UK Release Date: 25th June 2018
Runtime: 82 minutes
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Nicholas St John
Starring: Lili Taylor, Edie Falco, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Fredro Starr, Kathryn Erbe
Synopsis: When she is bitten by a vampire in an alleyway, a woman becomes consumed by an addiction to human blood.
Vampirism has always been a metaphor for something or other, ever since the first appearances of blood-sucking figures in fiction. For Abel Ferrara in his 1995 horror The Addiction, the metaphor is a simple one. In fact, it’s in the title. Two decades after its release, the movie is considered one of Ferrara’s best, and that’s certainly a moniker it deserves. This is a complex and intriguing philosophical tale that, while occasionally getting lost in its own verbose meanderings, has plenty to say about human nature and the way we are drawn to sin.
The avatar for the titular dependence is Kathleen (Lili Taylor), who is a philosophy student at the beginning of the film. Her viewpoint on everything changes dramatically when she is bitten on the neck in an alley by a woman (Annabella Sciorra), who gives her the opportunity to tell her to “go away” beforehand. Kathleen then begins to crave blood and ponders the true evil of humanity and the way human beings are compelled to “spread the blight in ever widening circles” as their sins touch more and more people. Parallels are drawn throughout to the Vietnam War, which the protagonists contemplate as part of their classes.
A starting point for looking at The Addiction would be to look at its screenwriter. Nicholas St John, a regular Ferrara collaborator, is a devout Catholic – he tried to dissuade Ferrara from making Bad Lieutenant due to its blasphemous images. The Addiction is a fairly straightforward evocation of Christian morality. Humanity is drawn to sin and only through God can people make amends and become reborn as new people, “clean” of their addiction, whether it’s to sex, heroin, alcohol or jamming their teeth into people’s jugular veins.
Vampirism in Ferrara’s film is not presented as a biological necessity, but as an addiction that can afflict anyone. In one scene, Ferrara chillingly and wordlessly hints that dozens of vampires walk among us. It manifests in Lili Taylor – best known to modern audiences for The Conjuring – becoming increasingly greasy, lank and dishevelled as she becomes dependent on blood, eventually sporting oily dark hair and shades like Tommy Wiseau – a prime contender if there truly is such a thing as vampires. Taylor’s performance is positioned in stark contrast to that of Christopher Walken, who pops up at the midpoint of the story as a vampire who has learned to control his addiction in such a way that he can integrate within human society – eating, sleeping and holding down a job.
Above all else, The Addiction is a tale of how destructive dependency can be. Its finale sees Kathleen and her vampire brethren commit a blood-soaked massacre at a graduation party, in a scene that’s as reminiscent of the orgiastic conclusion to Society as it is to its predecessors in the vampire oeuvre. There’s a certain amount of pretentious pseudo-intellectual whiffle in the movie but, when it allows its nightmarish tone, lavish black and white cinematography and intriguing themes to take centre stage alongside the dynamite work of Taylor, it’s a fierce, ferocious delight.
There’s a hefty package from Arrow, including a great deal of new stuff. Ferrara sits down for an interesting new chat in which he says “you dig?” a lot, there’s material from the cast in a new doc and also a critical appreciation by Brad Stevens that makes for very intriguing listening.
Pop or Poop?
Abel Ferrara makes vampires very interesting indeed in The Addiction, which applies Biblical morality through the lens of one of the cinema’s finest purveyors of lurid shlock. Lili Taylor is tremendous in the central role and fully engages with the moral complexity of the way this story portrays vampirism.
The film has a pretentious side and, at times it feels like a PhD thesis rather than a horror movie, but there’s enough bite to make this worthwhile.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Addiction is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Arrow Video.