B&W, 1995, 82 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Starring Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The obvious parallels between vampirism and drug use have long fueled horror films ranging from Grave of the Vampire to Near Dark, but none have made it as forcefully and explicitly as The Addiction. The film marks one of the highest points in Ferrara's challenging '90s period following his troubled foray into big studio filmmaking with Body Snatchers, sandwiched in between two of his more under-appreciated dramas, Dangerous Game and The Funeral. Even classifying the film as horror at all feels like a stretch at times, though it does fit the bill if you view it as a descendant of the art house blood-drinking tactics of Ganja and Hess and Habit.
Lili Taylor stars as Kathleen, a New York City philosophy grad student who walks home alone after a night class about the history of war atrocities. Along the way she's dragged into an alley by a glamorous but vicious stranger, Casanova (Sciorra), who infects her with an insatiable need for blood. Through voiceover she talks herself through the process of coming to grips with her needs and the philosophical implications of her place as someone who's no longer really human, and she tries to come up with new ways of feeding her fix and coping with how to survive in a predatory world where all the rules have changed.
The decision to shoot this film in black-and-white is an inspired one, with Ferrara shooting the city in a radically different way than his other films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. The entire film really rests on Taylor's shoulders since the other cast members mostly have one or two scenes each, including a scene-stealing turn by Christopher Walken (who gets another one of his terrific monologues) and pre-Sopranos roles for Edie Falco and Taylor's boyfriend at the time, Michael Imperioli. The heavy emphasis on philosophy and meditative tone of the film caught some viewers off guard at the time, but Ferrara admirers will find plenty of rewards here including a fascinating spin on his usual Catholic themes and a striking female protagonist very different from any vampire on screen before or since.
Released in theaters by the long defunct October Films, The Addiction was very difficult to see for years outside of the VHS and laserdisc releases. Arrow Video fortunately rectified that situation with its simultaneous Blu-ray releases in the U.S. and U.K., sourced from a new 4K scan of the original negative. It's a real stunner with far more depth than the ancient transfer we've been stuck with (which was also used for a handful of questionable overseas DVD releases) and actually far more beautiful and elegant looking than it even appeared in theaters at the time. The film can be played with DTS-HD 5.1 or LPCM 2.0 audio options, with optional English SDH subtitles.
As for extras, a very insightful appraisal from Brad Stephens (8m47s) notes the strong narrative connection to Ferrara's earlier Ms. 45 and the film's relationship to Gothic tradition and the Christianity of screenwriter Nicholas St. John, and he also moderates an audio commentary with Ferrara that's as freewheeling and quirky as you'd expect if you've heard any of the director's past tracks. (You could have a great drinking game based on every time he says "dog.") Other alumni appear for the new "Talking with the Vampires" (30m55s) with Taylor, Walken, composer Joe Delia (who has some great moments playing his themes on a piano but really can't pronounce German), and cinematographer Ken Kelsch, with topics ranging from the usefulness of walking through New York at 2 A.M. to Walken's rapport with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and coping with alcoholism. The fact that they're all interviewed by Ferrara himself (who's shown asking questions a little bit) adds greatly to the value of this fine companion piece. A separate video interview with Ferrara (16m19s) goes for a more general look back at the film including his own relationship with drug addiction that ramped up after he made this film. He's also seen in some rare video footage (8m43s) editing the film back in '95 including a brief bit editing Walken's big scene. A gallery and the original trailer are also included. The reversible sleeve options include a new cover design by Peter Strain, and in the first pressing only, an insert booklet features a new essay by Michael Erwins.
Reviewed on June 19, 2018