When I started out in my world-horror journeys some years ago, I was introduced to a master by the name of Mario Bava, truly one of the all-time greats not only in horror but filmmaking in general. As I learned more about him, I found out he had a son. Surely this meant the Bava quality was being carried on for future generations!! So I eagerly tracked down some of his work. After watching Demons, A Blade in the Dark, and Macabre, I realized just how wrong I was. How this man trained under his father and managed to direct these abominations is beyond comprehension. Myself being a glutton for punishment, I still won’t dismiss his films with the hope that maybe somewhere there’s something worthwhile. And that brings me to Dinner with a Vampire. Is it good? Not particularly, but it is shockingly watchable. Yes, Lamberto Bava has finally managed to marginally entertain me.
Auditions are being held for an upcoming film, and actors, dancers, singers and more turn up in droves in the hopes that this will be their big break. The tryouts are for a new horror film by an esteemed director named Jurek, and after a few days of waiting, three young women and a young man are called upon to meet with Jurek at his estate. Once there they encounter Jurek’s hunchbacked servant Gilles, a beautiful woman that seems to disappear if you turn your back on her for a second, a movie set of ghoulish dismembered bodies, and are forced to watch an old vampire film. They figure this is all just Jurek playing up to his reputation, but once he arrives and they sit down for dinner, they realize it’s no trick at all. Jurek is indeed a vampire, but he hasn’t invited them over for a midnight snack; tired of his immortality, he hopes one of them has what it takes to kill him. The problem is, his vampiric side doesn’t want to die and they only have until sunrise to figure out how to survive.
Dinner with a Vampire feels a lot like Lamberto Bava’s response to the mid-to-late 80s horror/comedy boom that featured films like Night of the Comet, Waxwork, and Night of the Creeps. It’s obviously nowhere near as good as any of those, but the playful nature of the film puts it firmly in that area where its more concerned with arousing laughs than actual scares. It’s apparent that Bava is a fan of Young Frankenstein, as the character of Gilles is without a doubt inspired by Marty Feldman’s portrayal of Igor; it even appears as if he went out to snag an actor that really looked like him as well, and goes so far as to joke about it in the script.
The effects utilized throughout are hilariously bad, but since from the outset its made clear this isn’t a film to be taken seriously, it gets somewhat of a pass. Still, the stop-motion techniques used for the vampire transformations may have looked okay in a 1950’s Harryhausen film, but in 1988? Yeah, I’m sure you get the picture. The acting is pretty dire, although it’s hard to tell for sure considering the English dubbing is absolutely atrocious. Again, since this isn’t filled with anything remotely terrifying it doesn’t exactly ruin the effect of any scenes, but its still gratingly bad. It’s really nice to see George Hilton (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, A Fistful of Lead, All the Colors of the Dark) in the role of Jurek, and it looks like he’s having an absolute blast hamming it up in front of the camera. Think more along the lines of Leslie Nielsen’s Dracula than Christopher Lee’s and you’ll get an idea of what to expect.
Another really surprising aspect of Dinner with a Vampire is its visual flare. While not flashy in technique, the set designs and lighting are fantastic, as is the black-and-white footage of Jurek’s earlier romps. But as usual with many of Bava’s films, it ultimately fails in the script, namely the finale. There are loose ends that are never tied up, character motivations that are hardly explained, and elements that feel as if they were tossed out there just to make you say “WTF?!” It almost works in the surreal, bizarre universe the film takes place in, and once again since this is a spoof at its core it can almost be forgiven, but it sadly all adds up, holding the film back from being anything other than average.
Dinner with the Vampire isn’t going to blow you away, become your favorite vampire comedy, or be the next film you tell all your friends about. But it is a fun 90 minute diversion that’s never dull and nicely spirited. And hey, it’s a Lamberto Bava film that doesn’t totally drag the family name through the dirt. That has to be good for something.
Dinner with a Vampire sees its North American debut courtesy of Mya Communication. The film is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen and outside of second or two of noticeable print damage, it looks quite good with wonderful colorful representation and a nice level of natural grain. It looks especially good considering it was made for TV; shot on 35mm it could have easily passed as a film with theatrical aspirations. English and Italian Dolby Digital mono tracks are available, although there are no English subs. While the English dub is pretty awful, the sound quality is fine and all dialogue is clear. There is a bit of a hiss that pops up now and again though, and the Italian track does sound a bit more robust. The only extra to speak of is an English language trailer for the film.
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