Sunday, October 22, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: The Addiction

Film: The Addiction
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

The Addiction is a film that I had heard of and been interested in for a number of reasons. Abel Ferrara is an interesting director, for starters, and when he delves into horror, the results are worth watching. I also like it when there is a very different take on a classic monster or myth. The Addiction is a vampire story, and interesting not because of that, but because it addresses the idea of vampirism as one of a sort of drug addiction.

Admittedly, that’s a natural place to go, and that in and of itself isn’t entirely unique. The idea that vampires are addicted to blood is, after all, a very obvious place to take the vampire story. The difference here is that our main character, Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor), is a doctoral candidate in philosophy. So, while we’ve seen vampires dealing with concepts of their lives being controlled in some way by addiction, but we have rarely had a protagonist who has the philosophical chops to really address the idea in anything more than a visceral and basic way.

Kathleen’s conversion to vampirism happens almost immediately. She is dragged into an alley by a woman called Casanova (Annabella Sciorra) and bitten. She starts exhibiting all of the classic signs of being a vampire and also becomes aggressive. This initially appears as sexually aggressive, but is revealed to essentially be her hunger—her new addiction. Over the next few days, she essentially infects several people around her including her dissertation advisor (Paul Calderon), an anthropology student (Kathryn Erbe), and her friend Jean (Edie Falco).

Things take a turn when she meets Peina (Christopher Walken), a vampire who claims to have virtually cured himself of his addiction to blood, which allows him to be virtually human—having a job and living something close to a normal life. He keeps her captive, attempting to cure her and return her to a semblance of humanity, something that lasts only as long as her dissertation defense. What follows her defense is a party, where she and her brood of new vampires feed on all of her guests.

And that’s what makes this interesting, at least to me. There are plenty of vampire stories where the main character struggles with the nature of being a vampire. Louis from Interview with the Vampire, Hess Green in Ganja & Hess, and Sang-hyun in Thirst are great examples of this. It’s much rarer to see a character who, full of the moral knowledge of her condition and what that condition essentially means, gives in so fully to the addiction.

In terms of the philosophy, the heart of The Addiction is summed up in Kathleen’s musings while preparing for her dissertation defense. She addresses the central philosophy of RenĂ© Descartes--cogito ergo sum, or “I think, therefore I am.” For her, it is not that she thinks that gives her any existence. In her world, she is defined by the phrases that because she is addicted, she exists, and because she sins, she exists.

The Addiction is one of those rare modern films that is enhanced by being shot in black-and-white. While this is often a decision made for a number of aesthetic reasons, in The Addiction, it feels much more that this was done for philosophical reasons more than any other. Kathleen’s world, once she becomes a vampire, appears in large part to be one of black and white morals, even as it is also just as much varying shades of gray.

I’ve seen several of Ferrara’s films, and I think The Addiction is the best of them I have seen. Ferrara’s work often explores these morally bleak and vague areas with characters who are dark and accepting of their own moral depravity and trying to understand it and to understand their own acceptance of it. With The Addiction, the answer that Kathleen (and thus we as the audience) comes to is one that not very comfortable.

In terms of vampire movies, The Addiction actually has something to say. That in and of itself makes it noteworthy, and it’s better than just having something to say.

Why to watch The Addiction: It’s always worth watching when someone does very different with a vampire story.
Why not to watch: If you’re not a fan of a more artsy style, this will leave you cold.


  1. This is a film that I want to see as I've heard fucked up things about it as it used to play a lot on IFC (until it became a channel with commercials).

    1. Abel Ferrara makes some crazy shit, and this is clearly evident with this one.