(director: Abel Ferrara; screenwriters: Nicholas St. John/ Ken Kelsch; cinematographer: Ken Kelsch; editor: Mayin Lo; cast: Lili Taylor (Kathleen Conklin), Edie Falco (Jean), Christopher Walken (Peina), Paul Caldaron (Professor), Kathryn Erbe (Anthropology Student), Annabella Sciorra (Casanova), Robert Castle (Priest); Runtime: 82; October Films release; 1995)
“Vampires are compared to junkies who need their fix.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An N.Y.U. philosophy doctoral candidate, Kathleen Conklin (Lili), gets her doctorate despite being bitten in the neck by a vampire (Sciorra) and becoming one herself, when pulled into an alley after attending a lecture on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
This handsomely shot b/w film relates vampires to the evil that is inherent in man; it is what becomes his addiction. Vampires are compared to junkies who need their fix. The film refers to a collection of philosophers to give its theme gravitas — Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. In the background, we hear funky rap music and witness the action on the mean streets of Greenwich Village.
The film makes use of the 24-hour around the clock slide show featured by the Holocaust Museum in NYC, to interject the evil of the Nazis as parallel to vampyrism. This was a mistake. You are comparing apples with oranges, and the film’s credibility suffers from such an unjust comparison. In case Ferrara forgot, vampires are not real but the Holocaust was only too real.
The film itself does not feature much action, relying on a lot of chatter and non-communicative conversations to get its story across. There is one mass bloodsucking scene at the film’s climax, as Kathy invites her college mentors and some personal acquaintances over to help celebrate her doctoral degree with a reception. She thanks them for coming and then says, Id like to take a minute to share with you a little of what Ive learned while studying for my doctorate. Then she pounces on one of her professors, sucks out a mouthful of blood and spits it out at the crowd. Now that’s what we were waiting for, since the film did not feel quite right up to that point. It felt better as it became more campy and less academic.
Despite the short-comings of the plot, Lili Taylor gives a credible performance. She is especially good in the scene where she is pulling out her own molar to prove a philosophical point. She is the best thing about the film, playing a vampire addict who just wants her fix.
This thinking man’s vampire movie is a natural for the midnight cult audience, but will seem out of place in a prime time slot. Christopher Walken is a natural for this type of film, but has a part that’s so small it might as well be nonexistent. We don’t see him until the film is nearly over, and when we do see him he doesn’t do much except drain the blood of the still-not-evolved vampire, Kathy.
One of the many problems with this low-budget film, is that it couldn’t tell its story without the philosophers. The story could have been more interestingly developed, but it never has a chance to really express itself without being explained away in philosophical terms. We are teased with the weight of their meaning, and then we are stopped short from following through on what the implications are. The topic of free will is always a good philosophical one; but, when Kathy says it is now my will against theirs, we are not quite sure what she means by that. When she confronts her next chosen victim and is ready to vamp them, she asks them to look her in the face and tell her to convincingly let go. But what does that mean! Unless this is a blatant call against pacifism, saying we have to get ready to kick ass whenever we are set upon.
What Kathy learns from her vampire guru, Peina (Walken), not her college prof, is that we are all evil: “we must annihilate the self in order to break our addiction to exist.” So the question becomes what should we do, if we can’t kill what is dead!
“You will do anything for a fix,” says Kathy. “An addiction is an evil thing to have.” And if you are faced with choosing yourself or them, Kathy still believes that you must satisfy your own needs first. Or, “You can do with as little as you possibly can,” says the diet-conscious and wise vampire, Peina.
If you want to see a film that is more credible that handles the same subject, but injects more life and fear into its story and less philosophy and guilt-ridden religious themes, check out Larry Fessenden’s Habit.
REVIEWED ON 5/30/99 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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