Friday, September 07, 2007

Once Bitten – review


Directed by: Howard Storm

Release Date: 1985

Contains spoilers

This was an early lead appearance by Jim Carrey and that, in itself, makes the film interesting in that, whilst this is not the sort of performance we would come to expect from Carrey, it does show flashes of the comedy he would later become famous for – its just a pity that the film itself isn’t particularily laugh out loud funny. It does, however, contain the worst excess of crap bat syndrome that I can think of and we’ll get to that soon.

breakfast in coffinIt begins with a man, we latter discover to be called Sebastian (Cleavon Little), fussing around a large house and preparing a breakfast tray – though it is dark out. He eventually gets to a room and knocks upon a coffin, awaking the inhabitant, the Countess (Lauren Hutton). As she drinks her breakfast – Hungarian peasant 1700s – we get a glimpse into the main plot.

They discuss the closeness of Halloween and the fact that a virgin has not been found. It seems that the Countess must feed three times from a virgin male before the stroke of midnight on Halloween to maintain her youth and virgins, in 1980s LA, are hard to find. Her coven of vampire servants are ordered to find one such virgin. These vampires, for some reason, seem obsessed with wearing the period dress of their lifetime and, it appears, all have coffins reflecting their life as well, for instance a wicker coffin for the flower child vampire (Robin Klein).

Robin and MarkMark Kendall (Jim Carrey) is frustrated. When we meet him he is in his ice cream van with his long term girlfriend Robin (Karen Kopkins) and she isn’t willing to put out – not in that situation at least. To make it worse every other vehicle has a copulating couple in it. Yes, this is essentially a teen sex comedy. The next day Mark visits his friends Russ (Skip Lackey) and Jamie (Thomas Ballatore) at their burger stall. Here we discover that Mark’s idea of a perfect burger is for it to be cremated. The friends, who are the comedy sidekicks but in fact are pretty cringe worthy throughout, suggest to Mak that they cruise round Hollywood looking for an easy pick up.

Thus Mark and friends end up in a telephone bar. Here things do not seem to be going their way until Mark is targeted by the Countess. A distraction, in the form of Russ and Jamie talking to two women, a cuckolded husband and a gun, means that the Countess manages to get Mark out of there and takes him home. The bite, when it happens, seems to be rather low down – though exactly where is only revealed later in the film. Mark passes out and, when he awakens, the Countess implies that he is no longer a virgin – though that is not true.

a bite from a dreamWhat we then get is the Countess hunting for her next feeds with Mark becoming more and more vampire like (including wanting his burgers rare) as the movie progresses, a comedy of errors between Mark and Robin as she discovers his infidelity and then decides she wants him anyway and the race to protect Mark from the third bite.

the trouble with having no reflectionLore wise we discover that crosses do not work, but fire does and vampires cast no reflection – thus we get an empty mirror sequence, with Sebastian applying the Countess makeup, which would be used again, more subtly, in Vamp. We also discover that the female vampire bites at the top of the inner thigh – the place close to the source of untapped sexual potency.

crap bat syndromeWe also get a couple of dream sequences, dreamt by Mark, which leads us to one of the highlights of the movie in a ‘so awful you have to see it’ kind of way. We are talking major crap bat syndrome, don’t believe me just look at the screenshot. A fluffy bat, would you credit it. Okay, it is a dream sequence but that is no excuse.

dance sequenceThe other highlight of the film works despite itself. The soundtrack is an awful pastiche of 80s faux rock and we have an obligatory dance sequence and yet it becomes a highlight. The dance sequence is at the school’s pre-Halloween Hop and represents the battle for Mark between the Countess and Robin. With a combination of both actresses looking great and Carrey let of the leash a little, comedy wise, it does work.

early example of old rubber faceTalking of Carrey, he is restrained through most of the film, whether he hadn’t yet found his craft comedy wise or whether he was directed to play the majority of the film straight, I don’t know. However we do see glimpses of his trademark physical comedy coming through and it is interesting because of this.

in Lugosi modeThe dream sequence with the crap bat also has Carrey dressed up in full Bela mode, complete with hand gestures – and you know what, he looks quite good. There is a very brief moment where he manages to contort his face into an almost perfect Robert DeNiro, a sequence that happened so quick that it was damn near impossible to get a decent screenshot.

The main comedy of the film is okay, a little bit amusing but not laugh out loud funny. The film, unfortunately does not know where it is coming from. On the one hand it is an indictment of promiscuity – go looking for casual sex and nasty things will happen. The bites on the thigh are a very unsubtle analogy for a STD. Then again the solution to Mark’s problem… well think Cherry Falls.

I should mention the way the film handles homosexuality. Sebastian is gay and the filmmakers obviously thought they were being forward thinking having a main character who is gay, even if he was stereotypically camp. However there is a joke, based around the boys locker room, which I genuinely think was meant to be just a joke, with no offence intended, but the joke itself and the aftermath is likely to cause offence to a gay viewer, especially the ‘my life is over’ line that follows the sequence.

Lauren Hutton as the CountessFor the rest of the cast; Hutton hams it up wonderfully as the Countess and Kopins looks great but the rest are average or below. This is a bit of a damp squib of a movie, to be honest, with a couple of reasons to look in but nothing to go overboard about.

3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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