Friday, October 7, 2016

ONCE BITTEN (1985) - *½

Rated PG-13
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: November 15, 1985

Once Bitten is a horror/comedy that takes the teen-sex romp and adds elements of the vampire genre, combining to form a movie that appears to be about as awkward as a teenager dealing with their first zit. A young Jim Carrey stars as Mark, a high school student who is desperately trying to get his girlfriend, Robin (Karen Kopins), to put out. However, he is frustratingly refused entry into the teenage sexual realm that constantly surrounds him, as shown in an opening scene where he stands in a parking lot full of bouncing cars. Meanwhile, in the hills of Los Angeles, the Countess (Lauren Hutton) is awakened by her assistant, Sebastian (Cleavon Little), from a slumber. The Countess is a centuries-old vampire and her search for virgin blood has become increasingly difficult because, let's face it, it's the 80s and everyone is doing it. Or so this movie would have you believe. One night, the Countess meets Mark at a Hollywood night club where people talk to each other over the phone before making their way to a table to hook up. The Countess convinces Mark to go home with her, just as a horribly awkward and unfunny scene involving one of Mark's friends and an insanely jealous husband unfolds. At the Countess' home, Mark passes out after being bitten and is led to believe that he had sex with the woman. We find out that the Countess needs to drink Mark's blood two more times before Halloween in order to stay young. This plot point is not explained any further. Soon after, Mark begins to show signs of abnormal behavior, such as sleeping in a trunk, ordering his hamburger raw and drinking a glass of blood drippings from meat. Mark soon believes that he is turning into a vampire and that the Countess is stalking him. This leads to a scene at the high school dance where Mark wins best costume as a vampire ("I'm not wearing a costume!") and an out-of-left-field dance-off between Mark, Robin and the Countess. The dance scene was choreographed very well, but really felt out of place. 

The story here is pretty pedestrian and doesn't really provide many details other than what the plot requires. You know a story like this is in trouble when it requires four screenwriters. For a comedy, the jokes are just not that funny. There are a couple of chuckles here and there, generally reserved for Cleavon Little as Sebastian. You might remember Little as the black sheriff in Blazing Saddles. Here he chews the scenery and is one of the few bright spots. The humor is also very dated such as in a scene where Mark's friends, Jamie (Thomas Ballatore) and Russ (Skip Lackey), look for bite marks on Mark's inner thigh while in the high school gym shower. Boys run out of the shower screaming at the slightest idea that there may be a homosexual in their midst. There is also a running gag with a pickup line that one of Mark's friends has that is more groan-inducing than funny.

As for the performances, Lauren Hutton is nice to look at and seems rather comfortable working in a comedy but mostly plays it straight, leaving the gags to the rest of the cast. Although, her constant bemoaning of never being able to find a virgin seems like something the screenwriters thought would be funny. Jim Carrey is rather likable in his lead role while Karen Kopins is cute and sweet. However, the material they all have to work with here is just bad. Four screenwriters and not one of them could write anything intelligent? This is director Howard Storm's first and only feature film. With a background in directing mostly episodes of television sitcoms, it shows on-screen as the camera work is pretty standard and there are really no style points to be handed out.

Once Bitten doesn't work as a horror film because it's not scary. It also doesn't work as a comedy because it's mostly unfunny. That is not the fault of the cast, however, who try hard with what they have been given to work with. The movie believes it is more clever and witty than it actually is and with stronger writing, this film may have been a sweet and funny nod to the urges we all felt when we were younger.

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