Recently I saw another gloriously 80s-tastic vampire comedy, 1985’s Once Bitten. Jim Carrey in his first leading role, Lauren Hutton in her prime, and Cleavon Little! Hurrah!
I absolutely love cheesy 80s vampire comedies, and Once Bitten totally delivers. I had been aware of it for some time but I think it was out of print or something during the years I worked in video rental and sale stores as I never could seem to find it, but it’s now available on Netflix Instant Watch.
The Countess, played by Lauren Hutton, is living the life in 80s’ LA. She sleeps in a coffin that looks like a tanning bed, lives in a sprawling mansion that’s a few pink accents shy of the Barbie Dream House, and has a stable of undead household servants she’s assembled in her 400 year life. Hutton is a dream in shiny pink spandex, and it’s clear she’s having a hoot of a time. In all honesty, the movie seems kind of like pr0n for guys into cougars – she’s not exactly a spring chicken but she’s aging VERY well, and the barest tilt of her head or lick of her lips promises that she has PLENTY of experience when it comes to doing the nasty.
Enter Jim Carrey’s character, young, virile and frustrated Mark Kendall, whose girlfriend is afraid to Go All the Way (remember that old chestnut from Fright Night?). When his girl puts him off again, he agrees to go with some randy friends of his into town to some kind of weird hook up bar where people call each other on table phones. I don’t know, it was the 80s. Anyway, his friends both get into altercations with married women with jealous husbands, a bar fight breaks out, and hilarity ensues. There may have even been ridiculous sound effects, I’m not sure (EDIT: I had to check – there were!). Amid the chaos, Mark wanders into the path of the Countess, who takes him home to her pastel MegaMansion and sort of makes a man out of him.
Now, I was fully prepared to talk about how blase the whole thing was, until I realized I’d forgotten a lot of the movie (I watched it a few months ago). I went back to refresh my memory by looking at some quotes on IMDB, and some of them totally made me chuckle. While the performances were a little weak, this movie had some SHARP writing – there is a subplot with Mark’s friends worrying about him, and their disastrous attempts to check him for a vampire bite on his groin in the gym’s shower were actually pretty funny. Subsequently, they fret about people mistaking them for gay (THAT again) and more interestingly, whether or not they might be.
The biggest comedy score for this movie was that it has – dun dun DUNN!!!! – Cleavon Little!
Best known as Black Bart in Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little was a very busy actor in television and stage, but only appeared in a few movies, most of which were forgotten. I saw his name in the credits for Once Bitten and was totally astounded.
He doesn’t get as much screen time as he ought, and he’s definitely a supporting character, acting as both snarky foil to the Countess and scheming henchman. While he’s playing a stereotypical ‘sassy gay butler’ trope, my GOD is he hilarious. If the film had been just a little more serious, with a little more emotional resonance, his performance and the film itself would be better remembered. Alas, there’s only so much he can do with the material, and while the movie IS pretty funny, I just wish there had been more roles in Hollywood for him to play than be relegated to a cheesy 80s vampire sex comedy.
Anyhoodle, after Mark is bitten, he has to deal with the fallout of his girlfriend Robin being enraged that he cheated on her. Plus, the Countess still has her sights set on him – she has to drink his blood twice more before Halloween in order to retain her youthful beauty and immortality.
The rest of the movie is fairly predictable, but the dialogue is snappy and the comedy elements are decent. Hutton is clearly having a wonderful time as the femme fatale, and Jim Carrey makes a pretty convincing 80’s goth during the last third of the film, when the vampiric effects are really showing. There’s even a dance sequence!
There is a great scene where the Countess follows Mark and Robin to a store in the mall, where Robin is trying to help Mark pick out an outfit, suggesting various pastels and Cosby-type sweaters and white jeans (barf), and the Countess keeps surreptitiously intervening, suggesting black leather and such.
Additionally, the movie touches on some neuroses about sex that were so rampant during the 80s, especially about changing gender roles and the AIDS epidemic.
While it does make the sexually-aggressive Countess into a bad girl, Hutton does her best to make the character charming and fun, even if she IS evil and selfish. It’s clear that while she adores Mark, but he is just another fling in her long life, as illustrated by the stable of ghosts that live in the Countess’s basement. No doubt she courted each one as fervently before drinking their blood and losing interest.
Robin, though a boring good girl, is plucky and fiesty with her denim overalls and culottes, and is at least equally likeable. Usually the virgins in these movies are dull as dishwater, but she does a great job making the material work.
Overall, Once Bitten is another fun entry to the ’80s Vampire’ movie genre. It’s available on Netflix, and is a fun Friday night with friends nostalgia-fest.