Laugh Bites

Slide 1: Introduction

Dark, misunderstood, and tragic. The modern vampire, particularly in the character made popular by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula and then re-envisioned by Anne Rice in her Interview with a Vampire, is a quintessential movie anti-hero, blending sex, romance, horror and danger into one dangerously charismatic package. Indeed, vampires have never gone out of style. Over a century after Stoker’s novel was published, scarily alluring vampires are still at the heart of some of today’s most popular books and movies (Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels and their film adaptations) as well as TV shows (Alan Ball’s True Blood).

But as the vampire has raged and seduced his way throughout history, his Victorian-themed frocks, chiseled cheekbones and overall air of self-importance have proved ripe for parody too. From as early as the ‘40s, the vampire has been ridiculed and sent up, made the butt of screenwriters’ jokes and gone slumming in such disreputable genres as the straight-to-video B-movie and porn. With Anne Billson pointing you towards some of the best vampire films, we now take note of what are not the worst but are undeniably the funniest or perhaps just nuttiest additions to the genre.

Slide 2: Making Fun of Fear
Quentin Tarantino has cited Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1946) as his favorite movie while growing up. He said in an interview with the Sundance Channel, “When it was supposed to be funny, it was really funny, and when it was supposed to be scary, it was really scary.” Directed by Charles Barton, the film was an early example of movie marketing synergy, as it was the first picture to pair the enormously successful comedy duo with other characters from the Universal Studio library. Dracula shared the screen with Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in this story of two baggage handlers who are on the receiving end of crates headed to a wax museum that contain the soon-to-be-revived bodies of the movie monsters. On their arrival, Dracula decides to implant Lon’s brain into Frankenstein’s body. 
Slide 3: Hammer Time
Dracula AD 1972 (1972): In the '50s, '60s and '70s the London horror production company Hammer Film Productions made a series of vampire movies that mixed top British acting talent with a low-budget, exploitation ethos. The simply titled Dracula was a big success in 1958, but by the time the '70s arrived the label was struggling to keep the franchise going. Dracula AD 1972 is considered the low-point of Hammer's vampire series. Christopher Lee plays the Count but this time the setting has moved to the present day and the swinging hippie occult scene. "Never count out the Count!" urged the tagline. The movie was slammed by Roger Ebert in a curious review that also dismissed Stanley Kubrick and concluded like this: "On leaving the theater, I was given an honorary membership card in the Count Dracula society, and a lapel pin, which I inadvertently stuck myself with."
Slide 4: Camp Dracula
When it comes to satirical vampire reinterpretations, no list would be complete with the Andy Warhol-produced, Paul Morrissey-directed Blood for Dracula. Campily transgressive, the film stars Udo Kier as a Dracula who can only drink the blood of virgins, a restriction that sets him on a collision course with a strapping young babe magnet played by Joe Dallesandro. Criterion released the director’s cut in 2005, and on the Criterion blog Matthew Dessem finds evidence of Morrissey’s political conservatism in the blood- and sex-drenched pic: “Although I doubt James Dobson has seen it, or would care to, Paul Morrissey's version of the Dracula story is moralistic, harshly conservative, anti-communist, and anti-modern. And I loved every second of it,” he wrote.
Slide 5: The Next Generation
After playing in several vampire-themed Hammer horror films, Christopher Lee spoofed the character in La Cage aux Folles director Edouard Molinaro’s odd parenting satire, Dracula, Father and Son, which co-stars Molinaro’s sister-in-law, helmer Catherine Breillat. Based on Pierre Klotz’s novel Paris Vampire, the story finds Lee’s character fretting over his son’s refusal to sink his teeth into the family’s vampire tradition. Forced out of Romania, Lee’s Dracula heads to London where he becomes a horror movie star (!) while his son, played by Bernard Mendez, travels to Paris where he and, later, his father, both fall in love with Breillat’s character. The film was released in the U.S. where it was badly dubbed, so it’s difficult for viewers here to know whether lines like “Ferdinand, finish your blood and go to bed!” were part of Molinaro’s original vision or else the product of the American distributor’s hatchet job.
Slide 6: The Disco Dracula
No survey of vampire comedies is complete without the quintessentially '70s Love at First Bite, directed by Stan Dragoti. This popular spoof of Stoker's original story stars George Hamilton (nominated for a Golden Globe for playing Dracula), Susan Saint James and Richard Benjamin. Like several other films on this list, Love at First Bite sees the count forced to leave Romania and this time he lands in New York at the Plaza, where he falls in love with a fashion model (Saint James).  Disco, psychiatry, the New York City blackout, and Harlem culture are all satirized in a picture that hinges on the conceit that a vampire just isn't enough of an oddity to faze seen-it-all Manhattanites. But seen today, the film's casual racism, campy performances and cornball double entendres feel pretty dated.
Slide 7: Blood Porn
Also known as Love at First Gulp, Dracula Exotica (1981) saw porn fixture Jamie Gillis playing a grieving — and unable to orgasm — Count who travels to the United States to search for the reincarnation of his wife, who committed suicide after he raped her one night while in a drunken fugue. There he’s mistaken by the FBI for a Russian agent and meets up with a similarly undead Vanessa Del Rio. Yep, Dracula Exotica was shot during the ‘70s, when porn’s storylines were complicated and convoluted. Funnily, this was Gillis’s second outing as Dracula, having starred just one year earlier in a porn spoof directly based on Stoker’s novel, Dracula Sucks.
Slide 8: Blood Suckers
With Jamie Gillis having brought the vampire character to straight porn, it was inevitable that gay porn would also see a bloodsucking vampire hero too. Director Roger Earl’s 1983 Gayracula opens in 1883 as a stake is about to be driven through the vampire’s heart. The vampire escapes and the film catches up to him 100 years later in Los Angeles where he’s hitting the club scene and seeking vengeance on the man who turned him… the, um, Marquis de Suede. “Count Drac is back… and this time he is sucking more than just necks!” the tagline read. Remembered today, the film is seen as an enjoyable cheesy precursor to the “queer horror” genre, in which GLBT viewers find in horror movies parallels to their own stories of confronting prejudice in mainstream society.
Slide 9: Hot Vampire on Vampire Action
Having on this list straight vampire porn and gay male vampire porn it’s only fair that we include a lesbian soft-core vampire title too. But which one? Certainly not the very good Daughters of Darkness, and Rise, in which Lucy Liu and Carla Gugino share a bloody coupling is both too recent and also not terrible. So, we’ll go back to another Hammer title, 1971’s Lust for a Vampire, directed by Jimmy Sangster. A loose sequel to the company’s The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire is considered one of Hammer’s poorest films, more of a Frankenstein-concoction as its scenes and even specific shots seem cobbled together from other pictures. (Eccentric Cinema catalogues some of its gravest plunderings, including using insert shots of Christopher Lee from another title and taking the climactic castle burning shots from a picture released just a year earlier.) The film is the second in a series revolving around the character of Carmilla Karnstein, taken from books by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that were themselves inspirations to Bram Stoker. Lust for a Vampire tells a story of Sapphic undead at a girls’ finishing school, but as this review from Digital Retribution notes, “the story around the film is a great deal more interesting than the story inside the film.” (That on-set drama included last minute cast changes and injuries, massive recutting, and the slathering on of a horrible pop song by the film’s clueless producers.) Writes Mr. Intolerance on the blog, “the story is sacrificed for the sake of titillating the audience through sex and violence; a patchwork Gothic quilt of nekkid flesh and gushing blood, with some stylistic touches (LeStrange's psychedelic dream sequence and that excruciating song, particularly) that date the film badly.”
Slide 10: Crazy as a Vampire
Nicolas Cage has always been one of our most eccentric actors, alternately playing it straight in stealthily successful mainstream movies (National Treasure) or else wearing strange wigs and mangling bad accents in films like this one, the Joseph Minion-scripted Vampire’s Kiss. Set in a similar downtown New York demi-monde as Minion’s earlier script, After Hours, Vampire’s Kiss has Cage playing an increasingly unhinged New York literary agent who believes he’s turning into a vampire. Like George Romero’s Martin, vampirism here is a form of mental illness, not a manifestation of the supernatural. In the film, directed by Robert Bierman, Cage chomps on cockroaches, wears dark shades during the day, and attacks women at downtown nightclubs while wearing plastic vampire fangs. The film was not a success, although now it’s got something of a cult following. Key to one’s verdict of the picture is an opinion of Cage, who split critics then as he does now. “The film is dominated and destroyed by Mr. Cage's chaotic, self-indulgent performance,” wrote Caryn James of The New York Times. “He gives Peter the kind of sporadic, exaggerated mannerisms that should never live outside of acting-class exercises.” But the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum was more supportive: “What really makes this worth seeing is Cage's outrageously unbridled performance, which recalls such extravagant actorly exercises as Jean-Louis Barrault's in Jean Renoir's The Testament of Dr. Cordelier and Jerry Lewis's Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor. Even for viewers like myself who have never been especially impressed with Cage, his over-the-top effusions of rampant, demented asociality are really something to see, and they give this quirky, somewhat out-of-control black comedy whatever form and energy it has.”
Slide 11: Even LIttle Vampires Started Small
The littlest recent vampire was the darkly androgynous Eli in Tomas Alfredson’s sublime Let the Right One In, but when it comes to The Little Vampire, one must speak of the titular hero of the similarly themed family comedy directed by none other than Uli Edel. Edel’s other credits include the dark and violent Last Exit to Brooklyn, the junkie portrait Christianne F., and proto-terrorist docudrama The Baader Meinhoff Complex, but in this tonally bizarre German-Dutch production he took the kid from Jerry Maguire (Jonathan Lipnicki as “Tony”) and his vegetarian vampire pal Rudolph (Rollo Weeks) and sent them to Scotland where, as in Let the Right One In, the misunderstood human child must save his vampire soulmate. Derek Elley of Variety described the plot like this: “Rudolph is a veggie vampbrat who tells Tony, ‘We've been hunted for centuries. We want to become humans, not eat them.’ However, his dietary restrictions are taking their toll on his flying powers and, when Tony revives him by directing him to some local cows, Rudolph takes him flying, ending up––in the pic's most striking visual effect––on top a huge blimp advertising the new golf course. In gratitude, Tony introduces him to Nintendo toys and how to say, ‘Thanks, dude.’”
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