The Addiction (USA, 1995)
One of weirder aspects of getting old is the number of false memories you develop. Your own experiences blend with stories you’ve been told, things you’ve meant to do and, sometimes, pure fantasy. It gets to the point you can no longer really trust the stories you tell yourself.
I’ve spent much of the past 27 years convinced that I’d seen The Addiction. When it popped up on Shudder, however, and I watched the trailer, I realised that I must have been thinking about a completely different film. Of course, I have no idea what film that is. Maybe when I work that out, I’ll discover I haven’t seen it either. What I’m saying is that my brain is basically porridge now.
Anyway, let’s watch The Addiction for real this time.
The Addiction is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Kathleen is a student at New York University, doing a PhD in philosophy. This mainly involves watching footage of atrocities, drinking coffee and talking like a character from an existentialist novel. When a vampire who calls herself Casanova forces Kathleen into a dark alley and chows down, her life is transformed.
As well as donning dark glasses, covering the mirrors in her flat and switching to a more sanguineous diet, Kathleen grows increasingly assertive and abrasive. She starts preying on strangers, acquaintances and even her closest friends. Eventually, she encounters Peina, a far more experienced vampire, who has learnt to control his condition and lives something like a normal life. He is the first to frame Kathleen’s condition in terms of addiction, exhorting her to read William S Burroughs to better understand it.
Will Kathleen be able to turn her un-life around? Is self-knowledge the answer to vampirism? And what’s happened to all the people Kathleen’s been biting anyway?
Most vampire stories are metaphors for some aspect of the human experience. The Addiction is simply more upfront about its themes than most. Between Kathleen’s use of a syringe to feed from her first victim to sharing heroin with another to draw him in, this is not a subtle allegory. Kathleen’s fear of AIDS in the early stages of her transformation feels utterly rooted in the drug culture of the time. Eventually, we even see her overdose on blood. I am reminded of Garth Marenghi telling us, “I know writers who use subtext and they’re all cowards.”
Rooting the story in academia does at least give us a reason for the relentlessly philosophical examination of vampirism. As Kathleen embraces her new nature, she interprets it very much through the lens of her studies. At the same time, her growing detachment from the emotional impact of the atrocities she analyses highlights her steady loss of humanity. This philosophical examination rarely feels more than superficial, however, even when Kathleen uses her understanding of her condition to shape her PhD defence.
While Christopher Walken gets second billing, his role is scarcely more than a cameo. Admittedly, few supporting characters get much screen time, but from the credits, you might expect more. His character is a highpoint of the film, presenting a much-needed challenge to Kathleen’s bullshit. Of course, this still being The Addiction, he issues this challenge by quoting beat writers, poets and philosophers…
The Addiction does serve well as a snapshot of 1990s New York City. The characters and the world they move through are wonderfully observed, taking me back to my own days of living there. The brutal mind-your-own-business aspect of New York life comes across especially well. At one point, Kathleen wanders the streets of Greenwich Village covered in blood as passers-by ignore her. That is the NYC I remember.
The Addiction may be the most pretentious horror film I’ve ever seen. This isn’t to say it’s bad, but it does make hard to stomach sometimes. Characters don’t have conversations — they just trade quotes. If you were to take a shot every time someone mentions Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Baudelaire, you would be in a coma before the first act was through.
At the same time, there is some real artistic vision here. The Addiction is a beautiful film to look at, with its moody shadows and simple-but-effective cinematography. It has a terrific cast who, barring one scene of jarring overacting as Kathleen fails to tempt a missionary, sell the film’s conceits well. My only technical complaint was the surprisingly anaemic sound. I had to turn my volume up to maximum to follow the dialogue and it still sounded tinny.
For all this fancy window dressing, however, The Addiction is a pretty straightforward vampire story. It brings out a few surprises in the final act and tries for an unexpected resolution, but mostly follows well-worn tropes. There’s nothing wrong with this — it’s usually the incidental details that give life to horror films — but I was surprised at how obvious it felt.
Ultimately, I’ll credit The Addiction for being ambitious, unusual and stylish, but I’m not sure that means I liked it. Maybe I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it when it first came out. Not only is it a film of its time, but I think it’s one that might have appealed more when I was younger. Now, however, it just seems too self-important and more than a little silly.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!