Abel Ferrara/ USA/ 1995/ 82 mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 25 Jun 2018
Existentialism is an obvious subtext of vampire literature and films. Endless examples exist of a protagonist attempting to retain an essential humanity as an endless passage of time stretches ahead. There is often an underlying melancholy or swell of tragic romance, which makes the sub-genre ambrosia for misfits and outsiders. Abel Ferrara is no stranger to portrayals of such figures so a vampire movie seems a sleek fit. He ditches the romantic streak however, and hauls the philosophical themes onto the surface. His characters openly espouse Sartres, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, embracing a casual nihilism that can be taken at po-faced value, or a satire on youthful pretension. The result feels like a suitably grunge-era look at addiction and original sin that acts as a rejection of the lush neo-romanticism of Copolla‘s overblown Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
When young philosophy student Kathleen (Lili Taylor) is hauled into an alley and bitten by lithe vamp Casanova (Annabella Sciorra), she finds herself succumbing to the familiar symptoms of vampirism; an aversion to sunlight and the thirst for blood. After the initial shock, she becomes, well, philosophical about it.
Filmed in stark black-and-white, The Addiction My Laiis a grainy, grimy little film and the aesthetic feels apposite in its examination of evil. Ferrara mixes his undergrad-level musings with images of mass graves from the Nazi concentration camps and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. We can debate the idea of evil and the ideologies that adopt it, but while it’s being considered in the abstract, there are people very much adopting it in practice.
The petite figure of Taylor is an unlikely vamp, and this works well, as we see the evolution in her vampirism in converse to the degradation of her soul. She begins by surreptitiously extracting blood from the arm of a homeless man to inject directly into her veins, and is soon chomping merrily on all and sundry, her professor and classmates among her victims. The correlation between vampirism and drug use is, like its philosophical concerns, somewhat on the nose, but its bluntness is part of the film’s overall effectiveness.
Also getting his teeth into an indelible cameo is Christopher Walken as a vampire who has managed to force his addiction to bend to his will; a sinner in search of redemption.
Ferrara makes a virtue of the low-budget nature of The Addiction, forcing the story and themes to be viewed on their own terms. Its satire is infinitely more subtle than its philosophy, but this is not the dour, ponderous affair it initially appears. It’s grubby and bleak, but strangely enjoyable. A good example of creativity and intelligence overcoming limited means.