Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: Morbius has been pushed back to 2021, but you don’t have to wait that long to check out these other vampire chronicles and bloodsucker tales.
The metaphor of Abel Ferrara’s vivid reimagining of the vampire film is as obvious as the title: the vampire as addict, shooting up with a syringe of blood. Without a fix of the red stuff, the vampire goes into withdrawal; once fed, they stumble around in a woozy high. Other elements of vampire lore are given drug connotations beyond heroin. The sunglasses so necessary to bloodsucker fashion could be hiding bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils. The eloquence we like to ascribe to sinister immortal beings is translated into a volubility that suggests cocaine. The movie’s high-contrast black-and-white cinematography gives it a classic sheen, but it also makes it hard to tell where blood ends and darkness begins.
In fact, there are no Van Helsings waiting in the shadows of the movie’s grimy New York City, no threats of staking or death-by-daylight. These vampire are completely immortal. However, they do share a weakness with the traditional Draculoid: They are repelled by crucifixes. This is in part because the vampires of The Addiction are nihilists, a point that is not lost on Kathleen (Lili Taylor), a grad student who gets bitten on the neck under noir lighting and begins to transform into a creature of the night.
That this scene is preceded by a needle drop of Cypress Hill’s “I Want To Get High” is perhaps too cute, but the fact that The Addiction actually opens with a discussion of the Mỹ Lai Massacre should give some idea of where it’s going: Among the most accomplished vampire films, it’s the one that isn’t about sex. Instead of the usual Transylvanian seduction techniques, the vampire’s bite has overtones of rape; even the less messy business of extracting blood via syringe requires the victim to be passed out or drugged. The combination of bodily fluids and transmission might lead one in the direction of AIDS paranoia, but it’s an interpretation that the film bluntly dismisses early on.
In actuality, the metaphor is double-sided: The vampire is an addict, but the addiction is our propensity for violence and evil, weighted with Catholicism and references to war crimes and genocide. By the time he made The Addiction, Ferrara was no stranger to nocturnal subjects or Dracula imagery. One of his best-known films, King Of New York, includes a clip from the granddaddy of all vampire movies, Nosferatu, highlighting certain undead qualities in the crime lord played by Christopher Walken. Though his screen time is less than 10 minutes, Walken makes a terrific appearance in The Addiction as Peina, an elder vampire who claims to have mastered his habit.
Of course, as in so many of Ferrara’s dramas of spiritual turmoil, there are strong autobiographical elements. Inspiration presumably came from the heroin habit that defined a large part of his career, and to anyone who has seen one or two interviews with Ferrara, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, at a certain point, Kathleen’s newfound attitude begins to resemble an impression of the director.
Nonetheless, The Addiction, which was one of Ferrara’s last collaborations with longtime screenwriter Nicholas St. John, is among his most literary films. Vampirism is an existential philosophy for Kathleen—a predatory species’ perspective on humanity, providing a thematic link to Ferrara’s only studio-backed foray into horror, Body Snatchers. These films are surprisingly thoughtful works for a director who started in the lowest depths of exploitation. Not unlike the alien pod people of the earlier film, the bloodsuckers of The Addiction can reproduce rapidly. Perhaps in the future, we will all be vampires.