AND NOW THE STREAMING STARTS Presents:
THE ADDICTION (1995)
Review by Jenny Orosel
Why do people watch horror movies? There’s something we get from momentarily dipping our toes into the darkness. Horror films are a nice, safe way to do so and still be able to pull ourselves out when it gets to be too much. What happens when a movie not only goes even farther, but grabs its viewers and pushes them into the abyss? Those are the movies that polarize the viewers and get people arguing whether it’s the best movie of all time or the biggest piece of garbage. When I found out Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION (1995) has no legitimate U.S. DVD release, my first guess was because it pushed too many viewers too far. Unlike movies like A SERBIAN FILM (2010) or even SALO: 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), which showed too much for many viewers, THE ADDICTION relies more on getting into your brain and forcing you to think about the nature of evil and, if you go where the movie is leading you, you might not like the answers it has.
THE ADDICTION uses a familiar trope. On her way home from class at NYU one evening, philosophy grad student Kathleen (Lili Taylor) is accosted in an alley by a woman named Casanova (Annabella Sciorra), who demands Kathleen tell her to leave “like you mean it.” Kathleen, shocked into inaction, only begs. Unsatisfied by the level of assertiveness, Casanova bites a huge chunk from her neck and sucks away. There’s no surprise that Casanova is a vampire and Kathleen is now one, too. The film’s theme of treating vampirism as an addiction isn’t new either. What sets THE ADDICTION apart is the details.
Lili Taylor is absolutely amazing as a woman for whom the abstract study of good versus evil becomes a painful reality when she becomes addicted to blood. From the beginning, when she might have had a choice to reject evil (would Casanova really have left her alone if she’d been able to tell her so with more conviction?), she has to face the balance of good and evil within herself. At first, she’s content to get her blood from stealing some through sticking homeless men with hypodermic needles and injecting it into herself. It’s not long before it’s not enough to satisfy the hunger and she feeds in a more traditional way: by feeding directly from other people. Yes, it turns them into vampires as well. But what is more important—their desire to stay human or Kathleen’s desire to rid herself of the pain of withdrawal? It’s not an easy question to ask and answer, but Taylor gives a seamless performance where you can see the subtle changes her character goes through as she comes to terms with both her new self and her new self-awareness. The scenes where she tries to fight the addiction and suffers the withdrawals are some of the most haunting I’ve seen captured on film.
The supporting cast is fantastic as well. Sciorra gives Casanova’s cold amorality a truly human face. Ferrara got a great supporting cast to play Kathleen’s victims. While they could have easily fallen into the “needed killing” category of many horror movie victims, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Paul Calderon, and Kathryn Erbe use their small amounts of screen time to make their characters into three-dimensional people. While you may not like their characters, you feel a little empathy for their getting pulled into the addiction.
A stand-out is the cameo of Christopher Walken as a veteran vampire who claims to have his addiction under control. While his character doesn’t move the plot, it does serve to deepen the philosophy angle. Is evil a choice? Is evil in the actions we perform or is it in our hearts? In one breath, Walken’s vampire says he hasn’t drank blood in forty years. In the next breath he discusses eating children as casually as if they were peanuts. Is he evil because he that’s in his brain, or is he not evil if it’s been decades since he acted on his hunger?
As with Ferrara’s body of work from that era, the city of New York is as much a character as the humans. As with KING OF NEW YORK (1990) and MS. 45 (1981), he uses the city to reflect the icy cold heartlessness of the situations the characters find themselves in. Filmed in high-contrast black and white, it is a perfect mirror for the moral extremism Kathleen has made of both her career and her life. If THE ADDDICTION were set in any other city, it would have been a completely different movie, and probably a lesser one.
The script by frequent Ferrara collaborator Nicholas St. John is absolutely brilliant. As I said before, little new or unexpected happens with the plot. But it’s a tough challenge to take the kind of heady philosophy—with references to Kiekegaard to William Burroughs—and have it sound natural coming from a character’s mouth. In THE ADDICTION, you can imagine these conversations happening in the real world. That’s one hell of a feat.
All in all, I like THE ADDICTION quite a bit. It’s a fantastic horror movie for when you want a balance between a traditional monster flick and something that truly gets under your skin and has you thinking long after the end credits roll. It’s a shame this appears to have disappeared into the background when discussing vampire movies. At one point, this movie was in print in the UK, Spain, Germany, and Italy, but not anymore. As more Blu-ray distributors are amping up their horror lines, I hope at least one of them hasn’t forgotten this gem.
WHERE TO SEE THE MOVIE: Currently, you can stream it on the Amazon “Filmbox” channel. If you’re not a subscriber, there is a copy available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js1a1AR41FY as well.
© Copyright 2017 by Jenny Orosel