Friday, July 10, 2009

Once Bitten (Howard Storm, 1985)

One of the few films to properly examine the obscure affliction known as "Waking Up Goth," or, as it's called in the stranger parts of Manitoba, "Irritable Bauhaus Syndrome," the erudite Once Bitten playfully probes the overnight pale phenomenon with the warmth of over-lubricated dildo. Gently poking infrequently traveled confines is one thing, creating an avant-garde tribute to luridness that both conservative families and W.U.G. suffers can enjoy is quite another. A herculean challenge to be sure, but I thought the lighthearted film by Howard Storm was able to balance this heady criteria rather deftly, as it entertains and illuminates in an equal and evenhanded manner. Whether it's being a no-holds barred vampire comedy, or an enlightening glob of synergistic trumpery, the film never once panders or talks down to its audience. Which is weird for something appears to be so stupid on the surface. However, the surface is just a thing's outer coating, to really understand the nitty-gritty of something, you have to look deep into its inner core to be able to extract its true essence. And that's exactly what I did with this film. Oh, you should have seem what I managed to extract; the mess was out of this world. I couldn't help but feel an odd kinship towards this film, as the situation of high school senior Mark Kendall (Jim Carrey) mirrored my own. Now, I wasn't bitten on the thigh by some Countess (Lauren Hutton) in search of the rejuvenating blood of an unsullied teen. I would have liked to have been, but I wasn't. No, what I connected with was Mark's sudden bout with W.U.G. You see, like Mark, I, too, came down with a severe case of Goth when I was a teenage person. Unlike Mark, however, it wasn't exactly an overnight thing; I gradually found myself wearing a lot of black clothing and shunning the light of day.

Also, the manner in which Mark had to keep denying that he was dressed like a vampire really rang true with me, as I remember having repeatedly inform people that I was just going through a phase. Of course, it wasn't a phase, as proven by the fact that the mere sight of footwear not adorned with three or more buckles still manages to make me violently ill. (Seriously, why would anyone wear shoes without buckles? It doesn't make any sense at all.)

Anyway, watching the pasty dilemma of Mark Kendall in this film was like an energizing breeze gently caressing not yet gaping asshole of a lower tier porn star.

Now that I got all that mildly irrelevant nonsense out of the way, I want to focus on the actual ingredients that went into making Once Bitten the minor masterpiece that it actually is. Which is going to be difficult, because it doesn't actually possess the elements of your atypical masterpiece (sweeping camera angles, portentous dialogue, or an Italian American wedding). However, that's where my affinity for digging deeper comes in. And surprisingly, I didn't have to dig that deep to find it.

The montage where Jim Carrey's Mark and his dorky friends Jamie (Thomas Ballatore) and Russ (Skip Lackey) drive through Hollywood, much the same way Heidi Holicker, Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman and Cameron Dye did in Valley Girl, is the film's first standout scene. Capturing the garish vitality and upstart spirit of the mid-new wave period, this sequence is filled with shots of neon signs and the funky fashions of the day, and perfectly sums up the glorious era. If only every film had a late night driving montage through Hollywood circa 1981-85.

The other scene that ushers Once Bitten into the uncrowded realm of the masterpiece was the Halloween dance sequence to the strains of "Hands Off" by Maria Vidal. Now, Jim Carrey and Lauren Hutton have already proven their merit in the film: Jim's physicality during the showdown in the clothing store change room and Lauren in the seduction scene of Jim at her palatial home. So I wasn't shocked by their flair on the dancefloor. I was, on the other hand, completely taken aback by the sheer foxiness displayed by Karen Kopins as Mark's frigid girlfriend, Robin Pierce. You see, up until then she was bland and mousey (and not in a hot librarian kinda way). But when she sees that a forty-something vampire, her long legs encased in black pantyhose, is making an aggressive play for her suddenly Goth boyfriend, the previously dowdy Robin unleashes a firestorm of sexual artistry and taupe pantyhose at the grievous state of affairs, and begins to thrust and contort her previously unused organic structure in all sorts of arousing directions.

Dressed as Jill sans Jack, Miss Kopins somehow manages to hold her and then some with the statuesque Hutton and the nimble Carrey, as the motley threesome engage in a mind-blowing dance off for the ages. I liked how none of them seemed to use body doubles. Which was quite impressive considering how advanced some of choreography appeared to my neophyte eyes.

After the dance scene is over, I noticed a change in Karen Lopins' character; she seemed more confident, more comfortable in her own skin. Speaking of which, the amount of leg Karen shows during the finale at Hutton's mansion was unequivocally awesome. I adored the way she had her legs crossed as she sat bound and gagged, and plus she got tell Lauren Hutton's character, an aging vampire who needs to consume the blood of a virgin male in order to remain relatively youthful in appearance, to "fuck off" in a forthright manner.

Stealing scenes without the benefit of having shapely legs (though I'm sure their nice in their own peculiar way), the film is held together by Cleavon Little, who earns the majority of the film's intentional laughs via his seemingly utter disdain for the material. Playing Sebastian, Hutton's chauffeur/butler/makeup artist, the deadpan Little injects the film with a liberal amount of snide comments and bitchy one-liners.



  1. Interesting choice. I saw this back when it came out. I was 13 (you do the math) and, while not exactly a goth, I was certainly living a just-to-the-left of the mainstream life. I wouldn't go as far as calling it a minor masterpiece, but I enjoyed it a lot more than others. Also, Lauren Hutton was an AVILF (aging vampire ....).

  2. Math? Aw, man. Do I have to?

    I'm glad to know that there are others just-to-the-left of the mainstream who enjoyed this movie.

    She's a total AVILF! You know, an Aging Vampires Intergalactic Lacrosse Federation.

  3. Even though I was lucky to have seen HCH at such a young age I really didn't appreciate it. It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that I became a true "purveyor of badness" and started seeking out videos by Herschell Gordon Lewis, Frank Henenlotter, and even Fred Olen Ray.

    I can't wait for you to watch Evil Toons...I'm sure your review will be quite eye opening.

    Anyhoo, on to the movie at hand...

    This has to be one of my favorite reviews you've done...the "Irritable Bauhaus Syndrome" gag, lubricated didlo reference, a glimpse into your mysterious multi-buckled-shoed past, the Haiku-ish poetry that is: "an energizing breeze gently caressing not yet gaping asshole of a lower tier porn star", the praising of the montage, your love of a good dance sequence, your unbridled worship of the "sheer foxiness", "sexual artistry" and "taupe pantyhose" of Karen Kopins,and last but not least... recognizing the comedic genius that was Cleavon Little.

    Well done. Well done, indeed.

    I am surprised there was no mention of Ms. Hutton's audacious plunging neckline that teased the sweet release of her yummy 34-Bs or her delectable diastema.

    Wikipedia has one of the most erotic descriptions of the exacerbation of diastema I have ever had the pleasure of fondling with my retinas, dry humping with my primary visual cortex, and finger banging in the Wernicke's area...check it:

    "Diastema is sometimes caused or exacerbated by the action of a labial frenulum...causing high mucosal attachment and less attached keratinized tissue which is more prone to recession or by tongue thrusting, which can push the teeth apart."

    Hot, right?

  4. Nineteen or 20?!? Yikes. My badness purveying days didn't start until like, five years ago. Okay, I loved weird crap, but the so-called "good films" were definitely still in charge.

    I'm not that familiar with Herschell Gordon Lewis, but I do loves me some Frank Henenlotter; I can't wait to see his latest, Bad Biology.

    Thanks, man. I'm glad you liked my ramble. The references to "lower tier porn stars" and "taupe pantyhose" were thrown in there at the last minute.

    Even though I've seen Once Bitten multiple times over the years, my most recent viewing was the first time I really noticed the "comedic genius" of Cleavon Little's performance.

    The audacity of her plunging neckline must not have made an impression on me. The delectability of her diastema, on the other hand, was a genuine oversight on my part. I mean, I could have sworn I went on a nonsensical tangent extolling the virtues of her gap. Weird.

    Anyway, I promise it won't happen again. Let there be more gap love in the future.

    Mmmm, "labial frenulum," "tongue thrusting," "lustful characteristics" and "dents du bonheur."

    Hot, indeed.

  5. I haven't seen this movie in years. I actually did enjoy it.

  6. Most of my 20s were spent with Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video Guide, a video store membership and a vcr.

    There are so many great H.G.L films, but I think my favorite might be BLOOD FEAST...or GORE GORE GIRLS..or WIZARD OF's too hard to pick just one.

    I haven't heard of BAD BIO...I'll have to look it up!

    Isn't it nice when some of your best bits are totally last minute?

    If I remember correctly, Ms. Hutton gave Ms. Davis a run for her money in 1985 with parading excessive amounts of sexy vampiric cleavage.

    I'll be holding you to the promised gap love at the HOSI!

  7. Keith: I've noticed that "surprise enjoyment" is a common reaction of those who watch Once Bitten.

    Mr. Canacorn: Of course the Psychotronic Video Guide is long out of print; most cool things are. *sniff*

    I haven't read it, or even flipped through it, but I hear Stephan Sayadian writes a chapter in a movie book called Gods In Spandex: A Survivors Account Of 80s Cinema Obscura.

    I like the sound of the Gore Gore Girls.

    Bad Biology played some film festivals last year and should be coming out on DVD pretty soon (it's already out in the U.K.).

    Holy crap! I just saved that Geena vampire pic the other day. No real reason either; I just had to have it on my computer. Anyway, the cleavage is great, but the way her crotch is arranged is even greater.

  8. Oh snap! I'm behind on my comments here...and I haven't even brought up the great music videos you've picked in the past two weeks!

    Gods In Spandex?! The title alone is worth the conversion of my American dollars into the fourth-most-traded currency in the foreign exchange market! Thanks for the link.

    If you like the sound of GORE GORE GIRLS, you'll love the taste!

    Funny about the Geena picture...great minds and all that I guess?

    And you ARE 100% correct that the crotch arrangement of Ms. Davis (while not unique in its placement on the human body, what with it being between her legs and overlapping her groin) it is still a spectacular showing!

  9. Another great write-up about another great movie. The "he belongs to me! hands off!" Halloween party dance scene is a riot. It disappointments me that the actress who played Jim Carrey's girlfriend in this one (I already can't remember her name) has had such a small career since then. I would have loved to seen her go on to do more fun schlocky trash masterpieces like this one.