Dinner With A Vampire (1987)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Writers: Lamberto Bava, Luciano Martino, Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: George Hilton, Patrizia Pellegrino and Riccardo Rossi

The Plot: When a local talent agency puts on an audition, several young people show up in order to grab a piece of the pie. Apparently the audition is for any and all entertainers, as we see an actress, a dancer, a singer and a comedian all show up to perform in order to gain access to a role in the famed Jurek’s (George Hilton) next feature film. Jurek is a rather creepy gentleman who has his own castle out in the far hills of Italy, where the four lucky winners (three young women and a young man) are invited to come stay. When they arrive, it turns out this might be a bit more than they expected. First they are shown a gruesome vampire film, and when Jurek finally arrives he seems more creepy than suave. As it turns out, Jurek is an immortal creature of the night! A vampire! Tired of his immortality, Jurek wants to die and he asks for this group of young people to attempt to kill him at some point during the night. Will they succeed or will they simply turn into another platter on Jurek’s dining table?

The Review
Although this may be a tad bit on the conceded side of things, but from what I have found on the internet with firsthand experience, I may be the most forefront Lamberto Bava apologist in all of the internet. Boastful? Hardly. I am unfortunately the one guy who apparently has a serious affection towards the man’s work, whether good or bad. Why do I like his films so much? That is a good question. I give this a lot of thought, but rarely come to a solid conclusion. Lamberto Bava is simply my kind of workman director. His projects look good, have flashes of brilliance and can really surprise you when they reach their very best moments. He, unlike Bruno Mattei or Claudio Fragrasso, has never seemed like an entirely talentless slob. Unfortunately in many of his very worst pictures it seems as if he folds over and gives in to budgetary or time restraints. Some of these films seem as if Bava had something bigger to say, but just didn’t have the time or money to do so. Dinner With A Vampire shares some of these elements to be sure, but this project was ostensibly doomed from the very beginning.

Part of a TV project from Lamberto Bava called “Brivido giallo”, there were four features made for television and Dinner With A Vampire was one of the final entries. Made on a low budget, even in eighties Italian exploitation terms, the movie does do a good job in hiding its limitations. Taking place within this castle, which I am sure was not cheap, really helps give the film some atmosphere. The very first thing you’ll notice when watching is how beautiful this castle really is. Every wall throughout is decorated in a different fashion, from textures carved in stone to the massive number of colors that make up the wallpaper. With sets like this, the movie can’t help but look good! Bava himself does a good job in handling the tension and keeps his camera movement fluid amidst all of this beautiful scenery. However, where the failures begin isn’t in the visual flow of the movie, instead it is the narrative. With any foreign film dubbed into English, you have to give a degree of leniency towards possible mistakes but I highly doubt those responsible for the dub could have helped in creating as infuriatingly stupid of characters as this film portrays.

I’ll start from the beginning. When we first meet Monica and Rita, they are introducing themselves to one another before going in for an audition. During this audition we get to see how dreadfully untalented our lead cast are, with Monica’s “dancing” really taking the cake for most pointless talent. Afterward we skip forward a week and apparently Monica and Rita have moved in together! Not only that, but after making the move in just one week they have their phone line established and have already given their new phone number to the talent agency because they soon receive a phone call on behalf of Jurek who wants both girls to come stay at his castle. Right off the bat, this logic hit me as being “wrong” and from there on out I found the film more and more difficult to really get into. Bava seems to try and manage camp comedy and serious bloody horror, but the mix never seems exactly right. Instead the comedy comes off as forced and annoying, especially due to the character of Gianni who is essentially your run of the mill Friday the 13th “smart-alec” type of character. This time around though, the smart alec doesn’t receive a quick death but instead has to become one of our strongest heroes.

George Hilton would probably be the strongest member of the cast. Although many of us are used to him playing the stoic cowboy in many of his Westerns, here he gets to cut loose and provides easily the most interesting role I have ever seen him play. He chews scenery at every given turn, and consistently remains over the top in the role. His being the most interesting part about the cast isn’t really the compliment that it could be, considering the caliber of players he is cast opposite to, but Hilton did manage to provide a good number of the laughs that I had with the picture. His second in command, a reluctant helper who dreams of escaping the castle, also provides a memorable turn. However, I think the only reason I even mention the character is due to the poor Transylvanian accent that he puts on. This could have been a dubbing choice, but I have to side with whoever made that decision because it is easily the funniest aspect of the movie.

There are moments of decent gore, more than one would expect from a made for TV project, but it isn’t enough to really save the project from its own genre-film dependency on cliche material. The FX work ranges, from very good to utterly atrocious. The creature FX for Jurek when he is fully transformed, it is quite phenomenal for a low budget project like this. I was almost blown away by how good the Jurek monster looked. However, in every other way the creature makeup is very plain. I am not usually one to complain about how terrible vampire fangs are in any given movie, but there are some really bad fang-effects in this one. You can get a slight taste of it in the above picture of Hilton exposing his fangs.

The Conclusion
Although I am a big fan of Lamberto Bava, this was one that even I could not defend all that much. Bland in every facet that doesn’t revolve around George Hilton, I was left quite bored throughout the majority of the picture. For a Lamberto Bava completest, this is probably worth tracking down but if you’re simply a vampire movie fanatic you can avoid this one. I give the film a two out of five.