‘Once Bitten’ And Sebastian, The Film’s Queer Renfield [The Lone Queer]

once bitten sebastian

We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re going to take some deep dives into The Lone Queer characters present in horror films past. In the past, obvious queer representation has been scarce. Coding and baiting were prevalent, but there are some characters who have stood out as solid queer individuals. Most of those end up dead and buried by the film’s end thus giving birth to the phrase, “Bury your queers.” So let’s resurrect and appreciate those who were buried, appreciate those who survived, and those who were just a little bit naughty. Let’s give the respect that is deserved for The Lone Queer. 

It is a given that every head vampire has their Renfield. It is also given that almost every version of Renfield is just a tad bit queer coded. But when the Renfield to a head vampire bypasses the coding and is actually queer, is a nice reprieve. This is what the Renfieldesque character in 1985’s vampire comedy, Once Bitten, provides us. Gasp! A queer Renfield in a 1980s movie?! Yes, ma’ams, sirs, and theys. I’m thankful for it, yet still disappointed that they weren’t able to go full queer with the character.

Whilst the head vampire in Once Bitten is a woman (Lauren Hutton, making her second appearance within The Lone Queer), her Renfield, Sebastian (Cleavon Little) is more than explicitly queer-coded. This gives a sense of Hutton’s Countess as a gay bestie to Sebastian. There’s something a little more to their relationship, though. Never does Countess underappreciate or demean her relationship with Sebastian. If anything, their relationship is the best among all of the relationships in the movie. 

Also Read: ‘Savage Weekend’ And The Unapologetically Queer Nicky [The Lone Queer]

While every other character debases their friendships, cheats on their lover, or uses the other in their relationship to gain from them, Countess and Sebastian rely on each other for support. The power dynamic within a Renfield/Dracula relationship is always prevalent in most other vampire films. But here, Sebastian is a bit more than that to the Countess.

Of course, there’s the sense of a white woman depending on a black man to maintain her life, but it’s never indicated that Countess sees herself as Sebastian’s superior. While that’s the sense of a Renfield to a Dracula power dynamic, there’s a sense of equality between them. It’s obvious that she adores him, and he adores her. Yet, there is the obvious hierarchy, with the white female vampire being at the top. 

Once Bitten

Sebastian caters to her every need. That’s the sole role of his existence. Emotionally, he builds her up by making promises that she will find her next virgin. Physically, he acts as her alarm clock every evening. He dresses her, does her makeup, and upkeeps the mansion. The virgins that Countess has found over the years that she has turned into vampires all live with her, and it’s up to Sebastian to also take care of them. All that we’re shown in the film is him putting them to bed. They sort of mock him as a father figure with sarcastic “Goodnight, Sebastian.” Thankfully, the term “master” is never used to describe the position of the Countess. That would have been a whole other sense of cringe. 

Also Read: The Surprising Queer Representation In ‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ [The Lone Queer]

Sebastian’s place in the film may rely upon Countess’ existence, yet he’s given a sense of his own. The film opens with him vibing to some tango music while doing little things around the mansion. In the few moments of vibing throughout the opening, there’s not a single clue that Sebastian is queer. Of course, assumptions could be made, but at that moment, it’s neither here nor there. It’s not until a little later in the film when Countess is looking for him, and she finds him in her closet trying on some of her robes. “Okay, Sebastian, out of the closet,” she declares with a smile. Sebastian opens slides open the closet doors, declaring, “I came out of the closet centuries ago,” with a smirk. This results in a shared grin between the two. 

That is all that is spoken of when it comes to Sebastian’s sexuality. If we look at his character and interactions within the film, he would appear almost sexless which goes along with most queer characters in mainstream films in the 80s. There’s no comment on a lover, past or present. Sebastian isn’t given a chance to flirt with anyone in the film. Being the Renfield, he’s not quite a vampire, stripping him of the sexuality that other vampires in the film exude. 

Also Read: The Tragic Death of Brad in Blumhouse’s ‘Truth or Dare’ [The Lone Queer]

While Sebastian gets a decent representation within the film, other aspects of queerness don’t really get the same treatment. It’s your standard mainstream film from the 80s, unfortunately. A trans woman is portrayed for laughs when three friends go to a telephone bar. She calls the phone at the table of the friends and asks for one of them to come over. Once the friend realizes that she is trans, he instantly makes a disgusted face. The trans woman does get in a quippy, “Sissy,” when he runs away. 

Later in Once Bitten, two friends must investigate Mark’s (Jim Carrey) body to see if he has vampire bites on his inner thighs. They decide to do this in the shower after gym. It’s a sort of lengthy scene of them in the shower with the two friends trying to find positions to get a peek in between Mark’s thighs. There’s even the generic dropping the bar of soap gag thrown in there. When one of the friends gets tired of trying to be sneaky, he grabs Mark, demanding the other friend to “Look! Look!” The position that the three are in results in repetitive yells of “Fags in the shower!” 

Once Bitten

Sure, played for laughs. Also, sure, the sight of seeing three dudes in a position after showcasing many a male butt throughout the locker room could have perhaps resulted in a realization of sorts for some ’80s queers. Yet, the scene that follows is full of degrading terms and phrases for queers as the friends question what they just did as well as question their sexuality (which grosses them out). 

Also Read: ‘Saint Drogo’ Directors Michael J. Ahern and Brandon Perras-Sanchez On Their Chilling Queer Folk Horror [Salem Horror Fest 2023]

This is getting repetitive here, but it was the ’80s. The fact that Sebastian was such a great out and powerful character balances these moments in the film. There’s so much of me that wishes that he had just a bit more to do. Granted, Once Bitten isn’t his movie as that is relegated to Jim Carrey’s Mark, and his pursuit by Countess. 

What I wouldn’t have given just to have had a few minute conversation about Sebastian’s past. How did he become the Countess’s Renfield? Were they friends before vampirism even entered the chat? What was his journey with his sexuality? Did he come out before or after gaining whatever power he has? Is there anyone out there who can write a prequel Once Bitten for Sebastian? These are questions that I now want to know the answer to. These are questions that I feel Sebastian deserves answered. 



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter