2/9/10

Dinner With A Vampire (1988): Steak Is Not on the Menu

There are many awkward kinds of dinners you could attend, dinner with the boss, the in-laws, or the ex that still wants to be friends to name a few. For me one of the more awkward dinner dates I could have would be Lamburto Bava, son of Mario and director of films like Demons (a film that makes my pal Rev. Phantom's Top 20 of All Time) and Delirium: Photo of Gioia. I’m afraid over our meal I would want to steer the conversation toward his father’s masterful films and away from his own résumé of lukewarm titles. That was before I sat down to take a look at tonight’s film about one strange evening‘s repast, 1988’s Dinner with a Vampire [Italian: A cena col vampiro]. Made as part of an Italian television series called Brivido Giallo (along with the films The Ogre, Graveyard Disturbance, and Until Death), the younger Bava finally gets it right for me and delivers a great mix of camp, horror, and black humor.

When Rita (Patrizia Pellegrino) finally lands an acting job, she couldn’t be more excited. She joins a group of actors who are taken to an ornate mansion in the hills. There they are shown a disturbing black and white vampire movie which ends just as their host, Jurek (George Hilton) arrives for dinner. During the meal, he reveals to the group that he is a vampire, and he has invited the actors there to kill him. If they can’t accomplish it before dawn, then Jurek will put the bite on the whole group. Finding that many of the myths and movie clichés about vampires aren’t true, they must figure out what his weakness might be.

I want to start talking about Dinner with a Vampire by talking about something I just couldn’t wedge into the synopsis no matter how hard I tried, the opening scene. As the film begins, a documentary crew is searching in a crypt and discovers an actual vampire, Jurek, who rises from his grave. Jurek’s first act when he comes back to life is to kill the cameraman, and perhaps this is how his “taste” for film began. From his belief that only a group of actors could kill him to the outfit he wears that looks like he came straight from central casting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where the vampire has been affected by the portrayal of his own kind in movies, and the script, by Bava and Dardano Sacchetti (Hands of Steel, New York Ripper) based on a story by Luciano Martino (brother of Sergio), really stands out for doing its own thing.

While the script was chock full of campy black humor, it was not as filled with great character development. The group of actors that get invited to the mansion to kill the vampire never really grow beyond stock characters. That’s not saying that they aren’t memorable, Yvonne Scio especially sticks in my mind as Monica, the young dancer who has “never met a singer before”, and Patrizia Pellegrino looked a bit like if Sandra Bernhard and Ginger Lynn had a baby. The real standout in the supporting cast has to be Daniele Aldrovandi as Gilles, Jurek’s Marty Feldman look-alike servant. He limps around and dispatches wisecracks just as well as the original Mr. Feldman. It’s interesting to note that two years earlier Aldrovandi got his first crack at playing Feldman when he appeared as the actor in Fellini’s 1986 film Ginger and Fred.

The star of the show is of course George Hilton. I primarily know Mr. Hilton from his performances in films such as The Case of the Bloody Iris and All the Colors of the Dark so this was certainly a different kind of part to see him in. Hilton chews up the scenery every time he graces the screen, and I loved everything about his performance from the costuming and aristocratic manner to the outrageous “Transylvanian” style accent he slides in and out of at will. It’s a special bonus that his character was an interesting chap. I don’t see many films about vampire directors who are ready to give up on life (or unlife). Hilton does great double duty as the suave Lugosi-esque Jurek and a Max Schreck-ish look that he sports right out of the coffin. It’s an impressive performance that revels in high camp, and Hilton is quite surely what makes this film work.

One of the other things that really enhances the film was the setting. I don’t know what kind of Byzantine mansion they filmed in, but it was a gorgeous looking place. From the ceiling to the walls, the place was an over ornate spectacle to look at. As far as a TV production goes, it was incredibly well shot by cinematographer Gianfranco Transunto who would go on to work with Lamburto Bava’s 1989 film Black Sunday. The only thing it really lacks is a decent score. Composer Simon Boswell (Delirium: Photo of Gioia, Lord of Illusions) fails to give up anything memorable. Italian pop star Mario Tafliaferri fared somewhat better with a pair of New Wave sounding sounds that bookend the film.

Dinner with a Vampire is not a film for everyone. Some will be turned off by the low budget effects and campy, silly story. For me it was absolutely wonderful. I laughed throughout and enjoyed both Hilton and Aldrovandi performances immensely. So if you’re fan of horror/comedy or Lamburto Bava, then this should be on your must see list. I know I’m glad I saw it so Mr. Bava and I will have something to chat about over appetizers.

Bugg Rating

2 comments:

  1. Hmmmm. Well I've probably overlooked this in the past because it is a Lamberto Bava film. His career is filled with mostly misses with only a couple of hits (the few you mentioned as well as Laserblast). I must say the thought of George Hilton as a Lugosi/Schreck type vampire sounds very intriguing.

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  2. I assumed this one would be a massive pile of crap, but I came out utterly suspired at how entertaining it was. I mean I watched it twice in the last 24 hours, and that is saying something.

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