Once Bitten, 1985
Directed by Howard Storm, written by David Hines, Jeffrey Hause, and Jonathan Roberts
Jim Carrey as Mark Kendall
Cleavon Little as Sebastain
Thomas Ballatore as Jamie
Skip Lackey as Russ
part1 (mostly Sebastian)
“Fags in the Showers!”
Oh look. It’s a 1980s teen sex comedy. Let’s all lower our expectations accordingly, shall we? No, lower than that, please.
Then set lame gags about sex-starved teenagers embarrassing themselves to stun!
I dimly recollect this playing in the background on Channel 5 while doing homework some twenty years ago, but didn’t remember it being so mediocre as this. Then again, American network TV in the ‘80s tended to cut and edit and censor left right and centre, so some of the more banally abrasive material may not have been judged suitable for my screen. I once saw a broadcast of “Blazing Saddles” on Channel 11 with a totally silent version of the campfire beans scene. How bad is this film really? Well, even if you’re the world’s greatest Jim Carrey fan, do you recall it? Nuff said. Wouldn’t you rather watch “Fright Night” with Roddy McDowell? Even the smut is underpowered.
The gist of the film is that a vampire Countess in modern day California has to suck the blood of a virgin if she is to keep her youthful appearance, and so she sets her sites on the still-virginal Jim Carrey character. It’s the Countess’s black man servant Sebastian (played by Cleavon Little) that’s the first big gay joke (Yeah, a black manservant, like that’s not going to give anyone the PC heeby-jeebies?). Why a homosexual manservant? Well to give it more thought than it deserves...if you’ve got a female vampire, then a homosexual character allows for a give and take between the two, without any possibility of upsetting the balance of power or entertaining any thoughts of sexuality since she already has her other sexual Renfield-type thralls. Anyway, Sebastian is introduced languorously strolling around the Countess’s Los Angeles mansion, tidying up, and making ornaments nice. He’s even clasping a flower, for god’s sake. Prissy and swish without saying a word it’s obvious that he’s gay. There was a mini-trend of gay black characters in other comedies of this period, “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Mannequin”, but unlike those camp screamers, Sebastian is played as a haughty fashion queen. The character plays off the stereotypes of the prissy fashion-obsessive since he is the Countess’s personal stylist and interior decorator. His manner is overly precise gestures, his face is permanently set with lowered eyelids and arched eyebrows, and he’s bitchy too. There are some one limp wristed get-away-with-you gestures. If he’s not in conversation with the Countess, then he’s standing off the side pulling moues. Otherwise he’s being knowingly lascivious. When the pair happen to be in a women’s clothes shop, then he’s overly attentively fondling ladies clothes. And if you’d hadn’t got the homos are transvestites implications in that, then the next joke’ll kill you. He’s in the Countess’s walk-in wardrobe, and when he’s steps out of it he’s wearing some of her attire. See, it’s a gay man coming out of a closet, see, see! They have the audacity to do that joke several times. And like almost every gay character when threatened, it’s taken as a sexual come-on:
How d’you like your crotch set on fire
Woooo, rough trade!
Cleavon Little did redeem himself later, winning an Emmy in 1989 for his guest appearance in an episode of the sitcom “Dear John” as a gay man who falls in love with the lead character.
Besides all the stuff with Sebastian, Mark’s two friends keep finding themselves in distinctly gay encounters. At a phone bar (how 80s), there’s a brief scene where one of the friends is picked up by a guy in drag, then there’s the moment of realisation the friend makes his excuses and runs off in panic.
Then there’s the scene where the two have to try and spy bite marks on Mark’s upper thigh, with Hilarious Homoerotic Consequences. It’s two guys trying to look at another guys genital area without embarrassing themselves, until it almost becomes a shower rape scene. As everyone then runs out to the cry of “Fags in the shower! Fag Alert!” Probably the only funny thing is the camera work so you can’t seen everyone’s arses. As the next scene makes clear, it’s not just any sexual humiliation, this homosexual humiliation.
Jamie: This is horrible. This is the suckiest thing that could ever happen! The whole school thinks we're... gay!
Russ: Hey, our past history speaks for itself! No one's going to think we're gay.
Jamie: I don't have a past history, okay? And neither do you! This is it. We might as well move in together and get his and his towels.
Russ: What were they doing in the showers in the first place.
Jamie: They were washing. We were re-enacting a prison rape scene!
Jamie: No! I knew it. We enjoyed it!
Russ: Would you shut up?
Jamie: No that's it! We're homos! We're rump-rangers!
The two main writers were incredibly ashamed of all this, claiming that their script had been largely rewritten by the director, and therefore they didn’t deserve their execration by Vito Russo in “The Celluloid Closet”.