Writer: Nicholas St. John
Cast: Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Paul Calderon, Michael Imperioli
Running time: 82mins
What’s the story: New York philosophy student Kathleen (Taylor) is turned into a vampire after a nocturnal attack. Struggling with a new craving for human blood, she also comes to learn more about the nature of evil.
What’s the verdict: While Abel Ferrara’s cinematic cred may have expired some twenty years ago, during the ’80s and ‘90s there were few directors as raw, fearless and exciting as the Bronx-born madman.
The Addiction, his take on vampirism, is steeped in ‘90s touchpoints: AIDS, drug dependency, underclass anxiety, and comfortable middle-class ennui.
A canny move also for the director and then-regular Ferrara screenwriter Nicholas St. John to make this about vampirism. The word vampire never appears, and Taylor’s Kathleen doesn’t sprout fangs. But, off the back of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire phenomenon, bloodsuckers were boffo box-office.
Yet anyone, then or now, looking for horror thrills are likely to be left scratching their heads rather than hiding their eyes. Written by St. John after the death of his son (as was 1996’s similarly themed The Funeral, also directed by Ferrara), The Addiction employs vampirism as a metaphor for man’s unending capabilty for evil.
Which places the film firmly in a chic-bleak bracket, fashionable back in the 90s, when the great moral concern was Consumerism. Kathleen’s Goth moping and proclivity for eye-rolling utterances (“Medicine’s just an extended metaphor for omnipotence”) now align her with vaping vampire cosplayers. The philosophical highfalutin (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kierkegaard and Sartre are all name-checked) occasionally results in unintended giggles.
Plus, casually deploying images of My Lai and the Holocaust in a vampire movie, no matter how grungy and serious-minded, is just slappable.
Thankfully Ferrara’s dark wit balances the script’s philosophical noodling. Tunes by Cypress Hill and others are a Greek chorus on the action, scenes shot on the seedier streets of New York pack a dangerous vitality, while a climactic bloodbath dances between comedy and terror. And for a movie about moral murkiness, the decision to shoot in black-and-white also raises a smile.
Taylor is magnetic, whether struggling with her changing condition, shooting up homeless blood, or turning anyone who tries to help her. With dark shades and lank hair, her character’s appearance may be a wry aside on the director’s trademark look.
Surrounding her is a gallery of 90s indie cinema faces. Annabella Sciorra scores in a cameo as Casanova, the vampire who attacks Kathleen. For Sciorra’s finest performance check out The Funeral, and then hate Harvey Weinstein even more for suppressing the actor’s talent. Christopher Walken amuses as a vampire who has learnt to love his addiction. The Sopranos’ Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli, and Pulp Fiction’s Paul Calderon also make appearances.
Not as impactful as the two Ferrara films this closely resembles (1982’s rape-revenge movie Ms.45 and 1992’s astonishing Harvey Keitel starring Bad Lieutenant), The Addiction still leaves a bloody mark.
DISC AND EXTRAS
The stark black-and-white photography looks suitably oppressive in this Blu-ray transfer. A host of special features gives The Addiction the red-carpet treatment (we suspect someone at Arrow is a huge fan).
Abel Ferrara’s fact and opinion packed commentary is the best of the bunch. Mediated by Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens, it is by turns amusing and enlightening. And a reminder there is no one like Ferrara left on the filmmaking scene.
Elsewhere, Stevens’ 8-minute appreciation is one of those great extras that packs insight and enthusiasm into a small amount of time and may have you revising your opinion of the film.
Talking with the Vampires is a newly commissioned retrospective with input from Taylor, Walken, composer Joe Delia, cinematographer Ken Kelsch, and Ferrara.
A new Ferrara interview, archive footage of him editing the film, plus the original trailer complete another great package from Arrow. Guys, could you pick up The Funeral and give it the same treatment?
To buy The Addiction direct from Arrow Video, click the below image: