see Frye again all the same.

Despite a handful of deficiencies, including a few slow patches in the middle and an over-abundance of dialogue (at a key moment, the resurrected Elwyn is standing over Gayle's sleeping body, but instead of going straight for her throat, he delivers a speech to…. well, himself, seeing as he was the only one who could hear it), Dead Men Walk is a fun '40s flick that fans of classic horror won't want to miss.

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