SHOCKTOBER Film O’ The Month
As my favorite season draws to another close, nothing is more frightenng than the shocks of reality, from the devastating Hurricane Sandy to the sociopathic Mitt Romney, the most Frankenstein’s monster of them all without his charm or empathy. From the “Secrets of the Paranormal 70’s” show at Other Cinema in SF to the “Eco-Horror Spooktacular” on Monday under a temperate Portland Full Moon at the luxurious Hollywood Theatre, I’ve had a perfectly awful SHOCKTOBER! and thank you for sharing it with me. To close out this month, I’ve picked a lighter celluloid morsel, the 1979 comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE, a surprise smash upon release and one of the most successful independent films of the time. Smartly written by Robert Kaufman and ably directed by Stan Dragoti, starring George Hamilton, who finally got a lead role with kudos for his timing and not his tan, the film is a pleasurable groove and nifty “bat out of castle” updating of the Dracula mythos at the hedonistic height of the New York disco cocaine era.
The supporting cast is just as game and worthy, especially Richard Benjamin as Dr. Jeffrey “Rosenberg” aka Van Helsing (“I changed my name for professional reasons.”) one of my absolute favorite actors and this is one of my absolute Benjamin favorite performances. His kinetic reactions here are minor comedy classics and it’s nice to see him with another of my cult faves, Dick Shawn as an incredulous Detective; their final scene together is both funny and charming. Arte Johnson is the cackling Renfield and his memorable laugh alone makes his presence worthwhile. The real surprises are not only Hamilton, who manages to be dark, urbane, witty, seductive and sympathetic, but Susan St. James as Cindy Sondheim, the object of his eternal obsession. She certainly deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her sassy cynical liberated 70’s supermodel role; her character is as honest as she is shallow — yet craving otherworldly romance. And of course their dance set to “I Love The Nite Life” is an iconic genre moment (though the song has been incredibly replaced for the DVD release). There’s odd cameos by “The Jeffersons” Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, perhaps balancing the stereotypical depictions of minorities, though the script is an equal opportunity offender. Ultimately, Hamilton imbues Dracula with real pathos and the satisfying conclusion is generous and complete. I like revisiting the film like an old funny friend; there’s a lot of tasty life left in LOVE AT FIRST BITE….