A New York filmmaker whose works have rarely strayed far from those streets, while an allegorical vampire tale might not have been a project expected of Abel Ferrara, that The Addiction is more about the city of his birth than the traditions associated with nosferatu and strigoi is no surprise, New York perhaps more powerful even than blood.
Originally released in 1995 and now restored from a 4K scan approved by Ferrara and director of photography Ken Kelsch for Arrow’s Blu-ray edition, The Addiction was scripted by Nicholas St John, Ferrara’s friend and regular screenwriter until that point, their collaborations including The Driller Killer, Ms. 45 and King of New York.
Lili Taylor, later Emmy nominated for her guest role in The X-Files‘ The Mind’s Eye, is philosophy student Kathleen Conklin who late one night is attacked on the street by a mysterious woman (What Dreams May Come‘s Annabella Sciorra); patched up at the hospital she is sent home to her apartment, but her behaviour changes.
Driven by strange urges and cravings, shunning sunlight, wearing dark glasses and developing the desire for blood, Kathleen attacks others as she was attacked until she meets Peina (The Maiden Heist‘s Christopher Walken, a Ferrara regular), an older vampire who claims to have been able to overcome his addiction.
Filmed in black and white, The Addiction was released the year after Michael Almereyda’s monochrome vampire satire Nadja, also largely set in New York, but it could not be more different in style and content, underplayed to the point of suffocation, Taylor impassive to the point of indifference in the opening scenes as she gazes at photographs of war atrocities, with only Walken making his role vital and dynamic.
Like George A Romero‘s Martin, The Addiction presents vampirism in a commonplace setting, removed from the Gothic trappings of Hammer but without the conscious stylings of the major modern vampire films of the preceding decade, Richard Wenk’s Vamp, Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.
Released the year after Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, while The Addiction is stylistically and narratively the antithesis of that sumptuous adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel it carries the theme of mentorship and debates many of the same values, Kathleen considering the nature of sin and morality: “Guilt doesn’t pass with time, it’s eternal.”
Twenty years later, Ana Lily Amirpour would blend the urban vampire and Ferrara’s arthouse minimalism in her more stylised A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, also focusing on a female predator and filmed in monochrome, but while that unnamed girl’s interest in drug dealers was strictly as prey Ferrara portrays vampirism as addiction with highs and heightened awareness followed by withdrawal symptoms and mood swings when deprived.
Rather than using mesmerism to lure her prey she uses psychology, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is Kathleen blaming the victims after the fact for not fighting against her and resisting her allure, emphasising the power of her changed character by displaying a behaviour more typically associated with an abusive man.
Also included in the disc are a commentary by Ferrara, the meandering thirty minute documentary Talking With Vampires with contributions with Ferrara, Taylor and Walken, she analytical in her approach to roles while he is more instinctive performer, an appreciation by biographer Brad Stephens, archive footage of Ferrara at work on the film and a new sixteen minute interview with Ferrara.