By the time, Once Bitten opened in theaters in mid-November 1985 (two weeks after Halloween for some reason!), Rock Hudson had been dead for about six weeks. The HIV/AIDS crisis had entered into the homes of Middle Americans (aka conservative Christian WASPs). Charlatans like Jerry Falwell was still calling it a plague for gay people and drug-abusers. And that “sumbitch Reagan” had finally publicly acknowledged it (after his buddy Hudson had come out as gay and dying of AIDS) even though he reportedly said it was needed for those that sin in private.
By 1985, the teen sex comedy was looing steam as slasher movies, most notably the Friday the 13th franchise, showed how premarital sex equal death for young people. Surprisingly, this little known horror comedy came and went so fast, it’s now most remembered only as Jim Carrey’s first lead role. Critics hated it and it only made $10 million. And everyone in it probably wished they didn’t have to include it in their resume. Reportedly one of the screenwriters, Jeffrey Hause, had to get a job in a video store where a customer commented anyone who worked on it should be working in Hollywood.
The premise involves The Countess (Lauren Hutton) a 400-year-old vampire living in a mansion in southern California. Every few decades or so, she needs the blood of a virgin to keep her youth and vitality. Many of her subjects end up becoming her minions. One of them is an aviator from the World War I era. Another served during the Civil War. But times have changed as the Confederate Vampire (Joseph Brutsman) says virginity was still popular in the 1860s.
In what I presume is San Fernando Valley, Mark Kendall (Carey) and his girlfriend, Robin Pierce (Karen Kopkins), are at an impasse over whether or not they should have sex. He wants to. She doesn’t. And despite his pressuring, she refuses. So Mark, who drives an ice-cream truck as a part-time job and his horn-dog friends, Russ (Skip Lackey) and Jamie (Thomas Ballatore), who work at a burger joint near a shopping center, decide to go out to Hollywood to pick up someone for a one-night stand.
At a singles bar, Mark meets the Countess, but when the husband of women seen talking to Russ and Jamie pulls out a gun, panic ensues and the Countess and Mark leave at the suggestion of her servant, Sebastian (Cleavon Little), telling Mark he doesn’t need to be arrested. At the Countess’ mansion, Mark is seduced and bit on his thigh and passes out. When he is awaken, the Countess tells him that they had sex.
However over time, Mark begins to change as he seems to turn into a vampire. He doesn’t like being out during the day getting a sensitivity to the light. He’s up too much at night. He stuns his parents when he drinks blood from raw meat and his complexion goes pale. This also causes problems with Robin, who even though has found out about him and the Countess, forgives him.
But things get worse for Mark after the Countess bites him a second time. He gets more pale and starts having nightmares where he bites Robin on the neck and sucks her blood. When some young kids stop by to get ice cream bars, he hisses at them scaring them away. People even say that he’s dressed as a vampire at the Halloween school dance even though he repeatedly denies wearing a costume. Yet, both him and Robin are shocked to see that Mark’s reflection in a tropy case isn’t shown.
It’s an allegory about the dangers of sex. Mark seems like the perfect all-American boy who finds his body changing because of a one-night stand. The Countess represents all the awful things that can come from engaging in premarital sex and debauchery, i.e STDs. (While Sebastian is portrayed as a gay person, it’s very dated as he’s complicit in the Countess’ behavior. Reportedly, screenwriter Jerry Hause didn’t intend for Sebastian to be gay. That was later rewritten by David Hines.)
But even though the movie is very dated, it does show some of the homophobia of the era. At the singles bar, Russ finds himself talking to a transgender person that played for laughs. Later when Robin asks Russ and Jamie to see if Mark has any bite marks on his thighs, they are mistaken for having sex in the gym shower. This, of course, if very dated, but then again, it was the 1980s, gay humor was very common. But yet, while the rest of the gym class freaks out, it does make you wonder young men are showering next to each other non-chalantly but only care when it looks like their bodies touch.
Yet, it’s Robin who really loves Mark and there’s a constant battle between Robin and the Countess, who’s lust, over Mark. And it’s seems fitting that the vampires sleep in coffins as a result of their lust. The movie is saying that lustful sex leads to death. The only way they’re able to stop the Countess is when Mark and Robin have quick sex in a casket to prevent the Countess from turning him into a full vampire. Since Mark had sex with the one he loved, it saved his life. The Countess is defeated.
Whether or not it was intended this way I’m not certain. The PG-13 rating was in use for a year and this movie does have some scenes that could’ve gotten an R if they weren’t toned down. Times seemed to change when Reagan got re-elected. It’s not a good movie by any stretch. But it does show how talented Carrey would be, even if he would have to wait almost another decade for a lead role following several supporting roles in movies like The Dead Pool, Earth Girls Are Easy and Peggy Sue Got Married.
At the heart of the movie is the universal feeling that you shouldn’t rush into things. While Mark’s pressuring at first seems a little like coercive behavior, Robin’s pushback shows that it’s unaccepted. Also a scene in which Russ and Jamie try to pick-up housewives at a laundromat turns bad when they can tell what the two young men at up to and beat them at their own game. Sometimes, it’s just best to wait for the right moment, even if we never know when that will be.
What do you think? Please comment.