Once Bitten Review
Howard Storm’s strange but alluring tale of vampire’s chasing virgin blood acts like the child of a Porky’s/The Lost Boys one night stand, and while it tries dearly to commentate on youth culture in the eighties, coupling it with modern vampire mythos, it ultimately fails at both. Two years after the release of Once Bitten, Joel Schumacher would get it spot-on with his take on the teen-fuelled, modern vampire genre with The Lost Boys, because his film was much more clear goaled – that and the fact it had a cracking script and great soundtrack. Released the same year as Once Bitten, Fright Night worked a whole lot better because it forgot about silly, idealist pretensions and went to town on the conventions of a genre that were begging to be messed with. However, Once Bitten does still have something of an attraction – Jim Carrey in one of his earliest film roles shows real signs of the manic comic performer he would become. Attractive older lady Lauren Hutton strutting round trying to find a legal virgin to sleep with is nothing short of every teenager’s dream, and the youth sex culture presented to us makes for some quite hilarious comedy moments.
The film begins with Sebastian (Cleavon Little) taking a glass of blood to the Countess (Lauren Hutton) who comments, much like a wine tasting ‘Austrian Peasant. Early 1700s. O-positive.’ We then learn that Halloween is only a week away and that if she does not find a virgin before the week is out, she will lose her youthful looks. She sends out her band of merry bloodsuckers but they keep coming back empty handed claiming the best they could find was an 11 year old. Eventually though, she happens across Mark Kendall (Carrey) whose girlfriend still hasn’t ‘put out’ after a long relationship and he languishes in a world without sex. Deciding to head to the city in a desperate attempt to find a woman who’ll take his virginity, Mark falls into the arms of the Countess. For some reason, she must drink his blood three times before Halloween arrives to ensure her survival, and in doing so turning Mark into a vampire, but will he realise what’s going on or will it be too late for him?
Sebastian, the Countess’ butler, driver and general slave asks her, ‘Did we get up of the wrong side of the coffin this evening?’ which provides a good clue as to the direction of the humour. It isn’t as if Once Bitten isn’t funny, it’s more a fact that nothing feels quite right. The balance between what is ostensibly a vampire survival guide, and the teen sex comedy angle never reaches the potential it could have, and where individual scenes are enjoyable on their own, as a whole they’re a lot less fulfilling. The Lost Boys, for example, had a lot less trouble mixing comedy with the mythology of the vampire legend, but who could resist the charm of the Goonies meets Near Dark plot, something Once Bitten simply does not have. Odd visual glimpses (which the director will probably claim mean something), strange incoherent plot points, the Countess’ terribly contrived and uninteresting gang of bloodsuckers, and a couple of awful dream sequences have you scratching you head, they’re just out of place – perhaps director Storm was trying too hard?
On the plus side, the sex gag running through the film with people ‘banging’ in cars and coffins is very funny, and Mark’s friends played by Thomas Ballatore and Skip Lackey are really good in their ‘desperate to get laid’ roles (‘I’m a mature person, you’re a mature person. Let’s just throw away our inhibitions and get down to what we really want to do!’). Jim Carrey shows off his talents well before the likes of The Mask and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came along (the films that projected him into the $20 million a movie bracket), especially in a dance scene where he plays his leg like a guitar. Though the scene is another one that feels strangely out of place, it’s so good you just have to give Storm credit, and this little ‘dance-off’ ends up being one of the film’s highlights. The Countess and Mark’s girlfriend played by Karen Kopins (acting wise she’s terrible in this film, but she’s drop dead gorgeous so I’ll let her off) strut their dancing moves to win Mark’s affection, but he ends up joining in and it turns into something straight out of Grease - will Sandy get her man?
It is very difficult not to enjoy a film where, during a sexual encounter, one character asks the other, ‘Have you got any protection?’ and the guy pulls out a rubber glove. Equally, when Mark goes to the fancy dress Halloween dance and everyone thinks he’s dressed up as a vampire yet he proclaims: ‘I’m Not Wearing A Costume!’, or when his girlfriend seeks help on how to overcome her vampire nemesis with the school’s librarian – it’s extremely funny watching a guy say ‘Goodness gracious. You know, it is most unfortunate the shocking reputation that vampires are having these days’ with an accent that is part David Letterman, part Apu out of The Simpsons.
Once Bitten is enjoyable in parts, but as a whole it isn’t up to much. There are other films like it and they pretty much all do a better job, yet you can’t deny Storm’s film has some great moments and at least he was trying to do something different even if it doesn’t quite work. Average film with some great bits, sums it up.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. Generally, the image is pleasing if not perfect. The print is in excellent condition displaying no visible grain or dirt, and detail is very good. Colours however, appear a little muted and lifeless giving the film a very dated, eighties feel. On the reverse of the disc a 4:3 presentation of the film can be found.
The sound is mono and fairly poor – music doesn’t sound very good at all although it doesn’t drown out background sounds. Dialogue is thankfully clear, but the lack of any spatial ambience leaves a lot to be desired.
Theatrical Trailer - A strange teaser trailer for the film that certainly intrigues.
Jim Carrey before Ace Ventura is an interesting and entertaining film experience - especially for fans of the man with the rubber face, and there’s plenty of things to enjoy in Storm’s vampire-sex tale, but its aspirations outweigh the filmmaker’s capabilities leaving you cold and confused. It’s a film you’ll return to only to skip to the funny bits, but that’s not always a bad thing.