From The Parallax Review Vaults: Once Bitten (1985)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Once Bitten was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Now Playing on Retroplex, Encore Wam

After the extinction of the human race, when aliens are sifting through the remains of our civilizations, I hope they come across a DVD of Once Bitten. It’s the perfect example of cheesy ’80s comedy for an alien race to view and gain understanding of how often the decade was culturally bankrupt.

I can see how someone with nostalgia for the decade could enjoy the film as an exercise in camp, but I’m not that person. I think some great films and music came out of the ’80s, but I do not have an automatic love for everything from those years just because it came from my childhood. Quite frankly, that sort of nostalgia is the only way you can enjoy this film.

Countess (Lauren Hutton) is a 400-year-old vampire living in Los Angeles. In order to maintain her youthful beauty, she must feed on the blood of a virgin three times before Halloween, which is only a week away. In the past, this has not been a problem. But in the promiscuous L.A. of the ’80s, a virgin is a rarity. Enter Mark (Jim Carrey), an 18-year-old high schooler who has been attempting to lose his virginity to his longtime girlfriend, Robin (Karen Kopins). Fed up with waiting on Robin, Mark is convinced by his friends, Russ and Jamie (Skip Lackey and Thomas Ballatore), to go to a Hollywood bar to find a one-night stand. There, Mark meets Countess and the plot plays out exactly as you can imagine.

This was a very early role for Carrey, and it’s understandable that director Howard Storm didn’t understand just what he had in way of comic potential. That being said, it’s obvious in certain scenes where Carrey is allowed to break loose and riff on the material, that his talent was better than the film. Unfortunately, Storm stubbornly sticks to the idea that Hutton is the star of the production. Not only does he do his best to stifle Carrey’s comedic instincts, he seems to buy into the idea that Hutton can act. Sadly, this is far from the case. She is wooden, unnatural, and only manages to get laughs when she storms out of a scene and, just for the hell of it, shoves an old lady to the floor. It’s the kind of casual evil that the script fails to provide for a character who is supposed to be a bloodthirsty vampire.

Beyond the occasional effective sight gag (a sexually frustrated Mark standing in a parking lot full of rocking cars has a surreal hilarity to it), the script is dull and predictable. It’s packed with tons of homophobic jokes that are as dated as they are offensive, obnoxious stereotypes, and a serious lack of sex for a film that purports to be a sex comedy. While some of this is due to the PG-13 rating, it also falls on the shoulders of Hutton. Even dressed in barely-there costumes, she comes off more as a desperate middle-aged woman at a singles’ bar than a sultry creature of the night.

Constant heavy rotation on cable channels for the past 20-plus years and Carrey’s presence has given this film something of a cult reputation. Do yourself a favor and don’t drink that Kool-Aid. This is a boring film that was only a modest financial success by riding on the coattails of the superior Fright Night. Go rent that movie instead; you’ll be glad you did.

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