Fun with Vampirism
As with all movie genres, there exist films that, while the intent was to provide serious drama and suspense, the ultimate product proved to be unintentionally humorous. Vampire films, as with many other horror and science fiction films, fall victim to that rule on many occasions. Movies such as Plan Nine from Outer Space and the bizarre Atom Age Vampire don't just lose something in the translation of time — they never had it to begin with. Thankfully, there are a few vampire comedies, spoofs and otherwise, made for the express purpose of being funny, and they serve to lighten the mood of the terminally dark creatures of the night.
Many genre-related spoofs have become box office successes that spawned sequels or entered the realm of cult classics. The writing and directing team of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker began their spoof onslaught with the 1980 classic air disaster extravaganza Airplane!, followed by the 1984 film
Over the decades, many filmmakers have made attempts at vampire comedy, some, perhaps unintentional in their comedic results. Several of the more well-known send-ups are Tempi duri per i vampiri aka Hard Times for Dracula (1959), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974), Vampira (1974), Dracula, Father and Son (1976, based on the Claude Klotz novel Paris Vampire), Once Bitten (1985), Mr. Vampire (1986), I Married a Vampire (1987), My Grandfather is a Vampire (1991), Innocent Blood (1992), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Karmina (1996), and Bordello of Blood (1996).
Arguably the most successful of the vampire comedy-spoofs in terms of longevity is the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which follows the exploits of a cheerleader turned vampire hunter (see Chapters 13 and 18). Destined to become a television series, Buffy ran for seven seasons, beginning in 1997. Comedy and spoof filmmakers of the modern vampire genre take on a major challenge, because in truth, they are held up to the high standard set by what's considered by many to be the ultimate horror spoof — the 1974 classic, Young Frankenstein. With its stellar cast, unforgettable script, and perfect comedic panache, the Mel Brooks film set the bar high.
Love at First Bite
In the subjective world of comedy, it's a known fact that it's tough to please everyone. What one individual thinks is funny may not remotely incite giggles in another moviegoer. But as far as vampire parodies go, there's one that many consider to be the definitive classic of the vampire spoof genre, and that vampire came in the form of immortally tanned actor George Hamilton. The film is Love at First Bite, and as a spoof, the 1979 offering really was tailor-made for the likes of the tall, dashing, debonair Hamilton who posed little threat to classic Draculas by giving an over-the-top performance as an ages-old nosferatu attempting to meld into modern-day New York City.
Coming five years after the release of Young Frankenstein, Love at First Bite made a strong attempt at regaling the vampire films of old with a distinctly modern edge. For example, when Dracula is told that he can spend the rest of his life in an efficiency apartment with seven dissidents and a single toilet, he asks Renfield: “What is an efficiency apartment?” To which Renfield (played by comedian Arte Johnson) replies: “What's a toilet?”
It's moments like those that give the vampire spoof its best showing. After all, with a lead character who's that old and that tan, there's much opportunity for comedy. As far as legendary Dracula dialog, it's likely few fans of the vampire genre will forget Hamilton retiring to his coffin, which is equipped with a nightlight, or his heavily accented classic lines, including “Children of the night … shut up!” or “How would you like to be dressed as a head waiter for the last 700 years?”
Dead and Loving It
In 1995, over two decades after Young Frankenstein hit the silver screen, director Mel Brooks again delved into the world of horror, giving it a shot in the arm with Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Still enjoying his resurgence as the ultimate spoof comedian in Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, and a pair of Scary Movie sequels, Leslie Nielsen bares his fangs as the goofball Count, flanked by an admirable group of comedians, including Harvey Korman (Dr. Seward), Steven Weber (Jonathan Harker), Amy Yasbeck (Mina), and Mel Brooks himself as Van Helsing.
For the hilarious scene of Lucy's staking, it's said that Mel Brooks didn't let on to Steven Weber that when Weber staked Lucy he would be covered in 200 gallons of fake blood. What resulted was a classic reaction from Weber and hysterical dialog when, after two stakings, Brooks informs Weber that “she's almost dead,” with a completely blood-soaked Weber replying “she's dead enough.”
Though it draws off a host of vampire classics, Dead and Loving It focuses primarily on Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula and Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. It must be said, of course, that Young Frankenstein is a nearly impossible film to follow up given its cult status and the fact that to this day it remains terminally funny. But Dead has its moments, many of which are absolutely stolen by Peter MacNicol, who as Renfield pays perfect comedic homage to Dwight Frye's demented portrayal in the 1931 film. From his inability to move through the infamous spider web on Dracula's staircase to his maniacal bug swallowing and classic happy face drawn in the Count's ashes, MacNicol is a scream. Which is not to say that Nielsen doesn't do well by the immortal Count. His “hat,” which mimics Gary Old-man's outrageous wig, and his uttering “Children of the night … what a mess they make!” before slipping down the staircase courtesy of a pile of bat droppings makes for some hearty giggles.