A cerebral raw vampire movie set in 90’s New York from the man behind the insane Bad Lieutenant and The Driller Killer may seem strange but Abel Ferrara is more than able to deliver something very daring and different with The Addiction not only from his past work but also many other vampire films.
Shot entirely in black and white the basic tale is as old as Bram Stokers and before as philosophy student Kathleen Conklin (The Conjuring’s Lili Taylor) is randomly attacked one night by a mysterious and monstrous woman who bites her neck and transforms her into a vampire.
Stricken with a terrible sickness Kathleen comes to realise the only cure is blood and starts to feed not only on homeless people and strangers but also her friends. Soon her hunger becomes all-consuming and it seems nothing can stop her that is until a chance encounter with Peina played by the wonderful Christopher Walken.
Peina is a vampire like Kathleen but he has been fasting for 40 years. Taking her in to try and contain her craving and the chaos it creates he offers her a new way not only of looking at her dreadful dependence but also at life as a whole. However Kathleen’s thirst for blood is so strong it seems the addiction may have already taken her over.
With great performances throughout from Taylor and her costars Edie Falco, Annabella Sciorra, Paul Calderon and Onyx member Fredro Starr it is Walken that shines as the ancient vampire living a normal life in total control of his addiction. It is a pity he doesn’t have more screen time in fact and you are left craving more, wishing they had made a sequel or prequel all about his character.
The Addiction offers a sobering gritty art house shot in the arm to the grand gothic Hollywood vampire films from the same time including Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992 and 1994’s Interview with a Vampire both of which romantacise the fang toothed monsters in lavish period pieces which couldn’t look more disparate to Ferrara’s desperate and dirty film packed with death and despair.
That’s not to say there are not parallels and in fact the one element of The Addiction that may leave viewers cold is also the closest link to traditional vampire literature. Packed with philosophical musings and quotes from famous authors and thinkers from Kierkegaard to Dante, Feuerbach to Burroughs and beyond, the script pinballs between pretention and poetry at times becoming impenetrable to anyone without a master’s degree in the subjects discussed.
Although some may feel this spoils the film and stops us truly connecting with the characters I think it works well not only because the film attempts to discuss big ideas of sin and redemption, guilt and punishment, religion and society as a whole but because there is something intrinsically affected and annoying about vampires as a whole.
The most highbrow of all monsters throughout film and literature vampires have always appeared cultured, suave and intelligent and this is another extension of that concept as Kathleen post transformation spouts complex concepts and references great thinkers like a jittering junkie on her journey from theory to practice on the nature of evil.
Sparse and low budget Ferrara’s film written by longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John has a very 90’s slant on the mythos of the vampire not only drawing parallels with the rampant rise of drug addiction and junkies on the city streets but the AIDS epidemic that was so prevalent in popular culture at the time. The characters have a cynicism against the American government and a detachment from war time atrocities many of which we see in photos and news footage throughout the film.
Brutal and brilliantly shot The Addiction is very much of its time but still a surprisingly innovative take on vampire lore and a must for anyone addicted to blood sucking movies searching for a fresh fix.