Full disclosure: I have never been a fan of Jim Carrey. His “shtick”, which was especially crass in his mid-1990s output, is something I never could stomach. When I recently heard about Tommy Lee Jones’s passionate expression of dislike for Carrey’s acting (“I really don’t like you. […] I cannot sanction your buffoonery”), I thought “Yupp, right there with ya.”
Thankfully, in terms of “shtick”, this very early Carrey film (his first leading role on the silver screen) shows a harmless and rather digestible proto-version of that later Carrey.
To the premise: a female vampire, referred to throughout only as “the Countess” (Lauren Hutton), resides in Hollywood (where, we are told, she can simply blend in). But she needs to feed on the blood of a male virgin three times before Halloween in order to retain her youth and beauty (I am not sure if that is annually, or just once every few years).
Her problem: virgins are increasingly hard to come by. Enter Mark Kendall (Carrey), an 18-year-old college student perpetually frustrated by his long-time girlfriend’s reluctance to have sex with him. He lives with his parents, has no car of his own, and trying to have sex in the ice-cream-truck he uses for work proves rather tricky and is not the kind of romantic setting Robin, his girlfriend, is looking for.
When Mark and his two idiot buddies (Thomas Ballatore & Skip Lackey) drive into Hollywood one evening, they draw the attention of the Countess’s lackeys. Though why they are so interested in Mark while they spend the rest of the film ignoring his two friends who are clearly also virgins is beyond me.
Most of the film follows Mark’s progression as the Countess’s feeding session slowly turn him into a vampire. His changing looks and habits start to worry the people around him, and finally also Mark himself. The third act is a battle for Mark between the Countess and Robin (Karen Kopins).
I don’t know if it’s me, but I really don’t seem to fare well with ‘80s comedies. And this film, which represents TV-director Howard Storm’s first and only attempt at the silver screen, is definitely a very ‘80s affair. A number of people seem to have meddled in the script, and with the exception of Jonathan Roberts none of them can muster more than three writing credits on imdb.
Let’s try and find some positive things first. The film looks like quite a big production. There are lots of sets, lots of props, lots of costumes. And even though many of the props and costumes do not look good, some represent really nice artefacts of the 1980s, and someone spent a lot of time dressing up all the sets (especially the “phone-a-date” bar, and the Countess’s living room). The film is also peppered with music and singing (lots of it written specifically for this film, it seems) and while it is all very ‘80s and very generic, it is undoubtedly fitting for the film.
There are a few funny bits here and there. Especially Mark’s stupid friends can be rather fun at times. Also, the acting is rather decent. I may not like the writing and the characters, but that does not change the fact that the chief actors are doing their best.
Special mention should go to the late Richard Schaal, who plays Mark’s father in a fantastic performance. He is perfectly cast in terms of looks and poise-of-body, and his mannerisms are adapted in a way so that you would have no problem believing it if someone claimed that he actually was Jim Carrey’s father. But it is not just Schaal’s looks and demeanour. He is also giving a very strong performance with great timing, and he works well together with Carrey.
Now for the bad things: For the sake of brevity, I’ll omit a discussion of all the 1980s elements that are annoying in the film, like the odd attitudes towards sex and virginity, the many “gay-panic” jokes, the completely arbitrary changes in Robin’s opinions and motivations, etc.
I said that there are a few funny bits in this film, but even those rarely rise above “vaguely amusing”. And while there are a lot of unfunny parts, the film’s most common attempts at humour are either juvenile, or over-the-top (in a bad way).
As I mentioned, I disliked a lot about the way the characters were written; but even worse are the marginal vampire characters that are meant to assist in the world-building: Apart from her right-hand-man Sebastian (Cleavon Little), none of the Countess’s “posse” work for this film. Nothing about that gang is funny or interesting (props and costumes aside, which someone put quite a lot of thought and effort into). These “characters” (if you can call them that) have no function in the story and barely any connection to the plot – they are basically just there to provide the necessary number of feet and fangs for the finale.
Sebastian himself is a pretty bad 1980s gay/transvestite stereotype, but at least he has some personality and a defined function in the story.
There are rather pointless dream sequences that go on for far too long, and if you add all the other unnecessary scenes and consider the fact that the story itself plays out over a mere 85 minutes, you’ve got to ask yourself how much of that was just padding.
After sixty minutes of sub-par comedy, the film goes completely off the rails in a series of increasingly stupid and pointless scenes, which include: a “dance-off”, a forced and rushed late exposition in an extremely unrealistic scene, a slapstick shower-scene with “gay-panic” finale, and a scene with a gynecologist’s chair.
But even if I ignored all the bad elements in this film and only looked on the very few good ones, it would still be an extremely forgettable film, as there is absolutely no substance to either the story or the characters. Once Bitten not a good film, and it is particularly not a good comedy. Just to put this into perspective: even the much maligned Buffy film from ’92 towers way above this film.
I don’t think anyone should watch this film, unless you have a keen interest in 1980s fashion and design – and even then there must be thousands of better films to watch. My rating of the film stands at around 3.0 to 3.5 out of 10 – and I am absolutely serious when I say that I would sooner watch the entire Twilight franchise again than re-watch Once Bitten.