Originally released 15 Nov 1985
Written by David Hines, Jeffrey Hause, and Jonathan Roberts from a story by Dmitri Villard
Directed by Howard Storm
Starring Jim Carrey, Lauren Hutton, and Karen Kopins
My rating: 1/2 star
Disastrous teen vampire comedy not even fun for train wreck enthusiasts.
There were two comedies in the 1980s about high school boys turning into vampires: 1) the lesser known, but sweet My Best Friend Is a Vampire (1988), which I gave 2 ½ stars to in a review several years ago, but upon reflection would up my assessment to 3 stars; and 2) Once Bitten. Once Bitten is more famous because it marks the first leading role for Jim Carrey, as high school student Mark Kendall. (I think the name is a play on “Ken doll” reflecting Carrey’s square-jawed good looks.) In an effort to lose his virginity, he meets an ageless vampire known simply as the Countess (Lauren Hutton).
The Countess is on a desperate search to find a young, male virgin—she needs three transfusions of virgin blood to maintain her youth and beauty. Unfortunately, changes in sexual mores mean that virgins are hard to come by in 1985. Enter Mark, whose longtime girlfriend, Robin (Karen Kopins), simply won’t put out, leaving him, tragically, an 18-year-old virgin.
It’s the existence of Robin that harms this film from the outset (no offense to Ms. Kopins, whom I fondly remember from a number of performances in the 1980s). The problem is that our protagonist—the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for—spends half of his time whining that his girlfriend of six years won’t have sex with him and the other half trying to cheat on her. Mark is not a likeable guy from page one. In fact, I spent most of the movie rooting for the Countess to get him and make him part of her harem and then for Robin to come along, stake him, and declare herself the first Vampire Slayer. If Mark had been a high school guy who was a virgin because he couldn’t get a date, the movie would have worked better. He would have been an underdog in over his head, not a slimy guy who pressures his girlfriend for sex only to cheat on her when she doesn’t give in.
Fans of Carrey might appreciate the early examples of what would become Carrey’s signature mugging. But for those of us who are not fans of his comedy, these moments just make us want to slap Mark harder.
The movie has other flaws. The makeup is distractingly bad. Cleavon Little is cringe-worthy as Sebastian, the Countess’s stereotypically gay butler. The movie embraces the 1980s MTV aesthetic creating several music video-like montages and one dance number, which is not necessarily a flaw—I personally like that aesthetic because I grew up with it. Unfortunately, the songs aren’t very good, and Hutton and Kopins aren’t dancers. (Kopins acquits herself better than Hutton in their “dance-off.”)
Lauren Hutton is sensual and lovely as the Countess, but there’s not much she can do to sell the substandard material. A stronger actress with a more exotic or foreign air might have served the movie better, but no matter how well you serve rancid food, it’s still rancid.
Maybe if the film were funny the other flaws could be forgiven, but there isn’t a single solid laugh in the whole film. Mark is given two friends as comic sidekicks, but they’re completely unmemorable. I barely can picture them, and I just rewatched the movie yesterday. They’re not even worth my looking up their names. Plenty of 1980s films have comic sidekicks that add to the film—Curtis Armstrong in Better Off Dead… leaps to mind, but there are many others. The two from Once Bitten just seem like obligatory placeholders.
So what merits the half star in my assessment? The fact that it’s not “please let me by struck by lightning so I don’t have to watch any more of this” bad. It’s just “I have to turn the channel now” bad.
FUTURE STAR ALERT: The ticket-seller at the high school dance is Megan Mullally.