Lili Taylor is turned into a vampire in New York in Abel Ferrara’s 1994 horror film, now on DVD from Transition Digital Media.
New York City. Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) is a graduate student studying philosophy. One evening on the way home she is attacked and bitten by a mysterious woman (Annabella Sciorra). Feeling ill as a result, Kathleen soon realises she has a craving for human blood. She has become a vampire.
By 1995, Abel Ferrara had moved on from the notorious one-time video nasty The Driller Killer and its cult follow-up Ms. 45 (aka Angel of Vengeance) via work for television (episodes of Miami Vice and Crime Story) to studio productions such as Body Snatchers. However, he seemed most at home closer to his grimy independent roots. Bad Lieutenant, powered by an astonishing performance from Harvey Keitel, remains one of the few films to be released with a MPAA NC-17 rating to turn a profit. The Addiction was made back-to-back with The Funeral. While the two films have cast and crew members in common (both written by Nicholas St John and photographed by Ken Kelsch), they are very different. The Funeral is a crime drama in colour, while The Addiction is a horror film in black and white. (It’s not the only latterday vampire movie in monochrome: a year earlier, Michael Almereyda made Nadja in black and white.)
The Addiction begins with still photographs of human wartime atrocities, signalling that this is not just another horror film, but a serious one. (The black and white camerawork inevitably gives off a whiff of artiness as well.) Making Kathleen a philosophy student enables Ferrara and St John to give her some particularly highflown dialogue like “Medicine’s just an extended metaphor for omnipotence”. Given that Ferrara, at the beginning of his career, seemed quite at home in popular exploitation-movie genres, there’s an odd sense here that using the horror genre to impart a philosophical or spiritual message – on the nature of evil – somehow saps the film of much of its vitality. That’s not to say that such content can’t sit easily with horror-genre tropes, but that other filmmakers have done a much less selfconscious job of it. Ferrara himself did exactly that in Bad Lieutenant, an overtly Catholic sin-and-redemption drama with many graphic depictions of the sin part.
There are however quite a few things that make The Addiction worthwhile. Lili Taylor was – along with Parker Posey – the go-to actress for lead roles in American indies at the time, and she is very good here. Christopher Walken and Annabella Sciorra make the most of smaller roles. Kelsch’s black and white camerawork is striking. And a late scene where a graduation party becomes a vampire feeding frenzy is genuinely horrifying.
The Addiction is a partial success. However, after The Blackout, Ferrrara – who has been quite a prolific director – has ceased to be distributed in the UK.
The Addiction is released on DVD by Transition Digital Media on a single-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
The film was shot open-matte in 35mm and is presented in 4:3 on this DVD, not anamorphically enhanced. That certainly isn’t the correct ratio, which would be 1.85:1. Owners of widescreen televisions can zoom the picture to 16:9. But an anamorphic picture in the correct ratio would certainly have been preferable. This DVD transfer is interlaced, and lacks the sharpness it should have. The greyscale is a little limited and blacks not as strong as they should be.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (2.0). The surrounds are used mainly for the music score and for ambience – it’s not the most adventurous sound mix out there.
There are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing and no extras, not even a trailer.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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