Friday, October 30, 2009

"I'll Stake My Life On It!": Love Bites (1988)

Well folks, here is part two of my XXXtravaganza after a brief pumpkin retreat. I settled down to watch this softcore Dracula flick, hoping it would live up to the scholarly and critical praise I have come across while researching Dracula porn. It's been a while since I watched a VHS tape (the only format you can get this movie in) and when I pressed play, my heart sank: blurry, a "red glow," and the familiar "double vision" of the late-80s, shot-on-video movie, complete with that tinny audio that accompanies really low-budget fare, kind of like the walls of the set are thin. Sigh.

Well, it may come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that by the end of the movie I was in tears - as in, I was literally crying. With happiness! I'm writing this full of a gooey romantic feeling, as well as a sense of joy that a great script, committed actors, and a particular level of passion and charm can really make a movie, regardless of budget.

It's the late-80s in West Hollywood, and Jake (Tom Wagner - a cross between Peter Saarsgard and Joaquin Phoenix), our vampire-obsessed protagonist, is telling his douchebag boyfriend that there's "activity" in West Hollywood, and he plans to exterminate the West Hollywood Count (writer and producer, Kevin M. Glover). Jake's douchebag boyfriend is only interested in one thing, and breaks up with Jake, telling him, "I can't deal with weird in my life right now." Good riddance - he was a hindrance to our hero's quest. Go to the Count's house, Jake!

Jake arrives at the Count's house, breaks in, and is mistaken for a trick - procured for Manfield the servant (Bernard Barnes Jarvis) by his pimp, the Count. Yes, it appears the Count is pimping out Manfield these days, but Manfield seems more interested in eating flies than fucking. We discover that Leslie (Christopher Ladd) - a Texan "fag" who looks like a be-mulletted David Spade and has the best lines in the movie - is the trick. After lots of confusion, and a moment of animal magnetism between the Count and Jake, Jake runs off with Leslie, much to the love-struck Count's disappointment. After Jake has convinced Leslie to help him kick Dracula's ass, they return to Dracula's home, and the remainder of the film takes place there. Is Dracula really the monster the movies have made him out to be? Should Jake listen to his heart? Should he drive a stake through Dracula's heart? Could it ever work between a mortal and a 347-year-old gay vampire? Most of these questions are answered in this genuinely funny, energetic, high-camp romp.

One of the things I noticed right off the bat was that everyone in the movie is gay, yet it's not seen as odd - in fact it's assumed to be the case, kind of like how we assume everyone to be straight. The only character whose gayness is remarked on as unusual is Dracula himself - and it is he who has had the most trouble with sexual relationships. Another interesting element of the film is the way it counteracts typical mainstream representations of homosexuality - I find most of these representations to focus on the "sex" aspect of gay identity, and in society as a whole there's the homophobic assumption that all gay guys are going to fuck each other. One of the refreshing aspects of Love Bites was the non-sexual relationship between Jake and Leslie - initially, Leslie, in all his outrageous, Texan fabulousness, hits on Jake and is constantly flirting with him. But before long, they establish a genuine and touching friendship, complete with a couple of tense moments, followed by reaffirmations of their friendship. When they do both find love, there is a scene in which they playfully share in each other's happiness which I found to be really sweet and unexpectedly moving. The tone of the film is really fun and silly, but these moments of tenderness shine through, and caught me unawares a few times.

Ladd, as Leslie, basically steals the movie, performing his role with gusto. Jake and Leslie's arrival at the Count's home, planning to kill him, is a stand-out scene. Leslie is terrified, and Jake tells him to "try and butch it up a little" in case the neighbors see. Leslie minces around, before flexing his muscles out, and performing his "butch" role with a stilted deep voice: "Yo, fuckin' A! How about those Dodgers? No one plays football like them, eh? How about them cheerleaders? That's primo pussy!" I don't think I'll ever stop finding queer impressions of straight guys funny, and Ladd takes the cake. Once inside, they discover Dracula's coffin, and looking at the stake in his hand, Leslie asks, "Well, did you bring any lube, or do we just drive it in dry?" Classic.

Ultimately, Love Bites makes "an attempt to draw out or exorcise the monster from the queer," as scholar Harry M. Benshoff puts it, rewriting Count Dracula as a misunderstood "monster" who, it turns out, just wants to find love. The film ends with Jake and a bedraggled Dracula (having been almost killed by "fag bashers") facing the impending sunrise together, hoping that Dracula may survive it through pure love. Jake bites the Count's neck in a hopelessly romantic effort to perhaps reverse the effects of vampirism, and as they walk out into the sunrise to the swelling sounds of Tchaikovsky, we're left not quite knowing whether or not their love won out against the Count's "curse."

That's when I started welling up, and realised I really gave a shit about these people - even Manfield, who falls in love with Leslie and asks permission to not be Dracula's servant anymore. Totally unexpected. I recommend this to those who like discovering little gems, and can actually find a copy.


3 comments:

X-Ray Specs said...

Sounds like a winner. I doubt I will ever run across this rare gem, and that's too bad cause me and the Mrs love a good vampire story.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I saw a movie from this same group of filmmakers (Marvin Jones and Kevin Glover) called Venus Fly Trap and thought it had a lot of male nudity for an 80s horror. I guess I now know why! This one sounds much more interesting than Venus, which is like a shot on video copy of House on the Edge of the Park.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Mr. X - yeah, it's a rarity. Perhaps you'll stumble across it at a yard sale. And it's definitely high on romance, low on vampirism, just so you and Mrs. X aren't disappointed should you ever watch it.

BPH - kudos to you for seeing their other work! I'm impressed. Sounds like the video quality in Venus is about the same as Love Bites - the quality of the script lifted this one above its fuzzy picture though. Guess Venus didn't.

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