Saturday, May 26, 2012
reviewed Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope wherein I stated that the Master of Suspense is indeed my favorite filmmaker. There’s really no reason to repeat my reasoning’s for that again here but just keep that bit of information in your back pocket for a moment. Allow me, if you will to opine on silent cinema, as this is the first silent film I’ve tackled. There’s always been something about the look of silent films that got to me. That primitive film style was attractive to me at a young age and it still is. Also, maybe it was the fact that certain resources were very limited back then so filmmakers had to try extra hard to make their films as convincing as possible, which is why so many silent flicks still hold up marvelously well to this day. Having the kind of taste I have, the first silent films I saw were of course, the horror films. Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you know, the essentials. Going back to still holding up, the make up in those films is still some of the most effective looking. Tell me with a straight face that Count Orlok or the many faces of Lon Chaney Sr. aren’t still some of the most striking on screen images. But back to Hitchcock. When I was first getting into his films I obviously started with the most well known, and had very limited, if any knowledge of his early British period. Imagine my giddiness when I discovered that one of his early works, The Lodger, was a silent film loosely inspired by the case of Jack the Ripper. Take a wild guess as to whether or not it lived up to my expectations.
A serial killer known as “The Avenger” is stalking the streets of London, targeting young, pretty blonde women, always leaving his simple calling card, his nickname written in the center of a triangle at the scene of every crime. In the midst of all the killings, a mysterious man (Ivor Novello) arrives at the lodging house of one Mrs. Bunting, looking for a room to rent. Although she is perplexed by her new tenants odd behavior, Mrs. Bunting believes him to be harmless, just a bit eccentric and anti-social. However she quickly becomes increasingly suspicious of his constant goings in and out late at night and she eventually comes to suspect her new lodger is the Avenger. Making matters worse, her daughter Daisy has become more and more friendly with the lodger and spending more time with him, and she is exactly The Avenger’s type. This enrages her jealous boyfriend Joe, who happens to be a police officer, and has just been placed on the Avenger case, and is determined to bring down the lodger, but is he really the Avenger?
The Lodger (full title The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog) was Hitchcock’s third film, but he would later state that he considered it to be his first true film, and it’s understandable why he would feel that way. It’s with this film that Hitchcock introduced audiences to themes and motifs that would eventually become his calling cards and he would go on to perfect in subsequent films. It might start off a bit slow, but of course once the titular lodger arrives the film really gets going. This lodger is indeed a strange fellow, but is he a murderer? The film would lead you to share his landlady’s suspicions as his actions when he first arrives do come across as quite weird, and as the film progresses there really doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he is indeed the Avenger, yet you also know it’s just as possible that he’s innocent, and everyone else is just paranoid. You want to know the truth. You have to know, especially after the nerve wracking scene when the police interrogate him while going through his belongings, which leads to a classic Hitchcock chase scene. Having Daisy spark up a relationship with the lodger was smart as it’s a great catalyst for building up intensity in the story. Daisy is a very whimsical, likable character and we really don’t want to see any harm done to her, which is why there is always a sense of danger and unease whenever she and the lodger share screen time, that not knowing if he is indeed the murderer. Hitchcock uses this uncertainty to perfection, masterfully toying with the audience, sometimes even in a humorous manner whenever the two are the only ones on screen. Is the picking up of a fire poker used for just the fire, or to bash someone over the head with? Does Daisy scream because she’s in fear for or life, or did she just see a mouse? Hitch loves screwing with us with things like that throughout the film.
Even at this early stage in his career Hitchcock was at the point where he could wipe the floor with directors who were on their 5th or 6th film. Hitch was very inspired by directors part of the German expressionist movement, notably Murnau and Lang, and those influences are on display in The Lodger, most famously during a scene where instead of just filming the lodger pacing back and forth in his room, Hitchcock focuses on a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and the ceiling then becomes transparent, giving the effect of the lodger walking on air. The now iconic scene where we’re first introduced to the lodger is brilliantly staged, the shot of the lodger standing in the doorway surrounded by the fog than the close up of Novello’s scarf covered face makes and immediate and lasting impression. A classic Hitchcock moment. There are very little title cards used in this movie, Hitchcock preferring to let the majority of the story rely on the mood created by the setting, lighting and the body language of the actors (this is a silent film, so yeah, there’s instances of overacting). Lead Ivor Novello has an undeniable presence about him. He has the look of a total movie star, true, but there is an air of mystery about him that radiates whenever Hitch focuses the camera on him. Right from the instant we first meet his character it’s obvious there’s something off about him, and his mannerisms throughout the film, often very creepy, only make him more compelling, especially during the aforementioned scenes with Daisy. By far one of Hitch’s best leading men. The Lodger is also notable for the introduction of another device Hitchcock would make prominent, future use of, staircases, and any Hitchcock fanatic will tell you all about the ominous connotations associated with them in his films. In fact, compare the constant shots of the staircase leading up the lodgers room to those of the staircase in Norman Bates’ house, and the shots that lead down to the infamous fruit cellar in Psycho and you’ll see striking similarities.
The Lodger, like a good number of Hitchcock’s early British films is in the public domain and there are a few different DVD’s of it floating around out there, on it’s own and included in a lot of those multi-film sets of early Hitchcock films you may or may not have seen around. All with varying print qualities of course. I can’t say which one has the best transfer, but I’m going to assume it’s the one pictured above as part of the “Premier Collection” MGM put out a few years back, but alas it’s yet another case of an out of print DVD going for idiotic prices. I just used the cover because I liked it better than some of the others I saw (I‘m pretty anal when it comes to stuff like that). My copy came from one of the sets and it looks just fine. The film is also available to watch in full on YouTube. But anyway, no matter how you go about watching it, the important thing is that you do watch it. If you watch The Lodger after seeing a good majority of Hitchcock’s later films, it might come off as rather standard, thematically speaking, but this is where it all began, and it’s a testament to the mans incredible talent and the level of filmmaking he reached so early in his career, and a sign of the many great things that would come from the man. If you fancy yourself a Hitchcock fan and have yet to see The Lodger, you might want to get on that sooner than later. It stands not only as one of the mans best and earliest masterpieces, but one of the best (and best looking) films to come out of the silent era.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
In celebration of his daughter Linda’s (the late, very great Lina Romay) 18th birthday, successful businessman Patrick takes his family to a seaside casino resort on the coast of France. 19 years prior, Patrick was a desperate man. On the verge of bankruptcy and suicide, a chance meeting at the same resort with the mysterious Lorna (Pamela Stanford), a powerful witch of sorts all that. Lorna promised him money, success, and a child, a daughter for him and his infertile wife Marianne, under the condition that when his daughter turns 18, he must hand her over to Lorna. Blinded by lust and desperation, Patrick agrees. Fast forward to the present, upon arriving to the resort with his family, Patrick encounters Lorna in the exact same spot where the two first met 19 years ago. She has come to collect what was promised to her, only Patrick is defiant to never give Linda up, forcing and enraged Lorna to take matters into her own hands.
Lorna the Exorcist is a film that is held in high regard by myself and other Francophiles and for good reason, as it’s one of the man’s very best. It’s defiantly my favorite on all his films. Unnerving in it’s oddness, unrelenting in it’s sleaziness, yet undeniably attractive because of it, Lorna is a very hypnotizing film, right from the first frame you’re sucked right in, and as the film goes on and gets progressively weirder, the more intriguing it becomes. And weird does it get. This is undoubtedly one of the most fucked up things Franco has unleashed upon audiences in his long and prolific career, but that’s a big part of the films appeal. You won’t see another film like this one anytime soon that’s for sure. Right from the first frame a vibe is felt, and that same strange aura is constantly present throughout the entire film, getting under your skin and in your head. It’s incredibly erotic and alluring, putting the viewer in a trance of sorts, making it impossible to look away, yet it’s also downright creepy in an eccentric way in parts, oftentimes both, for instance the shots of a institutionalized women under the influence of Lorna calling out her name writhing provocatively on her bed (keep an eye out for Franco himself making an appearance as her doctor), the undertones when it comes to Lorna’s motives in gaining control of Linda and of course the final moments with Linda. Again, it gets in your head and stays there, you’ll be replaying scenes in your head long after the film’s been over, it has that effect. You really can‘t discuss the film without at least mentioning one of THE scenes for which it‘s most notorious, although I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say it involves crabs. It does give you a nice, unexpected jolt as it comes out of fucking nowhere and it’s a shining example of Franco’s twisted imagination.
Pamela Stanford couldn’t have been more perfect for the role of the seductive Lorna. “Seductive” is the key word when it comes to her performance, as she radiates sexuality with ease. You’d follow her anywhere too, just like Patrick. She has that effect. She has on this eye make up that goes literally halfway up her forehead and yes, it doesn’t look normal but this is far from a normal film. If this were any other character in any other film it would be completely distracting, but here it makes perfect sense, only adding to her character’s mystique, and the spacey nature of the film as a whole. Along with being one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever laid my eyes on in this lifetime, I’ve always thought of Lina Romay as an underrated actress. Even in some of Franco’s more “rushed” productions, if Lina was in it, chances are she was the best thing about it. With or without clothes. Her performance in Lorna is one her best, as she is totally believable in the role of the happy go lucky, innocent Linda. She’s also incredibly likable in the role, making the scenes with her father towards the end of the film, and the films final moments where she’s thrashing manically on a bed more effective. Chilling in fact. All this in spite of the sometimes shoddy dubbing. Both women are completely uninhibited and more than once the two get up close and personal with each other. Their final “encounter” lets call it, is another one of the films more infamous moments. What stars off as an odd lesbian scene takes a radical left turn, and it’s one of those cinematic moments where you’ll just be staring at the screen totally dumbfounded at what you’re seeing asking yourself “What the fuck”.
Franco’s trademark zoom is fully on display here, and there are instances where the camera will zoom in extremely close on something making the image go out of focus, creating a very drugged out, hallucinogenic effect. This effect works wonders when Lorna is making herself known to Linda. Franco zooms in on the wall and the next image you see when the screen becomes clear is a close up of Stanford‘s eyes. The lesbian scenes, while explicit and gratuitous, are staged in such a manner that make them so much more. The one that opens the film is particularly dreamy, an aura aided immensely by the music (the main theme that plays throughout the film is heavenly) and Franco’s camera movements. It’s Franco’s technique, the way he maneuvers the camera, his choice of angles and things of the like that add atmosphere, even in a scene where nothing is really going on, Franco makes it interesting just by shooting it in a particular manner keeping your eyes glued to the screen. So contrary to popular belief, it’s not all lingering close up’s of female genitalia (although lets be honest here, there is an abundance of it in this film, pretty much the only thing you don‘t see on the females in this film are their internal organs. I‘m not complaining though, in no way am I complaining about this). Franco knows how to get the most out of the shooting locations. Take for instance a scene featuring Patrick running all around the streets desperately trying to find Lorna’s apartment. Even a scene like that has sort of a surreal quality to it due to the unique architecture of all the surrounding buildings. Despite the small budgets he often works with he has a mint eye for scenery and Lorna is no exception.
Years after Lorna was first released it was re-cut into a hardcore porn movie removing scenes from the original print, which had been badly damaged and or lost to time, and for many years different, incomplete copies of Lorna with extremely shitty prints had been circulating as bootlegs. Thankfully, the great folks over at Mondo Macabro DVD have given Lorna the royal treatment it deserves. Their restoration of the film was made up of three different 35mm prints and is the most complete version of the film to ever be released. Naturally there is obvious signs of wear and tear during parts but the job they did is astounding and for all intensive purposes the presentation is top shelf. To go along with all that the DVD includes two interview segments with Franco expert Stephen Thrower, author of the AMAZING book Nightmare USA, one discussing Franco and his work, the other discussing this film. Also included is an interview with Gerard Kikoine who edited Franco’s films during the period when he was working for French producer Robert de Nesle. It’s an interesting and very informative piece as he does into detail about how certain films were edited for censorship back in those days, and what versions of films went to certain theatres and when they could be shown in said theatres. It’s an absolute must have DVD, although I’m sure by now Franco fanatics have been all over it. Lorna is probably only going to appeal to a limited amount of film watchers and that’s understandable, but if you’re part of that demographic that enjoys this type of cinema, or a Franco fan who’s yet to see it (what the hell are you waiting for?!) Lorna is prime viewing. The back of the DVD summed it up perfectly by describing it as a “masterpiece of transgressive horror”. Essential Franco. R.I.P. Lina. Fuck cancer.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
The rape/revenge subgenre has to be among the most well known of all the kinds of films that have the exploitation tag. At least the most well known to the general public when they hear the term “exploitation”. Certainly among the most notorious. But aside from that they also proved to be some of the most popular and more than a few became instant classics. Tales of ravaged women giving their attackers their just desserts in films such as I Spit On Your Grave and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, or in the case of films like Last House on the Left and Savage Streets which featured family members of the wronged ones getting the upper hand on the assailants of their loved ones filled up seats in grindhouses all over the globe. Enter director Abel Ferrara. Fresh off The Driller Killer he gave audiences his own take on the vengeful female in 1981 with Ms. 45. It’s been referred to as “the female Death Wish” and a cross between the later film and Thriller. While those comparisons are apt (the Thriller ones especially), Ms. 45 stands head and shoulders above it’s vigilante companions.
Thana (Zoë Lund, billed here as Zoë Tamerlis, as she was known back then) is a young mute woman who works as a seamstress in New York City’s Garment District. Along with being very shy and a bit withdrawn, her condition also makes her very venerable. While walking home from the grocery store one afternoon she is yanked into an alley by a masked man (played by Ferrara) and raped at gunpoint. Traumatized, she walks home but only to walk in on her apartment being burglarized. She is confronted by the robber, and again raped at gunpoint. During the act the man drops his gun, allowing Thana to bash him on the head and bludgeon him to death with an iron, drags the body to the bathtub and chops it into pieces, taking the assailants .45 caliber handgun as collateral. Initially used as protection against men she presumes as potential threats, she becomes more and more emboldened by the gun the more she uses it and she herself becomes the predator, taking to the streets, targeting not just men she believes will endanger her, but men in general. And she’s one hell of a shot.
I said Ms. 45 stands head and shoulders above all other “rape/revenge” flicks but I’ll take it a step further and call it the absolute best of the bunch. It has many qualities that qualify it to hold that title, but the biggest is it’s star, Zoë Lund. She carries this film without saying one word during the course of it’s 82 minute run time. She was just 17 years old when she landed the role, and she delivers an unforgettable, charismatic, show stealing performance. Ferrara struck gold when he found her, and the world of cult film is still thankful. The evolution of her character is fascinating to watch, as within five minutes of the film you just want to give the poor girl a hug, and by the hour mark you wont want her to even glance at you. The thing is, you’re kind of rooting for her after what has happened to her, and indeed her kills are pretty righteous at first, mostly street trash and sleazebags who just don’t know when to fuck off. She even takes out an entire street gang. But as the film goes on and her violence becomes more and more senseless, there are times when she’ll act out and you’ll be saying “Well that was kind of unnecessary”. For instance when she sets her sights on an Asian man who was just kissing his girlfriend, when he makes it into his building before she has time to pull the trigger, the look of disappointment on her face is frightening. Yet, despite all of that, I really wouldn’t call Thana a contemptible character. Lund is just that good in the role, plus, can you really blame her for her actions? Speaking of looks on faces, Lund lets her face do all the talking, and some of the expressions she makes will stop you dead in your tracks, my favorites being the sly, almost seductive look she gives right before she off’s a rich Arab businessman and his chauffer and the glare she throws at her touchy feely boss. Again, seductive, but ultimately deadly. Those eyes are the definition of expressive. She’s simply a stunning woman and as the film goes on she begins using her good looks to lure in easy catches, going from dressing very conservatively early on in the film, to more make up, sexy skin tight leather pants and so on and so forth. Impossible to take your eyes off her even for a second.
The gritty and dirty New York imagery Ferrara painted in The Driller Killer (see what I did there? Or maybe not if you’ve yet to see The Driller Killer. Regardless, the pun stays) carries over to Ms. 45 but this time around Ferrara has totally honed his craft. The grimy realism Ferrara is known for is most defiantly present in Ms. 45, but it’s also very slick. This film is where he found that perfect balance between the two. Sure, any director can throw gratuitous violence in your face, but Ferrara does it with style. Take for example when Thana fills a photographer full of pepper in his home studio/apartment (from the fucking elevator mind you), the splashing of the blood on the white backdrop looks as it paint is being splashed on a canvas in carefully measured amounts. I’m not sure if Ferrara intended it to look like that but that’s the impression I got. Despite the fact that it’s obviously someone is throwing it from the right side of the screen, it still looks awesome. Then of course there’s the films now iconic finale, wherein Thana flat out executes the male patrons at a Halloween party dressed in a sexy nun costume. I think it’s safe to say the scene was inspired by Carrie’s infamous prom, it’s presented in glorious slow motion, it’s almost surreal thanks in part to the flashing party lights, all the Halloween decorations and costumes, especially some of the weirder ones. It’s really a masterfully shot sequence and really shows off Ferrara’s creativity when presenting material such as this. Along with Thana’s trigger happy antics, Ferrara makes way for some moments of (very) black comedy by way of Thana’s disposing of her home invader’s body parts all across New York City, such as tossing a bag in some poor saps trunk who’s on his way back to Georgia, or a homeless drunk looking for food in a trash can instead finds a hand Thana had placed there earlier. There’s some comical moments involving Thana’s nosey landlord as well, although I will say her character is borderline annoying. The film also boasts a sexy, jazzy score that fit’s the seedy New York imagery to a T. I adore the sax notes that play right before Thana is about to blast somebody in certain scenes, and good luck getting the tune the band plays during the party scene before shit hit’s the fan.
Along with being an actress, Zoë Lund was also a musical, a model and a writer, and would go on to write the screenplay for Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant (the directors finest hour if you ask me) also sharing two very powerful scenes with star Harvey Keitel in that film. She also had a long standing love affair with heroin, eventually contracting a lung infection sometime in 1996. She sadly passed away 3 years later in 1999 in Paris at the age of 37. A damn shame she went out the way she did as she was an incredibly creative and talented person. There’s a great video on YouTube entitled “Zoë XO”, which you can watch here featuring Zoë’s husband Robert Lund driving around New York City discussing his time with Zoë amongst other topics including facets of her personality, her love of rats and her mentality when it came to heroin use. It’s really a fascinating watch about a fascinating women who checked out way too soon. Also, here's a brief clip of Zoe discussing Ms. 45 on the cable access show Media Funhouse. Ms. 45 stands as a testament to just one of her talents. It also stands as Abel Ferrara’s first masterpiece. A true underground classic, absolutely essential. Plus how cool is the title “Ms. 45”? Rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn’t it?
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Abel Ferrara is a ballsy filmmaker. I don’t think there’s much to debate about there. When he made his feature film debut (non porno that is) with the infamous 1979 's The Driller Killer, it was obvious right from the start that this guy wasn’t going to hold anything back with his films, and subsequent films such as Ms. 45 and the notorious Bad Lieutenant proved just that. Without question the man is the epitome of an “independent filmmaker”. Fuck getting permits to shoot, just get a crew and go. That’s how he does it. No matter what your opinion is regarding his films (and people have had some strong ones over the years) you have to admire the gall he has. His films have a real gritty quality to them, a harsh realism that leaves a lasting impression long after the film has finished. More often than not there is much more lingering beneath the surface along with all the rawness that is inherit in his works making his films far from one dimensional. In 1995 he and his partner in crime, screenwriter and longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John returned to the horror genre, in an albeit drastically different way, and the result was The Addiction, one of the oddest, most unconventional, yet totally original vampire films in recent memory.
While walking home one night, New York philosophy major Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) is accosted by a strange woman (Annabella Sciorra) who drags her down into a alley, bites her on the neck then coldly exclaims “You want to know what’s going to happen? Wait and see.” Kathleen has just been turned into a vampire, while she struggles at first to come to terms with her condition, she quickly adapts to her new lifestyle, seemingly embracing it, finding herself fully addicted to human blood and the newfound evil she discovers in herself, yet there is a strong feeling of guilt that remians lingering in her about the whole thing, and a chance encounter with a master vampire named Piena (Christopher Walken) leaves her reassessing her entire outlook on her nature while struggling to not be overtaken by her vampyric urges.
The Addiction is a weird movie, and the way it goes about accomplishing what it sets out to do will probably make it unappealing to a good number of people. A pity, as I doubt said people have ever seen a vampire movie like this one. These isn’t your average vampire flick that’s for sure but it’s precisely it’s unique vision and fresh take on vampires that makes it work as well as it does. There are some familiar classic vampire traditions included here and there but for the most this film is in a league of it’s own. The film is heavy with metaphor, the most obvious one being vampire = junkie, although in reality I’d hardly call that subtext as it’s more than blatant. Hell, remember what the title of the movie is! I know this isn’t the first film to allude to that but it’s never been done in such a direct way as it is here. Before Kathleen begins to bite, she extracts blood from people via syringe and shoots it up. The effect it is very much like heroin, she leans back with a look of relief/ecstasy on her face. Of course when she goes without, hunger sets in, a withdrawal mimicking the worst type of dopesick imaginable, writhing in agony, vomiting (Ferrara has Kathleen vomit blood which is a nice tough), the works. When feeding is discussed amongst vampires, it’s handled like a conversation involving two addicts. Drinking blood is referred to as a “fix”. One of the most interesting things about The Addiction and it’s vampires is the interaction they have with their victims. When Kathleen is first bit, the attacking vampire tells her to “Tell me to go away, say it with conviction”, and Kathleen does the same with her victims, as if she’s giving them a chance. After she bites a fellow student that she’s lured to her apartment the student sobs and asks how could she have done that to her, Kathleen states in an emotionless manner “It was your decision”.
By making Kathleen a philosophy major, this gives the film license to muse upon various philosophical issues, quoting many of histories great thinkers using vampirism as a catalyst, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why the film stands out, by having all of these theories used in the context of a vampire film. I’m not going to dissect every single idea the film puts out, but there are a few important ones that are front in center, and it’s kind of hard to discuss the film without bringing up a few on them. The film has a lot to say about the evils of humanity, more specifically that evil is inherent in all humans. Towards the end of the film Kathleen’s maker quotes ”We're not evil because of the evil we do, but we do evil because we are evil. Yeah. Now what choices do such people have? It's not like we have any options.” Throughout the film we hear voiceovers with Kathleen discussing this idea plus a variety of other topics that all correlate to the themes contained in the film. Whether or not St. John and Ferrara actually believe in the theories present in the film, or just thought they would make for interesting discussion, I’m not sure. This idea of evil being inherit in humanity leads to guilt, another topic that is discussed at length in the film. The guilt aspect also goes hand in hand with the drug addiction allegory. The “comedown” Kathleen feels after acting on her impulses is not unlike the self loathing an addict would feel after getting a fix, knowing it’s implications. Guilt also leads into the classic Ferrara them of redemption and forgiveness, which in turn leads into the films very ambiguous ending which is open to interpretation to say the least.
Kathleen’s transformation into a full fledged violent bloodsucker does happen fairly quickly, yet at the same time it’s not rushed at all, which is great as we get to witness her character gradually come full circle. Lili Taylor is flat out amazing as Kathleen throwing herself into the role with abandon. One of her finest hours for sure. What impressed me the most about her was the physicality she brought to the role. When Kathleen’s predatory instincts take over the results are very visceral, and her withdrawal scenes are painful to watch, the way Taylor goes all out like she’s having a seizure, violently thrashing on the street and vomiting blood, and even almost physically attacking herself while trying to control the urge to get a fix. One of the best sequences in the film finds Kathleen ranting to her best friend Jean (played by Edie Falco) on the topic of guilt. It’s fascinating to watch as Taylor draws you in with her intense delivery and mannerisms, she could have been going off about the Easter bunny and it still would have been just as enticing. She’s that good, and more than credible. Moments after her guilt speech she delivers the great line “I’ll crush you like cardboard”. So awesome. Plus she looks sexy as hell in those sunglasses she wears throughout the film. Although his screen time is brief, Christopher Walken is unforgettable and the short time Kathleen spends with his character Piena is incredibly important in the grand scheme of things. Piena claims to have been “fasting” for 40 years, and has been able to control his urges for a “fix”. He tells Kathleen it’s possible with will power to control the urges and says it’s all about blending in, not letting yourself stick out. He can eat normal food and has a job. Yet he also knows just what he is, and because of that see’s himself as something that’s beyond the concept of good and evil. Walken is brilliant as always, making Piena a confident, somewhat arrogant, yet ultimately authoritative figure. You don’t want him to stop talking.
Ferrara opted to shoot The Addiction in stark black and white and it worked wonders. One of his biggest strengths behind the camera has always been able to capture this feeling of grit yet at the same time make it incredibly stylish and artful and that balance is on display perfectly here. The atmosphere you want in a vampire movie is present, but it’s of an rough, urban nature. Naturally this is a bleak and dark film, and Ferrara uses the black and white look to his utmost advantage. The scene in which Kathleen is bitten makes perfect use of the limited light, with both Taylor and Sciorra’s faces mostly obscured by silhouettes and the sound design used in the scene gives it an almost surreal, otherworldly quality. The film opens with images from the May Lai massacre during the Vietnam war and Kathleen’s voice over monologues are accompanied by stills from the Holocaust, which I’m sure will get many peoples panties in a bunch calling it cheap shock value. These images do serve a purpose, an extreme purpose I admit but remember what kind of film this is and the context in which they were used. Of course leave it to Ferrara to stage an ultra violent finale wherein Kathleen throws a party in celebration of her getting her PHD, inviting all her new vampire cohorts to feast on the poor unsuspecting partygoers, a prime example of his ability to create highly stylized violence. The aftermath, or the “overdose” as it’s been called is another scene shot in a nightmarish/surrealist fashion, with Kathleen walking gingerly down the streets of New York City drenched in blood. Ferrara crafts the scene in a way to put the viewer in the same kind of daze Kathleen is experiencing. Piling on to the already harsh urban environment the soundtrack is comprised of some pretty bouncing hip hop tunes, including a great use of Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High”.
Christopher Walken is a Ferrara regular, having starred in one of the directors most well known films King of New York and also starring in Ferrara’s incredibly depressing gangster film The Funeral which was shot back to back with The Addiction and also features Annabella Sciorra. He would go on to star in the cyberpunk tinged New Rose Hotel the following year alongside Willem Dafoe (who has become Ferrara’s muse in recent years) and Asia Argento. A fun fact about The Addiction, along with Sciorra and Edie Falco, keep an eye out for Michael Imperioli who makes a brief appearance as one of those guys who hands out “God Loves You” pamphlets on the street. That’s three Soprano’s stars in the same movie 4 years before the series premiered. Always thought that was pretty cool. The Addiction isn't for everyone (although the same could probably be said about the majority of Ferrara’s output) and it does have it’s fair share of detractors who slag it off as pretentious. There’s a lot too a film like this. It’s fairly short at 82 minutes but a lot of ground gets covered an taking it all at face value will probably give off the wrong impressions. If your looking for the tried and true “classic” vampire, you won’t find it here. If your looking for sappy, romantic vampires stay as far away as possible. However, if you are looking for a completely original take on vampires and willing to go in with an open mind, The Addiction is perfect, and it’s also a shining example of how ridiculously talented an actress Lili Taylor is. Another thing, it amazes me that this movie is 17 years old and it STILL doesn’t have an “official” DVD release in America. I’m calling shenanigans. This film is prime for a Criterion release, but I’m not holding my breath. Now tell me to go away.