In the early 1990s, I was thoroughly addicted to buying imported (often bootlegged) movies from mail order services. Back then, it was the only way to get them. You had to order one catalogue after another, pick up one magazine after the other, and peer until your eyes crossed trying to find whatever it was you were looking for. It was bad for the eyes (I wear glasses now), but the thrill of seeking out a rare flick that had never seen the light of day in the U.S. was unmatchable. Of course, a decade or so after the Internet came about, these movies became easy to find -- which sort of took the thrill of finding them away from me -- but that’s entirely irrelevant, really.
One of my weaknesses has always been Italian horror films (so much so that my alias, Luigi Bastardo, came to pass as a result of my fondness for them). During a particular point in history, I recall having to make a decision between ordering a movie called GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (aka UNA NOTTE AL CIMITERO), or a flick called DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE (aka A CENA COL VAMPIRO) from a mail-order company. Both were directed by Lamberto Bava -- son of the great Mario Bava, as well as the director of DEMONS -- so it was difficult to base a decision based on the director alone. But, due to my other fondness for Italian zombie films, I took a chance on GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE…which turned out to be a major disappointment (as I recall). It would take nearly twenty years in order for me to see DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE, but it was well worth it.
As far as horror films go -- even the Italian ones -- DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE is about as silly as you can get. The humor is purely deliberate throughout, and is so calculatingly cheesy at times that it’s easy for the average viewer to misconstrue it as unintentional. Plus, DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE was made for Cable TV, which meant it probably had an even lower budget than the average theatrical outing did. It was part of a series entitled BRIVIDO GIALLO, as was Bava’s GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (hence both projects have the same feel to them). But DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE still manages to stand out above its own limited origins.
The story opens with a film crew discovering a vampire’s crypt while shooting some location shots in a creepy old castle. It isn’t long until the vampire is revived, hungry for blood. Flash forward to modern times (the late 1980s), wherein a group of young wannabe stars (Riccardo Rossi, Valeria Milillo, Patrizia Pellegrino and Yvonne Sciò) are auditioning to appear in the next movie by famed horror director Jurek. The four go to Jurek’s castle for dinner with the director, but soon learn that their host is actually a vampire. But, whereas most vampire stories in a similar vein always seem to jog down the same path, DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE makes a change: the vampire here wants to die. He’s even left a clue out for the kids, hoping that they will figure out what it will take to destroy him. A pity that his vampiric nature prevents him from not going down without a fight.
As Jurek, Italian movie regular George Hilton hams it up like there’s no tomorrow. He’s charming when he needs to be, fierce when the mood calls for it, but never once does he hesitate to look right toward the camera and behave like a kid at the fair. The younger stars are all very typical of the genre, but play it up like they were the stars of an Italian horror SCOOBY DOO instead. And then there’s co-star Daniele Aldrovandi, who plays the vampire’s hunchback assistant, Gilles. A blatant homage to Marty Feldman’s Igor in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (he actually portrayed Feldman in Fellini’s GINGER & FRED two years prior), Aldrovandi is a crack-up as he hobbles about making wisecracks (his voice in the English language version is dubbed by Nick Alexander -- which makes it all the more amusing for Alexander’s fans).
DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE’s bloody moments are mostly reserved for several movie-within-a-movie moments. The kids watch an old black-and-white vampire movie near the beginning (which later turns out to have not been a movie) where we are privy to a few gory moments (in black-and-white). The rest of the blood and gore comes in towards the end of the film. It’ll probably leave some horror lovers feeling a bit jaded (remember, this was made for Cable TV), but I found it to be just right considering the “lighthearted” nature of the film.
Previously released overseas on DVD and LaserDisc, Mya Communication presents DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE on home video in the US for the first time (officially). The movie is presented in a rather solid 1.66:1 widescreen transfer, which thankfully is anamorphic (most of the other Mya releases I've seen of late have not been). Language selections include the English dub as well as the original Italian track, both of which are in mono. No subtitles are provided for the Italian-language version. The only extra on the disc is an International trailer for the TV movie (obviously the Italians intended to sell this one theatrically abroad), which bears the illiterate title DINNER WITH VAMPIRE (no “A”) and presents a lot of the bloodier black-and-white footage in color.
While it probably won’t go down in history as one of the Best Italian Comedy Horror Made-for-Cable-TV Anthology Series films ever made, DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE is nevertheless a lost treat for those who have the right sense of humor. I enjoyed it immensely (something I can’t say I do often) and found myself laughing at the bad jokes the entire way through, too. Recommended. (Adam Becvar aka Luigi Bastardo - firstname.lastname@example.org)
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