ReMake Me Over: Once Bitten

Oh, I’ve been struggling to write this particular entry. I think the reason is how do you best articulate the need to remake a film that largely is already enjoyable as is? That’s often the main crime of a remake: the original did not need to be remade. If something needs to be remade, the original should have considerable flaws that hold it back, or the remake should be as different as possible from the original. Once Bitten is not a terrible film by any means, nor is it great, but it is fun and delightful. If you need a film with a splash of dark humor, this is it.

Once Bitten is ostensibly a teen-sex comedy that happens to include vampires. It isn’t a horror film by any definition, though even to say it is a sex comedy is generous. As is teen since it is quite obvious most of the main cast is in their early twenties. It’s an 80’s sex-driven teen comedy that uses the perils of becoming a vampire as a parallel to frustrations of getting laid. It’s not a deep film. Maybe that’s cause enough for a remake.

That, and one very awful scene in particular, but I’ll dig into that later.

The plot revolves around supposed high schooler Mark, played by a young Jim Carrey. Mark is devoted to his girlfriend Robin, played by Karen Kopins, who is equally devoted to him. Except she’s in no rush to “do it” unlike Mark, who casually admits that he isn’t either and won’t pressure her into anything she’s not ready for. It’s slightly refreshing to see such restraint in a film from a decade known for its on-screen depictions of decadence. While they reach an understanding that they both have the same urges, there’s still some tension between them because Mark is a horny boy!

You see, the source of the tension is that Mark and his two pals went cruising in a Hollywood bar. On the prowl for some strange, Mark gets seduced by a lovely strong-willed woman none other than The Countess, played by Lauren Hutton. Long story short, The Countess successfully lures Mark back to her mansion, gives him a little love bite to get a little sip of his sweet boy juices, by which I mean blood.

To get to the heart of the film, Mark is being groomed to be The Countess’ new pet as his virginity means he has the purest blood to keep her looking ever-youthful, but Robin has gotten wise and she no-likey. A battle for Mark’s soul and his love ensues and everyone learns a very important lesson in the end. What that lesson is, I’m not sure. But the film has a rocking dance sequence that shows off Jim Carrey’s rubber physiology.

This is one of Carrey’s first lead roles and you can tell he hasn’t quite yet tapped into that manic “charm” that would launch his career towards the heights of the moon and the stars. It is quite jarring to see how he underplays in this role. Now, he is still quite wacky but it’s less so; his performance resembles that of the one he gave in Liar, Liar before the fantastical nature of that film took over.

What Works

Jim Carrey’s subdued performance is one of the touchstones of the film. He gives flashes of what’s to come later in his still budding career, providing evidence that he has always known when to hold back and act with emotional depth, not just comedic exaggeration. Yes, I know that this is a sex comedy, but let me give Carrey credit here.

To heap praise on Carrey would mean to ignore the abilities of the other actors in helping prop up the film. No one gives a tour de force performance, but the work put in is enough to convince you that the relationships between characters are real and to empathize with them. The chemistry between Carrey and Kopins is believable as well, giving us a grounded almost realistic depiction of a couple. Their affection for each other warms my cold black heart. He gets picked up by some strange woman at a bar and she clearly violates him in some way and his girlfriend is still willing to stick with him because she sees he is actually sorry and accepts responsibility for his poor decision and bad action. While that’s not terribly realistic, it makes for a more compelling story revolving around a teenage couple trying to weather a tempest beset by an eternal being.

What Doesn’t Work

An infamous shower scene that traffics in the worst homophobia for a laugh that goes over as well as long wet fart. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll say this: the scene is unnecessary, adds no value, serves nothing to move the plot along, could easily have been edited, and the “joke” goes on for way longer than it should have. If you’re curious, I’m sure it’s on the internet somewhere but trust me and anyone else who has watched this film and know that it isn’t worth it. The film has some other “light” homophobic and transphobic jokes as well, and while it might be difficult to truly look past those moments to enjoy the rest of the film, they stick out just enough to make it tough to swallow.

This is a movie depicting high schoolers but no one acts like they’re in high school. A major fault of 80s teen-centric films is that the leads are rarely played by actual teenagers. The goal is to put these characters into adult situations, creating a fantasy for the viewer to see as desirable or relatable. Teens want to be treated as adults or mature, or at least taken seriously, especially the closer to the age of eighteen they are. And boobs. Knowing that an actor is an adult makes it less icky when they are shown naked or topless. So when I see everyone acting with some sort of independence that doesn’t feel natural or real for the average teen, it disrupts my acceptance of the reality. This didn’t need to be set in a high school and all other adult characters that aren’t The Countess and her familiar are extraneous and add nothing. Mark’s interactions with his parents could have easily been cut along with the shower scene and the film would have been all the better for it.

How Would a Remake Work?

Vampires have gone through numerous transformations in popular media. From undead creatures of the night lurking in the darkness to debonair counts in lush capes to rebellious youth in leather jackets stalking boardwalks to angst-filled youth in slim-fit jeans who don’t know how to express their feelings. Yes, the vampire as manifestation of carnal desires has taken many forms to varying response and acceptance. 

Once Bitten is a fun little film that isn’t immune to the perils of the bad humor of the 80s. Humor evolves in waves, transitioning through eras where we suddenly become more aware of how tasteless jokes once were in light of our newfound “wokeness.” We learn to do better and not laugh at things that are malicious or harmful. What hampers Once Bitten is that it was definitely a product of its time. That said, knowing what’s wrong with it and being critical of those weaknesses does not take away from my overall enjoyment. Maybe we can crowd-rage a demand for the homophobia-free cut to be released and rejoice in the rewards collective begging can yield.

But since I doubt we could actually conjure such power, let’s just fantasy book this shit.

I like it when a remake can deviate from the original in such a way that it complements it or sets itself apart so you can enjoy both equally. No one should go into making a remake as means to be held as the superior unless the original was inherently flawed and completely irredeemable that the only logical thing was to burn it all down and start again. Of course, such cases are rare, so we have to settle for the happy medium of remakes doing the same thing but with a twist. To mind, the one remake I can speak with confidence as being superior in some way to the original is David Cronenberg’s The Fly. We know the original is an iconic piece of sci-fi horror; a classic tale about the dangers of radical science that turns men into monsters, or sometimes just tiny little insects caught in large webs while they scream incessantly with voices loaded on helium. Cronenberg pushed that conceit to an uncomfortable edge and then kept pushing, perfecting the sub-genre of body-horror and telling a terrifying tale that runs parallel to the real-life horror that was the AIDs pandemic, then-new to the 1980s.

Does this mean Once Bitten should be some sort of parable with gross body transformations? No, not necessarily. In this case, Once Bitten could be better served by amping up certain aspects of the original story. You strip it down, it’s a classic story about a boy in love with a girl but that love is threatened by an interloper who seeks power over the boy. That feels like a lot of movies and is pretty common in vampire stories, especially in my personal favorite The Lost Boys, which can also be read as an allegory for bisexuality.

Remake Criteria

  1. We move the setting from high school to college. Aging up the characters means we can avoid the squick of watching adults pretend to play sex-crazed teenagers and can have characters who are slightly more mature and independent.
  2. Have more queer representation. I’m not arguing this as to make up for the homophobia present within the original, but rather that I’d like to see a vampire film in the mould of The Lost Boys and be more explicit in it’s sexuality and the desires of the characters.
  3. Darker shades of humor. What was present in the original was plenty of comedy. What was lacking was an edge to that comedy. The film played it safe where it could have taken a risk most of the time.
  4. Vampirism and falling under a vampire’s spell as a metaphor for being trapped in a toxic relationship.

Why I want to graduate the film from high school to college isn’t just to make it more believable that adult actors are playing teenagers, but also because college is the time that we flirt with adulthood and all the trappings that come with it. That includes relationships. We can feel like we’ve moved on from that awkward phase in high school where you fumble your words around your crush, but it isn’t all that different in college. It’s just in college we can ditch our baggage (or do a better job concealing it) and pretend we have clean slates when we meet new people. We can reinvent ourselves. We can pretend we’re mature and act like we know what we want. We can trick ourselves into thinking that this casual thing has meaning or detach all feelings and keep it strictly casual. We can act on impulse or reflect on what our feelings mean.

I’d want to graduate the protagonist from being a high school senior to a college senior. There’s more responsibility on the shoulders of a college senior in regards to your future and the choices you make. You have to think about jobs, careers, grad school, whether you actually want those things, if your degree is going to be the foundation you thought it would be…. I recall my senior year of college being more existentially terrifying than high school because I couldn’t wait to be done with those four years of my life, naively thinking the next four would be a vast improvement. How wrong I was.

My vision for the protagonist is someone who has a close circle of friends, is smart, but still quite inexperienced when it comes to deep and meaningful romantic relationships. They’ve had a few flings but none that they felt would amount to anything. They’re seriously committed to their future and everything from this point on must conform to those plans. The film can follow the same plot beats of the original from here: protag and friends go to their local hangout spots on campus, enjoy the crisp autumn night, talk about how the start of their final semester is going. Just really casual but no need to get too deep right away. Our protag is more contemplative than usual this night, having just ended what could have been a potentially fulfilling relationship with someone they had been seen with since the end of the previous semester. The rest of the group lightly confronts them about this perceived critical flaw in their personality, which causes the protag to split from the group for the remainder of the night, feeling that they’re being attacked. So now they take a trip around the town, towards previously unexplored spots in search of a place that is a deviation from the norm so that they don’t need to worry about running into anyone they know. It is here that they will meet the vampire, our antagonist.

An antagonist is only as strong as a protagonist, and this is where I’d want them to be less a mirror or reflection of the protagonist’s traits. To follow up on my fourth piece of criteria, this is where we will lay the foundation for the start of a toxic relationship. A vampire shouldn’t seek someone because they’re an equal but because they’re someone to possess, to hold power over. The rest of the film would explore the themes of what it looks like to be in a toxic relationship but in denial. When you’re cast under a vampire’s trance, you have surrendered yourself to them. Your willpower is absent and they are in control of you. The power dynamic is imbalance and you’re at their mercy.

If you’ve known anyone (or yourself) that has been in a toxic relationship of any kind, then you know what kind of effect it has on a person’s entire being. Trauma is powerful and drains you. Emotional dependency has been fostered because this other person has constructed a relationship in which what they provide is far more vital than just survival. Often, survival is entangled in those aspects, further complicating appearances of the subservient role one might take. It isn’t complacency if you’re trying to avoid another round of abuse for the slightest fault you commit.

In this remake, the vampire simply exploits our protagonist’s weak points, which isn’t only intimacy, but also insecurity and a lack of confidence. They suffer greatly but silently from imposter syndrome. They feel they are not as smart as they present or that their grades reflect. Leaving the comforts of college means being thrown into the real world and having to fend for themselves and they don’t feel prepared for that. They have seen what reality is after college from their own family and the struggles they had growing up. They know that just because you make the grade in college doesn’t mean you get everything you want after it’s over. Everyone is fighting to survive and sometimes you have to be willing to plunge a stake through the heart of your rivals even for just a slimmest margin of your worth. The antagonist sees this and offers them kind words of support, striking for their vulnerable ego. The night burns on and the drinks are downed, leading to an inevitable one night stand. The next morning, our protagonist awakes in their own bed, unsure of how they made it there and if the night before was just a dream. They head to the bathroom and take a good look in the mirror. Upon their neck is a hickey, thus confirming that the previous night was indeed real.

Where I want the story to go from here isn’t fully fleshed out. The idea in my mind is that the protagonist makes amends with their friends about the other night, all is forgiven, but they feel hollow as time wanes. At the end of each week, they’re out seeking their paramour as the craving for their body intensifies. They sink into a slight depression and begin to question what it is that they really want for their future. Eventually, they do find the phantom lover and admit their mutual attractions. As they spend more nights together, the antagonist drops hints that they could take care of them; that they can offer the protagonist all that they desire. They see it in their lover that they suffer and struggle, but for what ends? The possibility that the struggle could last far beyond college? That they are far less qualified than someone else for a role well beneath their station? By now the seeds they had sowed from their previous interaction have begun to sprout so now they tend to them. They’re watering and nurturing these alien thoughts, strengthening the spell. Another night together, another drain on our protagonist’s soul.

In the days following this encounter, the protag cycles through intense personality changes that begin to worry their friends. They’re skipping classes, sleeping in, staying out late, looking disheveled all the time. Their demeanor is less than pleasant. They’re missing deadlines for grad school application submissions. They’re lashing out at strangers and innocent bystanders. They keep screaming about how they don’t understand, only this mystery person does, etc, etc. Again, toxic relationship, you know the drill.

The friend group gets together to discuss their concerns about the protag. They list all the changes they’ve seen and (if anyone reading this was a psych major in college like I was then you know all about this) start diagnosing them in very unqualified ways. It makes sense given that since they don’t really know what’s caused this change, they have to hazard guesses as to what it could be psychologically. One proposes the idea of following them out one night, see where they go because they harbor the suspicion that it could be drugs, which the rest feel is plausible but they’re not 100% confident in. Regardless, it is decided they’ll follow them and see where they spend their nights.

It’s around this same time that the protag starts to feel the hunger scream out more from their gut and it is unbearable. Part of why they’ve been weak and irritable isn’t just because they miss the companionship of the one who holds power over them, but also because they have not satisfied the craving for human blood. So, on this night when they seek to rendezvous with their lover and are being stalked by their friends, they encounter a random stranger who gives them a funny look. Almost instinctively, they grab this stranger, drag them into an alley and sink their teeth into their neck, tearing free the flesh and slurping up that delicious warm human blood. And their friends just happen to be witnesses to this and express complete and utter shock at what just happened. They flee in terror, loudly. This alerts the protag who stops and looks at what they’ve done. Realizing they’ve murdered someone, they flee the scene only to run into their lover. They apologize profusely, but they forgive the protag and take them in their arms.

The rest of the film would follow the same beats of the original with the friends reaching the conclusion that their friend might be a vampire but when they line up all the evidence and connect the dots, it makes sense that they’re turning into a creature of the night. They attempt to confront the protagonist but they continue to deny that anything is wrong, that they could be a murderer let alone a vampire and say that they’re splitting to go stay with a new friend they met while they try to figure things out, chief among those things being withdrawing from college completely as they let slip that they might live permanently with their newfound partner. The friends’ concern has now reached an apex and begin to plot how to get their friend back and defeat this vampire threat.

I’m up in the air over how this should end. Ultimately, there should be a showdown between the protagonist and antagonist, where the hero is triumphant and vanquishes the villain swiftly and with lots of blood and gore. As far as things returning to normal? I don’t think things should return to normal. If anything, end the film on that note with the friends briefly celebrating their victory only for the gravity of their reality to slowly weigh down upon them. After all, the protagonist did kill at least one mortal human that they know of, and just because they slayed this vampire, it doesn’t mean they were the only one. Just because you’ve escaped a traumatic experience doesn’t mean you get to go back to normal. That experience stays with you. ?The future is different and unknown, but those memories linger and they haunt you.

Loose Thoughts

  • I didn’t get a chance to explore the dynamic of the ancillary characters, but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. I would probably retain the same dynamic as the original film, with two to three close friends.
  • I proposed then failed to follow up on a love interest for the main character that precedes their involvement with the villain. I think that’s probably on purpose subconsciously. I don’t think it’s important that they become a stronger presence unless they’re critical to the main character’s journey.
  • Ideally, I’d like to see the protagonist and antagonist both be women because I think women as vampires have not been strongly portrayed in film beyond that of the male fantasy.
  • I recently watched a film on Shudder called Bliss and it was fine. I felt like it was a real letdown overall but it was less than 90 minutes, so it moved quick. A lot of the concepts in that film I feel would work well as the bones for this hypothetical remake. In that film, a starving artist keeps taking this drug that helps them with their artist block but it also leads them to craving flesh. Again, it could have been better but it is fine for a quick watch.
  • There should definitely be a sassy familiar in this film vamping it up.