Movies

Adventures in Blu-ray: The Addiction (1995)

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Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor), an NYU student preparing for her doctorate in philosophy, is attacked one night by a mysterious woman (Annabelle Sciorra as “Casanova”), who insists that Kathleen forcefully tell her to go away and leave her alone.  Kathleen is unable to do this, and so Casanova does a number on her neck, calling her a “collaborator” after she’s finished biting said neck and drinking her blood.  A dazed Kathleen seeks medical attention (fearful of contracting AIDS or some other malady) but her doctor (Louis Katz) can find nothing wrong; he prescribes fluids (with an emphasis on beefing up her iron content) and rest.

posterA loss of appetite and aversion to sunlight soon signals to Kathleen what most of us who’ve tucked enough horror movies under our belts know right away: she’s been turned into a vampire.  She’ll go on to infect many more victims within the course of The Addiction (1995), an offbeat bloodsucker flick whose message seems to be that with so much evil in this world, a little thing like vampirism is really just a stroll in the park.

With his second feature film Ms .45 (1981)—an unconventional tale about a rape survivor (Zoe Lund) who seeks revenge by randomly gunning down would-be attackers on the streets of New York—director Abel Ferrara quickly garnered a reputation among movie cultists for his provocative and uncompromisingly violent vehicles not entirely free of controversy.  Ferrara’s best-known film, Bad Lieutenant (1992), is a prime example: it stars Harvey Keitel as a morally compromised NYPD detective addicted to both heroin and gambling.  Its strong sexual content (including a little full-frontal Keitel nudity) originally received an NC-17 rating and had to be recut so that outlets like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video would rent the movie to customers.  Ferrara’s works focus on several recurrent themes: religious imagery and symbolism, the struggle to survive in an uncaring world, and protagonists often caught up in violence through no fault of their own.  Abel also collaborates frequently with writer Nicholas St. John (Nick not only wrote The Addiction but other Ferrara-helmed efforts like Fear City [1984] and Body Snatchers [1993]).

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In The Addiction (1995), an anthropology student (Kathryn Erbe) is horrified that the woman (Lili Taylor) she’s befriended has turned her into a vampire.

With the exception of The Addiction and King of New York (1990)—an underrated crime film featuring many Thrilling Days of Yesteryear favorites like Laurence Fishburne, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito, Steve Buscemi, and Christopher Walken—I have to confess I’ve never really subscribed to the Ferrara cult even though I won’t deny his films aren’t interesting.  Walken is in Addiction as well, as a “reformed” bloodsucker who does Taylor’s novice vamp a favor by keeping her focused on completing her thesis (he suggests she read William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, which I confess I found amusing) and naturally cuts loose with a great, lengthy “Walken” monologue (“You can’t kill what’s dead.  Eternity’s a long time.  Get used to it.”)  Christopher went on to appear in Ferrara’s The Funeral (1996—which was filmed at about the same time as Addiction and features several of its actors like Sciorra and Edie Falco) and New Rose Hotel (1998); Ferrara purportedly got permission to film King of New York at the Plaza Hotel from future dotard president Donald J. Trump in exchange for having Walken pose for a picture with then-Mrs. Trump Ivana.

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Christopher Walken and Lili Taylor

I’d go out on a limb and say The Addiction is Ferrara’s best film (it’s certainly my favorite at any rate) because it’s stylishly done despite its highbrow intellectual bent; Facebook compadre Stephen Winer remarked to me that it’s his candidate for “the most pretentious movie ever made.”  He’s not wrong on that score, but I still champion the movie because I find Ferrara’s equivocation of vampirism to drug addiction fascinating (early in her vampire career, Taylor’s Kathleen drains the blood of a homeless man with a syringe—which reminded me of the titular bloodsucker in George A. Romero’s Martin [1978], another film of which I’m quite fond) and chiefly because of Taylor’s haunting performance as a college student granted a new perspective on her existence by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Later in the film, Kathleen passes on her curse to an anthropology student (Kathryn Erbe from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) she met in the library, and when the student pleadingly asks why she’s done such a monstrous thing Kathleen replies: “My indifference is not the concern here.  It’s your astonishment that needs studying.”

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Director Abel Ferrara handles a scene (with Taylor on the gurney) in The Addiction

Peter Nellhaus of Coffee Coffee and More Coffee renown remarked to me on Facebook that he saw The Addiction when it originally played in theatres (“Nice to see my old neighborhood on film”); I had to wait until it made the rounds of The Independent Film Channel (IFC) before I viewed it but since my love for Lili Taylor knew no bounds then (and now) I was ready and rarin’ to go.  (Taylor had a role as one of the bad guys in Ransom [1996], which I did see in Morgantown [to beat the heat] about that time, and I was already familiar with her phenomenal work in Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight [1991—a TDOY favorite] and Household Saints [1993].)  Taylor’s then-fiancé, Michael Imperioli, has a bit as the missionary hawking pamphlets outside the venue where Taylor’s Kathleen is hosting a party celebrating her Ph.D., and of course having Imperioli’s fellow Sopranos castmate Edie Falco (as Kathleen’s best friend Jean) on hand is a bit of a hoot, too.  (The priest who narrates the film and appears at the end is Father Robert Castle—the subject of Jonathan Demme’s 1992 documentary Cousin Bobby…which I also saw on IFC, now that I think of it.)

blu-rayThe Addiction makes it Blu-ray debut on June 26 from Arrow Films/Video in a brand-spanking-new 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by Ferrara and director of photography Ken Keisch; I love the striking black-and-white cinematography of the film…which was probably due to its low budget but it makes the movie so much more effective in a neo-noir fashion (I think if they had shown the blood in color it would have looked like a Hammer film on steroids).  There are also bodacious extras: commentary from and an interview with director Ferrara, and a half-hour documentary, Talking with the Vampires, that features Abel, Lili, Christopher, Ken, and composer Joe Delia.  It’s a movie horror fans will want to display proudly on their Blu-ray shelf, and many thanks to Clint Weiler at MVD Entertainment Group for allowing me to revisit this old favorite.

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