Friday, August 7, 2020

Love Bites (1992) [copyright 1988]

Directed by:
Marvin Jones

Well this - a gay-themed soft-core vampire comedy from the late 80s - was certainly an anomaly for its time. And by "gay" I don't mean lesbian, because we've seen hot lesbian vampires doing their thing very frequently and very explicitly since the late 1960s. Hell, even Hollywood took notice after awhile and started making big budget lesbian vampire films starring the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. Gay men received no such mainstream treatment as they were too busy being made the butt of jokes in crude comedies or shown suffering and dying of AIDS in depressing dramas during the 1980s. That makes Love Bites, which features all gay characters whose sexuality is never really made into a big issue (it just is), a little soft-core man-man action, lots of full frontal male nudity and other things meant to appeal primarily to a gay male audience, one of the only films of this type from this entire decade. Of course, it had to be made with next to no money but, hey, it's cool that someone at least bothered.

Out of the gate, I gotta give the filmmakers credit for even getting this out there at all. Though there was certainly a market for gay X-rated films back then (and there was already at least one hardcore gay vampire film called Gayracula [1983]), a soft, non-porn gay romantic vampire comedy had to have been a hard sell. Growing up in a small town, none of the video stores I grew up visiting ever would have stocked a title like this... at least not on the main shelves where they'd put straight or lesbian soft-core vampire films. Chain stores also wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole. I'm assuming this probably ended up in adult book stores and the adult section of video stores though it's no more a "porn" than any other R-rated horror / exploitation film with female nudity.

Aspiring vampire slayer Jake Hunter (Tom Wagner) has actually never run into, let alone killed, a bloodsucker. Still, that doesn't stop him from thinking about, talking about and obsessing over vampires night and day, and plastering his apartment with vampire / horror movie / Duxorcist posters. Such preoccupations don't help his love life any, however, as he can barely get creatures of the night off the brain long enough to pay attention even when a potential suitor (played by gay porn actor Erich Lange) strips buck naked and is crawling all over him. His date sighs, "You're real cute. You're real nice. But you're real weird!" before making a quick exit. Nonetheless, Jake has bigger fish to fry. There have been recent vampire sightings in West Hollywood that he plans on investigating. He loads up a duffel bag with wooden stakes, a mallet, a bible and a crucifix and is off.

Jake breaks into a remote house where he (rightfully) suspects the vampire lives. He's first greeted by the flamboyant, country-accented Leslie (Christopher Ladd); who's a bit abrasive, a bit annoying, a bit flirty and more than a little bit sassy, but underneath it all eventually proves to be good-hearted. He also has most of the film's best lines. When Jake first meets him and suspects he's a vampire, he thrusts a cross in his face, to which Leslie responds, "Oh please. That fire and brimstone shit went out with Tammy Faye Bakker!" Turns out that Leslie is actually a hustler or, as he likes to call it "a gentleman of easy availability," who's been lured to the home under false pretenses. The home's owner; the tall, blonde and handsome Count Damien Vincent Sanders née Vladimir (Kevin M. Glover, who also wrote and produced), and his sniveling, bug-obsessed, black-clad manservant Manfield (Bernard Barnes Jarvis), who clearly takes make-up and styling tips from Robert Smith, eventually show up.

During their brief conversation, Jake (who at first pretends to be a lost strip-o-gram) and the Count take a liking to one another, which starts Jake on the path to reconsidering his vampire busting hobby. But before things can progress any further, the still-scared Jake sneaks Leslie out of the house. The following day when they assume Damien will be asleep, they break into the home again and find him peacefully resting in his coffin. However, Jake finds himself unable to go through with staking him. Yes, folks, he's fallen in love. And the feeling is mutual for the 347-year-old ("... and still getting carded") count, who hasn't had sex nor felt love for centuries. After learning more about the bloodsucker, including that he doesn't associate with other vampires and doesn't actually kill people (he only visits blood banks or takes enough from willing donors to sustain himself), Jake finds himself willing to give love with the undead a chance. I mean, he's an outcast. And the vampire is an outcast. So why not, right? But just how will the Count react when he discovers the contents of Jake's duffel bag?

It's obvious that this was made with very little money. For starters, it's shot-on-video. And then you'll notice very few outside shots and location changes. The sets are barely dressed and they try to make up for that using some basic colored lighting. It's extremely talky. There are only five people in the entire cast and no special effects whatsoever. In many ways, this resembles an 80s porn flick or perhaps some poorly-filmed off off off Broadway play. The only possible ways to try to make up for most of the above is through a solid cast and script. Well, surprise. This film has both. There's an appealing, earnest lead performance from Wagner, a pretty good count in the 6'6" Glover and Jarvis is amusing in the Renfield role. However, Ladd's rapid-fire stream of one-liners and enthusiasm manage to steal the show. Glover's script is also fairly well written. Though this includes a few social issue nods (about "fag bashing" and such) and takes a turn for the more serious toward the end, there are lots of genre in jokes and clever, amusing lines in here. The developing friendship between polar opposites Jake and Leslie is also surprisingly charming. I laughed quite a bit watching this, which is more than I can say for a lot of vampire comedies I've seen with 10 times the budget.


Glover and Jones had previously made the home invasion horror VENUS FLY TRAP (1987), which was also shot-on-video, campy and filled with nudity (including numerous women, along with the men), though not as well written. Massacre Video, who handled the DVD release of Venus in 2015, has also recently released this title. It's remastered from the original video source and comes with audio commentary from Glover and director David DeCoteau. I watched the VHS version so I can't vouch for the film's upgrade in quality. Not to be confused with yet another romantic vampire comedy called Love Bites, which was released the following year and starred Adam Ant.

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