Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hubrisween 2016 :: O is for Once Bitten (1985)

Our first inkling something screwy’s going on inside a particular mansion nestled deep in the Hollywood Hills is when a mincing butler prepares a breakfast in bed for his mistress and we notice it’s still dark outside. The second inkling that something screwy is going on is when the butler reaches the bedroom and we find his mistress is sleeping in a coffin. And the third screwy thing we notice is this breakfast consists of a glass of blood, whose vintage and donor the Countess (Hutton) easily identifies with a mere sip. Alas, vintage blood is no match for virgin blood and that is exactly what the 400-year old vampire really needs.

Seems the Countess must partake of virgin blood three times before a Halloween deadline to retain her youth and beauty for another year. And with the holiday just a mere week away, you might ask why has she waited so long? Well, apparently, finding a virgin isn’t as easy as it used to be. Regardless, the Countess will take no more excuses and charges Sebastian (Little) and the rest of her acolytes -- all former virgin victims who felt her bite -- to find her some *ahem* fresh meat to nibble on.

Meanwhile, in a suburban equivalent of lover’s lane, Mark Kendall (Carrey) is trying to go all the way for the first time with his girlfriend, Robin Pierce (Kopkins), only she wants to wait until conditions are perfect, which definitely disqualifies the front seat of Mark's ice cream truck. (It was the 1980s, just roll with it, folks.) Unfortunately for Mark, she won’t get any more specific on when that might be, just a desire for the moment to be special, and she’ll know it when they stumble upon it together. Confessing this to his two bestest and equally sexually incompetent buds, Russ and Jamie (Lackey, Ballatore), they all agree that after four years of going steady if she hasn’t put out yet odds are Robin never will, which is why Mark is still listening when his friends suggest they just head into Los Angeles and find themselves “an easy screw” and finally pass “the driver’s test for manhood.” Thinking this is just what his relationship might need, meaning, yes, he is that big of an idiot, Mark agrees to go along, thinking if he just gets his virginity off the table it will relieve a lot of the tension in his relationship with the waffling Robin and take the pressure off her. [Insert facepalm here.]

And so, this triumvirate of headed-knuckle pile into Mark’s ride and putter into Hollywood, specifically Sunset Strip, where they peruse the colorful nightlife, which is out in full force, including the Countess’ ever vigilant gang of virgin-hunters. And ya know, nothing says potential virgin louder, to me, than a couple of wide-eyed and mouth-agape suburban kids driving around a seedy section of town in an ice cream truck, who sneak into a swinger’s club on some fake IDs. 

Inside, the Countess quickly culls Mark from the herd and buys him a drink at the bar. From there, the small talk from a nervous Mark is cute but ultimately pointless (-- he thinks she’s a high class hooker and he only has, like, five bucks), and the attempt at foreplay later when they retire to her mansion equally so as the older woman -- and a lot older than he thinks, runs circles around the hapless teenager. And then things really heat up when his predatory host bites off all of his buttons, unzips his fly, and pulls his pants down, and then she goes down on him for what he thinks will be some oral sex. And while the highly aroused teenager can hardly believe what is about to happen to him, well, it doesn’t, as his date suddenly gets a bit bitey in a very sensitive spot...

While in college at Long Beach State back in 1983, between mulling over his career choices and pining for the girl that was about to get away, Jeffrey Hause collaborated on a “Fellini-esque” screenplay with his friend, Dave Hines, called Nightlife; a comedy, where a teenager gets bitten by a female vampire somewhere in the foreboding underbelly of Hollywood, which would ultimately climax on Hollywood Boulevard, where the protagonists would try to hold off a vampire horde with copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics in front of the Scientology HQ.

The script was picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Productions, who felt Nightlife pushed the boundaries of good taste but also felt it had great commercial potential with just a little tweaking. Hause and Hines got first crack at this, quitting school, and negotiated their own deal, sans an agent -- a decision they would come to regret. Another decision they would come to regret was the tone of their first rewrite, turning “a light teen comedy about sex and vampires into an allegory for herpes” as interpreted by the brooding artwork of Edvard Munch. This went over like a wet-fart with the producers and the pair were nearly fired; but calmer heads prevailed and they were given one more shot. The second draft went over much better, but it would go through at least three more extensive revisions over the next two years before it was finally approved.

As originally envisioned, Hollywood was a seedy place filled with homeless people and weirdos, where “a vampire could blend in and never be noticed.” And yet what appeared on screen in Once Bitten (1985) looked nothing like what Hause and Hines had written. Gone were the dive bars, several extended dream sequences, and a chase through a rundown carnival’s house of mirrors, replaced with one single dream and an incident at a brightly lit mall. Seems the film’s director, Howard Storm, brought in his own writer, Jonathan Roberts, to punch things up, weeding nearly everything out that got the script picked up in the first place. (Storm and Roberts would later unsuccessfully petition the writer’s guild to get Hause and Hines’ names removed from the credits altogether.)

And as the film shifted from a vampire movie invaded by teens to a teen movie invaded by vampires, gone was the constant angst and paranoia over losing one’s virginity, replaced with a lot of slapstick, homophobic jokes, and reducing the act of sex to a form of social commodity. For, when Mark wakes up later with no memory of what happened, the Countess assures he performed admirably. And so, with his cherry allegedly popped, Mark thinks his troubles are all over but they’ve only just begun as the Countess must feed on him two more times before Halloween, with a short reprieve between bites to revive the blood for … reasons.

And as the days post-initial bite progress, Mark starts acting a little strange. He’s suddenly developed an appetite for raw meat and an aversion to sunlight; he also heeds a strange compulsion to wear black and sleep all day in the confines of a steamer trunk. And he’s gotten so pale his parents are ready to get him to the doctor even though Mark assures he’s just fine.

Of course, on top of being in the first stages of vampirism, and in between dreams where he’s decked out in full Lugosi regalia, Mark also has to deal with Robin, who found out about his one night stand and tries to break it off with this cheating asshole. However, he isn’t even sure anything happened, thinking he passed out drunk, and through some quick talking, some enforced projecting (-- Robin thinks it’s her fault for not having sex with him), and a sincere pitch to salvage things, she takes him back, promising him he’ll be the first to know when she’s ready to finally do the deed. And with this anchor of feelings for Robin, Mark is able to resist the siren call of the Countess, who now must invade suburbia, ambushing her target in a dressing room at the mall for her second blood withdrawal that quickly devolves into a second-rate Marx Brother’s sketch.

But when she comes back for thirds at the Halloween Dance in the school gym, Robin won’t give up her man without a fight, which means -- DANCE OFF, BITCHES!, which quickly turns into a rout as Robin resoundingly wins, breaking the Countess’ spell on Mark. Vanquished for the moment, Sebastian assures his mistress he can get Mark to come to them on her home turf.

Meantime, after winning the best costume contest for his non-vampire vampire outfit, Mark confesses to what he’s suspected all along: that the Countess is really a vampire, he’s been bitten, and starting to become one himself, which is confirmed when his reflection keeps fading in and out. And so, Robin heads to the old staple of an antique book-seller to get the low-down on vampires, and how certain female vampires need the blood of virgins, biting them inside the upper thigh to get, uh, closer to the source?, maybe, whatever, and how they need that blood to retain their youth and beauty.

At this point, I’m not sure what Robin is more happy about: the fact that Mark (technically) didn’t cheat on her or that she has a plan to thwart the Countess. Alas, she gets abducted by Sebastian before she can reveal this grand plan to Mark, who follows them back to the mansion. And with Russ and Jamie as back up, they head inside, find Robin but are immediately captured -- all according to Sebastian’s plan. And so, with midnight rapidly approaching, Mark is strapped down and de-pantsed for one final bloodletting, which will restore the Countess and earn our hero his very own personalized coffin in her makeshift barracks in the basement.

While writing the script, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) was the template for the Countess, but the director wanted to use Morgan Fairchild. Kathleen Turner was also under consideration, but the role eventually went to Lauren Hutton, whose character was trendy in both temperament and wardrobe. For the role of Mark, the writers pushed for a then relatively unknown Michael J. Fox but got Jim Carrey instead, whose burgeoning comedic talents would prove a boon. And for Robin, former Miss Connecticut Karen Kopins subbed in for Hause’s ex-girlfriend, on which the character was based, who actually steals every scene she has with Carrey. No small task. He was great, she was better and deserved a longer career.

Showing quite a bit of acting chops already, Carrey does a pretty good job salvaging what little comedy remained in the script, which helps one to gloss over the designated and constantly misfiring comedy relief of the sexual misadventures of his buddies and some truly dated jokes, especially the infamous “rump ranger” shower sequence, where Russ and Jamie try to clandestinely locate the Countess’ bite marks next to their friend’s man-tackle.

And while the hall of mirrors gag was gone, there’s still a rather nifty sequence with an empty mirror where Sebastian reaches through it to touch-up the Countess’ make-up. (Turning her butler into a flaming homosexual was all Storm and Roberts’ idea, too.) I also dug the personalized costumes and coffins of the vampire goon squad, which allows the viewer to easily pinpoint their century or decade of origin.

And speaking of coffins, the ‘If the casket’s a rockin’ don’t bother knockin’’ climactic resolution was very clever and pretty hilarious as Robin is finally ready and found the right moment and saves the day (-- all it took was mortal danger, an army of vampires chasing them, and a large coffin built for two), when they escape and elude capture long enough to do the deed, making Mark no longer viable; and as the clock strikes midnight, the Countess is reduced to an aged crone, leading to one of the greatest final punchlines in gonzo cinema history.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 15 down with 11 to go! Oh, and Countess, about Kansas and Nebraska being a good spot for virgins? I gotta tell ya, there wasn't much to do in the '80s out here but drink and screw, so, good luck with that.

Once Bitten (1985) Night Life Inc. :: The Samuel Goldwyn Company / EP: Samuel Goldwyn Jr. / P: Frank Hildebrand, Dimitri Villard, Robert Wald / AP: Russell Thacher / D: Howard Storm / W: David Hines, Jeffrey Hause, Jonathan Roberts, Dimitri Villard / C: Adam Greenberg / E: Marc Grossman / M: John Du Prez / S: Lauren Hutton, Jim Carrey, Karen Kopins, Cleavon Little, Thomas Ballatore, Skip Lackey

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