Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you about something you could be watching instead of getting your kicks scrolling through memes on the internet. Because truly, no matter how funny they are initially, most of the amusing bits of the internet become mind numbing and eye bleedingly awkward after a while. And speaking of this evening’s film, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a teenaged vampire? And not a sexy, wise beyond your years eternal youth, “trust me Louis, I might look like I’m only seventeen but I have the power of centuries and I’m actually articulate and extremely calculating” kind of vampire. No, we’re talking real teenagers. The ones that talk about clothing and stupid shit. And not even the cool teenagers who at least seem (to other teenagers) to have their shit together and they’re able to hold decent conversations. We are talking about the straight up dorky, blurting out whatever you think sounds cool, complete lack of life experience so you just say things and assume it’s deep kind of teenager. Imagine that but for eternity as an undead monster and you still live with someone who is essentially your mom. It’s meant to be funny but is it really? Does it truly make you laugh or are you only giggling to hide the deep horror at the thought that this might well have been the reality of the romantic fantasy that you were hoping for as an eighteen year old? Let’s get uncomfortable multiple times over and find out if awkward non-adults with hyperactive sex drives makes for good comedy or just bad horror! Tonight we’re diving into Once Bitten.
We’re back to vampires again and in an unplanned twist of circumstances, we’re also back in the 80s. Perhaps we never left after Mary Lou. Doesn’t matter. For now, we’re taking a look at what the decade of big hair had to offer its undead and unlike the sequel that wasn’t to Prom Night, it’s more than happy to showcase all the things you want to see and believe about the glamorous life in the neon decade. Unlike Vampire Journals, which actually took the trouble to go to Romania to add a kind of authenticity to its vampire story and a sort of (attempt) at a timeless look for the film, this movie is steeped in its time period. It does make a little sense, considering that it’s set in Hollywood, but still, there’s that kind of hyperbolic ultra 80s vibe to it that is exactly that same kind of fantasy version of the 80s that only existed on TV. That’s going to be a theme for the rest of the film. What’s also going to be a part of this film is the unfortunate “of it’s time” kind of stuff that passed for humor in the time of backcombing and aquanet. Are you excited to set your cringe meter to uncomfortable? Neither am I! Let’s do it anyway.
So our plot is set up as a butler (a black butler, played by Cleavon Little), wakes up our spandex wearing vampire, Countess, played by Lauren Hutton. Don’t get your hopes up that she’s got some mystery estate wherein she does ghoulish things because mostly she’s just a yuppie in a coffin. A yuppie with a black servant who is not only the sole person of color in the household but also plays nanny to her and all her fledglings. That’s our vampire, alright. In fact, she doesn’t even have a name and she has a whole one real personality trait. Vanity! Our Countess can’t be pulling a Lestat fresh out of the swamp kind of look and certainly not in Hollywood, so she instructs her underlings to find her a virgin to drain and turn into another vampire before Halloween. Only ten days away but no big deal. Kinda like that annoying Christmas shopper who panics about ruining the holidays, yet still leaves all their shopping for the 24th. Anyway, enough of my flashbacks to retail hell, let’s move on to the real scary part: finding a virgin!
Now, some of you might have pinpointed a couple of issues that come up with this story so far. Maybe there were a few things that stood out as being a little bit less acceptable in the world of today than they might have been back in 1985 when this was released. I might have mentioned the entirely white house (complete with white walls, white furniture, white vampires and other aspects of white set dressing) and the lone black man who tends to them all. To give credit to the actor, Cleavon Little does a lot with this role and whether it was written this way or not, he’s actually the only one in the house, main vampire included, that seems to have any kind of wit, charm or any kind of intelligence to him.
I don’t say that lightly. He’s the one who comes up with plans, he runs the house and he’s also the one to give the Countess advice, as well as instruct and pull off her schemes. Without him, the house would be reduced to a bunch of useless white people in poorly recreated Halloween period costumes. Little’s banter with the Countess is also fun to watch, admittedly. He gets in the best barbs and he’s actually funny. Every scene he’s in is better for it. That said, this trope is still entirely problematic. Even though he runs the house around them, Little’s butler, Sebastian, has no authority over anything and his mostly just a glorified servant with no discernible reward of his own for his troubles. Sure, there’s the underlings who are put to work at the task of finding the virgin but they are free to roam and seem to do little else in their off hours. Sebastian is entirely domestic in his role and written in that tried and very uneasy way that makes it seem like that’s what he would prefer. This is made even more uncomfortable by the fact that he’s a very openly gay character, often partaking in the Countess’s wardrobe when no one is looking. It’s all played for laughs but it gets sticky when we consider that Little is immortal just like everyone else in the house but he is a gay immortal with no agency, no sexual appetite seemingly and his entire role is to babysit a vain white woman and her spawn.
If all this has gotten a little heavy for you, wait until we get to the film’s sacrificial virgin! By now, we’re all uncomfortable, so it seems like a great time to introduce the main running joke of the plot: horny teenage boy tries to pressure frigid teenage girl into sex. We meet our plot as they are parked in the spot in town where people come to have sex. Our virginal victim to be is Mark, played by a baby version of Jim Carrey, long before the world knew him as Ace Ventura. In a shadow of what will become the Jim Carrey of The Mask, he is shown here with his girlfriend, Robin, trying desperately to convince her to go beyond making out with him. This was a trope that was basically ubiquitous in the 80s and while most of the sex humor in Once Bitten is bad, it’s not as crass as other movies like Sixteen Candles or even Fright Night. In 80s films, a lot has already been written and talked about for how rapey the plots could get, one of the worst being Revenge of the Nerds, which features selling private photos of naked women without their knowledge and having sex with women they desire under false pretences. While I won’t defend Once Bitten‘s blatant attempt to make us side with Mark’s eternal quest to bone the pants off his less than willing girlfriend (who clearly says that she’s not ready), I will say that the writers were smart enough to recognize two things about this character and his friends.
First of all, Mark and his friends have no seduction techniques at all and are never presented as being even half way competent in getting the ladies that they so desire. Unlike the previously mentioned Nerds movie, when they attempt to get women to pay attention to them and ultimately try to sleep with them, they not only fall flat in their attempts, they look ridiculous when they do it. One example of this is Mark’s stellar ride throughout the film and what he uses to get to Hollywood when he decides to try to score behind Robin’s back. It’s over the top but making the poor dork the driver of an ice cream truck is pretty hilarious. It also goes a long way to show how clueless and ultimately harmless Mark actually is. His friends, while more actively trying to get laid by strangers, are equally lost in the world of condoms, pick up lines and the realities of sexual possibilities among adults. This does end up in uncomfortable territory again in a few rather homophobic scenes but taking this as a whole, the boys aren’t seen as being so much sex crazed and selfishly horny as they are bumbling, naive idiots who are desperate to be taken seriously and get to the ultimate goal of having sex that seems as good as they’ve been told it is.
The other thing that the film does is establish early on that Mark, at least, does care about his girlfriend and they do make a point to say that they’ve been in this relationship for a long time. There’s still a lot wrong with the way they are portrayed but Robin isn’t just his prize that he scores at the end of the film nor is she just some random girl that he’s utterly in love with because she’s all kinds of out of his league pretty. The filmmakers went out of their way to make Mark someone that you would like and unlike someone like Charlie Brewster in the original Fright Night, Mark does have far less aggressive tactics. Granted, they gloss over that whole cheating on her thing but at least it doesn’t seem like no means maybe to him and that’s counts, especially when looking at the films surrounding this one. Make no mistake, he’s still the one putting the pressure on her, but her denial doesn’t make him really all that angry so much as it just makes him whiny. All this said, it also sets up the main plot as he only finds the Countess because he’s looking to get laid, basically at all cost, which leads us back to that whole infidelity thing. Because he cares about Robin, he decides that pressuring her isn’t worth it so he’s going to go get his rocks off with some random woman in a bar with his idiot friends. Because that won’t make things awkward or difficult afterwards at all. This is all the more interesting when he meets the Countess and finds out what it’s like to be on the flip side of that pressure coin.
Let’s just establish here that from the beginning, the Countess is a predator. We know that already because she’s a vampire but it’s especially creepy when one is also looking to score virginal blood because that’s the only kind that will keep her young. By now, I’m sure you see where our next level of problematic goes and, to their weak credit, so did the filmmakers. They did have a throw away line about the underlings finding an 11 year old for that source of virgin blood, which the Countess flat out refuses to even entertain. She immediately calls it disgusting but at nearly four hundred years old herself, she’s still actively stalking and attacking an eighteen year old boy who’s still in high school. The way they get around this is that Mark is obvious played by an adult but remember when I said that a lot the things that Mark does remind me of real teenagers? Things like babbling about banal things or having absolutely no self awareness or being completely oblivious to his surroundings or having no sense of will power in the presence of someone who’s older than him are all things that he does. Things that kids do, incidentally. That’s still kinda gross when you break it down. I know the film was going for that sexy cougar vibe for the very lovely Lauren Hutton but the reality of it is that they’re playing up for laughs that this kid is supposed to want this woman because, well, he’s a horny boy. They don’t really have preferences, right? And there’s nothing wrong with it if she’s taking care of him and offering him essentially a replacement for his mom, right?
This film is determined to win the awkward Olympics, isn’t it? That weird shudder you just felt is the realization that this film wants you to believe that it’s entirely feasible that this scenario is funny and kinda sexy. And truly, who wouldn’t find the prospect of being actively sexually pursued by a much older person who ignored your concerns and reservation about your relationship boundaries and basically forces you to conform to a dynamic that ultimately promises that she will have dominance over you for the rest of time appealing? That’s actually kind of a brilliant horror scenario, no? That would be why Bram Stoker used it in Dracula. I’m reasonably certain that this isn’t actually a coincidence, though. After all, Dracula had brides and his interest in both them, Lucy and Mina in the pre-romantic reformed Count days wasn’t out of interest in them as people or even love. It was all about possession, which our Countess embodies in all her yuppie ways with her mansion and her collection of underlings. The difference is that in Dracula, this is still seen as horrific. In Once Bitten, it’s treated like the core mechanic of the comedy as Robin and the Countess fight to figure out if Mark is going to join the night shift or get lucky.
And therein lies the gist of the film but is it worth watching? I guess this all depends on who you are and what you’re okay with. It’s impossible to write a review like this without making it sound like the answer to that question is automatically a hard no. After all, it’s not like anything I’ve mentioned here isn’t a real issue with the story and even if it is “of it’s time”, we don’t live in that time anymore. It’s hard not to cringe at some of the worse aspects of this film and pretend that they just don’t matter because you want to see the humor in the situation. And there are funny parts in this film. Jim Carrey gives a more understated performance that makes him all the more endearing and some of Cleavon Little’s lines are legitimately hilarious. These parts are fun to watch and that alone can make it something that could be a guilty pleasure for someone. That said, it doesn’t erase the other aspects that do emphasize the guilt in that phrase.
In the end, it’s more up to the viewer to decide when the humor is a little too buried in what was okay by 80s standards. At this point, I feel like all I can do is provide the road sign that gives you an idea of what’s ahead. If you have a love of 80s flicks that are full of terrible dialogue and very very vapid, dated tropes or you’re a vampire completionist who is dead set on watching anything undead, you can look it up but be forewarned that it’ll make you cringe even if you think you’ve seen it all. If you are on the fence about it or you love vampire films too much to mar your memory with one as dumb as this one, go back and watch Vampire Journals for your undead fix instead. Still terrible dialogue but way prettier and fewer issues to be found.
So why review it at all if I really don’t think it stands up to the test of time? Well, to be honest, it’s not always about the film that you get but rather the film that you could find in it. This isn’t a good movie and it’s not actually a horror film but with some imagination, it could be. I’m a big fan of diving in cracks to find pieces of horror stories that could have been told if we just look at things a different way. I still think that if you look at Eternal Blood the right way, it could be a terrifying story. Same with a lot of things that I review on here. Maybe they didn’t live up to their potential but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something in there that still has some. Call it a writer’s habit but we tend to pick at threads until something comes of it. So if that’s you, you should know that this is a terrible movie full of dated ideas and some wildly offensive attempts at humor. But there’s also some ideas that could have been made better. So if you’re up to it, go watch this movie and make them better.
And with that, we end another Friday Nightmare Review. Thank you again for joining me and if you are so inclined, check out my serial story about the trials of an online horror hostess and her monstrous friends on Mondays! Until then, here’s wishing you safety when you’re bar hopping and may all your meals be garlic free!