Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Paranormal Romance Double Feature: Love at First Bite and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

What's more fun than having your date end up being quite literally, out of this world? This Halloween, follow me on a journey between two cinema classics that feature seriously hunky male leads who are dead and loving it - and the women who fall for them.

 Love at First Bite (1979)

George Hamilton as Dracula putting the moves on Susan Saint James at a disco.
Before Twilight. Before Interview with a Vampire...there was....George Hamilton?

You got it. The tannest man on earth took a turn in 1979 as the Prince of Pale himself - Dracula. He said in an interview that they would keep powdering his face between scenes to keep him looking as pale as possible (he still looks pretty tan). This didn't stop my young heart from beating double-time though when I first watched this on TV as a tween.

Hamilton, with a convincing Transylvania accent, oozes more sex appeal in this film than Robert Pattinson could conjure up in four movies. It begins with Dracula realizing that his intended eternal love Sandy Sondheim, whom he has been pursuing over the course of many lifetimes, is now a model in New York City. Being chased out of Transylvania, he and his manservant Renfield (played brilliantly by comedian Arte Johnson) hit the mean streets of the 70s version of the Big Apple, proving that happening dance moves and classic charm can sweep any woman from any era off her feet.

My vinyl record of the soundtrack, signed by George Hamilton!
 Love at First Bite is the kind of film that could never be made today. The amount of politically incorrect jokes that get made throughout the course of the script - "how to get your gynecologist to tear up your bill by yelling, 'Rape, rape!'" - being one of the milder examples get thrown around fast and furiously. But it is the product of its time, and it never takes itself too seriously, making Hamilton a wholly sympathetic version of the famed blood-sucking demon. Set off with a killer soundtrack of 70s disco beats, Hamilton earned a Golden Globe nomination in 1980 for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy and the film overall won six awards in the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

 Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, the song "I Love The Night Life" by Alicia Bridges is not included in the DVD release of this film during the iconic dance sequence between Hamilton and Saint James with all the jive turkeys standing back, agape. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube however, you can watch the scene with the original music right here:

 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Harrison gets up close as the hauntingly hunky ghost of a sea captain

This classic set at the turn of the century features a young Rex Harrison as the dashing
ghost of sea Captain Daniel Gregg that finds himself irresistibly drawn from the hereafter to get to know the beautiful young widow that has recently moved into the seaside cottage where he used to live. The widow is Ms. Lucy Muir, a decidedly strong-willed woman of her time played by the ethereally lovely Gene Tierney who decides to rent the cottage despite warnings of its haunted nature. The black and white cinemetography by Charles Lang, which was nominated for an Oscar, effectively engages the shadows and creates the perfect eerie nature for this bittersweet love story. George Sanders plays the unctuous flesh and blood rival for Lucy's affections, stirring Gregg's jealous heart even from beyond the grave.

The pacing of this film is slow and deliberate compared to many of today's movies. The entrance of Gregg is a gradual build as the ever-practical Lucy keeps denying his existence even as she finds windows being open after she's closed them and being irresistibly drawn to the sea captain's dashing portrait on the wall of the cottage. The great reveal is via candlelight during a thunderstorm - solidifying in one great moment the paradoxical thrill of both terror and romance. The fact that he is dead also conveniently ties up any issues with creating a romance involving a man in the 1900s randomly showing up in a woman's bedroom. Much of the film revolves around the philosophical, above-board chats between Lucy and Gregg, all set against the dynamic background of the rolling sea. Interestingly enough, the popularity of the film was enough to spawn a miniseries based loosely on the original premise that ran from 1968 to 1970.

Toby sez: If you're looking for good laughs, solid grooves, and hot romance, sink your teeth into Love at First Bite. If you're more in the mood for a hauntingly bittersweet tale with epic cinematography, go for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir!