‘Love Bites’ and the 90s’ Attempts at Reimagining the Vampire Mythos
Vampires are one of our oldest myths, conjured up thousands of years ago and persisting through every meteoric change our world has seen. The idea of immortality — even attained through monstrous means — continues to fascinate us. As a result, the horror subgenre has splintered into even more finite subgenres, including a softer side of the demonic that features films like Rockula, The Little Vampire, and a 1993 gem that slipped through the cracks: Love Bites.
The 90s were perhaps the peak of the vampire renaissance, at least in terms of famous films to come out of the genre. The two most obvious are Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but you’ve also got Blade, From Dusk Till Dawn, and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A massive number of vampire films were released from 1990 to 1999, countered only in popularity by the success of the Brendan Fraser-led The Mummy.
(Boris Karloff, eat your heart out.)
With such a large influx of stories specifically about the same kind of monster, it’s unsurprising that each would try to put its own spin on a fairly cut-and-dry mythos: bloodsucking, immortal monsters who can’t go out in the sun but who can be defeated with wooden stakes and enough garlic to make my Italian grandmother sneeze. Hundreds of these stories set the standard for what audiences could expect from vamps on screen, and, at the risk of boring audiences to tears, filmmakers had to find a way to flip the sexy, dangerous archetype on its head.
Some, like the much later and more infamous Twilight, picked subtle ways to set their vamps apart: sparkling in the sun or not being reactive to crosses, normally a weapon used to repel the antichrist-adjacent beings. Others picked rather dramatic ways, particularly with the advent of the “vampire as punk” aesthetic that emerged with films like The Lost Boys and Near Dark in the 1980s.
But Love Bites remains one of my favorites. A 1993 star vehicle for musician Adam Ant — who by that point was on his seventh studio album and slowly losing the sex symbol status he’d accrued as an 80s new wave darling — the film takes a uniquely sappy approach to vampires, leaning far more towards Notting Hill than Nosferatu. Choosing not to modernize his undead look, the film follows Zachary Simms (Ant), a vampire who woke up from an accidental hundred-year nap in ‘93 (big mood), only to find that his once-grand New York residence has been subsidized into apartments. And now, the entrance to his crypt leads directly into the apartment of Kendall Gordon (Kimberly Foster), a woman he promptly falls head-over-bat-wings for.
Love Bites does what very few vampire movies dare: posit the idea that a vampire can become human again. This is achieved simply by embarking on a year-long blood fast, in which they slowly learn to adjust to consuming the food humans eat, instead of the humans themselves. When Zachary falls for Kendall, he makes the impulse decision that he likes living in the 90s, and wants to become human again in order to fully embrace everything the twentieth century has to offer. This, naturally, rankles the exes of both Kendall (Roger Rose) and Zachary (a pre-Star Trek Michelle Forbes), but does not seem to be as massive or treacherous a prospect as many other 90s films make a life of vampirism out to be.
The concept of simply reacclimating to human food makes almost no sense. Is Zachary simply not drinking blood anymore? What happens to his immortality, an element of vampirism that no writer has ever been able to explain away with science? Apparently, the affliction of vampirism is fully reversible, according to Love Bites, with the only thing stopping people going from human to vampire and back again is a little bit of effort. (And, of course, not being re-turned, a thing that is apparently also possible.)
Given that writer-director Malcolm Marmorstein spent a number of years of his career writing for Dark Shadows — a famously campy story of vampires and their contemporaries — it’s unsurprising that a number of ridiculous questions present themselves throughout the film without ever being answered. Much like Barnabas Collins, Zachary Simms as a character (and star vehicle) is meant to be the draw of the film, not necessarily the vampire aspect. The film is as much a soap opera as Dark Shadows ever was, leaning far more into the emotional elements of the story than its monstrous underpinnings.
(Though the film does manage to give Adam Ant a good few opportunities to neck on some women under the guise of drinking their blood, which feels oddly appropriate on a number of levels. Look up “Rough Stuff” on YouTube and thank me later.)
Marmorstein’s experience with the long-running, campy success of Dark Shadows is perhaps what sets him above the rest of his vampiric contemporaries; he leans into a silliness that most vampire films from the 90s on seem to lack. Love Bites feels less like a rehash of the same tired story because it embraces its status as a paranormal romance, leaning into the conventions of the rom-com and proving that horror can be whatever it wants — and that scary doesn’t always have to be part of the equation.
It’s no real surprise that the film was completely ignored, bringing in exactly zero aggregated critics reviews, given that the 90s were a decade defined by their edginess, rather than their embracing of the weird and wonderful as the 80s had been. But while Love Bites makes no realistic sense (or at least, as much sense as a film about bloodsucking monsters can make), it never claims to in the first place. Kendall cleans out Zachary’s crypt and replaces his aging coffin with a shiny new one, and Adam Ant waltzes around in shimmery gold pajamas (no, really), with his “cover” being that he works for Häagen-Dazs (no, really).
There’s something refreshing about pulling away from the tortured nature of the classic vampire story, distinct proof that making something “edgy” isn’t the only way to differentiate. Love Bites is symptomatic of the kind of low-budget star vehicles built for pop stars going into the early 1990s (see also: David Bowie’s turn in The Linguini Incident), but gets away with its schlockiness by wholeheartedly committing to its mythos, even if there is seemingly no point behind them.
While blood is staple of the vampire genre for good reason, Love Bites lacks it almost entirely, opting for an avenue that sets it apart from the overdramatic antics of its sister films. In much the same way Practical Magic puts a lighthearted spin on the tale of witches, Love Bites turns the dollar-store paranormal romance into a living, breathing thing, proving that having a heart might be more important than living forever after all.