A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #16: “Once Bitten” (1985)

by A.J. Hakari


Of all the inauspicious debuts I’ve written about for this Horrorthon, Once Bitten is probably the most tolerable yet. Alright, so Jim Carrey had been around for a little while before this genre comedy landed in his lap, but it gave him the greatest exposure he’d had to date (plus, it’s funnier than Return to Horror High, so I’ll take what I can get). But if you’re hoping to see the wellspring from which Carrey’s talents blossomed, then you’d have better luck with The Dead Pool. Once Bitten doesn’t make a fool out of the guy, but it sure knows how to bury his skills beneath piles of terrible puns and a feeble sex farce.

In the twentieth century, it looks like teenagers and vampires have equal trouble getting laid. Hapless high-schooler Mark Kendall (Carrey) has been driven to frustration by his girlfriend Robin (Karen Kopins) and her refusal to hop in the sack just yet, so he hits up Hollywood’s night life to blow off some steam. There, he falls into a one night stand with the Countess (Lauren Hutton), a slinky seductress with a bit of a secret. She’s actually a centuries-old bloodsucker, and to maintain her youthful sheen, she needs to feast on Mark’s virginal essence thrice before Halloween. But when Robin finally realizes why Mark has been acting more awkward than usual, will there be enough time to save him from joining the Countess’ harem of the undead?

“Inoffensive” is the best way to describe Once Bitten. Everything is so neutral and dialed-down, from the sense of humor to even the ’80s-ness of the whole thing (I’m shocked Cleavon Little’s gay chauffer wasn’t Hollywood Montrose incarnate). But that’s something of a pickle when you’re making a horror-tinged sex comedy and only have so big a stable of PG-13-safe double entendres from which to pick. Carrey gives a likable performance, and Hutton is reasonably campy, but the overall mood is so harmless, all you can do is yawn as the Countess zeroes in on Mark’s groin. As for the supporting cast, Little is cool as a cucumber, and Kopins has fun shedding her character’s goody-good persona later in the story. But you’ll beg for physical harm to befall Mark’s horny friends, stumbling around like the Not Ready for Porky’s Players to no avail or chuckles.

Once Bitten is a small-time curio that’s in no hurry to be indulged. It has a few amusing lines to its name, but the laughs are mostly cheap, and it puts far too tight a leash on what an energetic and diverse talent Carrey would prove to be. As hip as it pretends to be, Once Bitten has more cobwebs than Bela Lugosi’s medicine cabinet.