* * * *
Dir. Larry Fessenden, 1995
“We live, as we dream–alone.”- Joseph Conrad
The easy comparison to make for Larry Fessenden is John Cassavettes. Both were actors turned indie auteurs, working outside of any semblance of mainstream filmmaking circles in New York City. While Fessenden hasn’t had the prolific directing career that Cassavettes did, he has become a significant figure in indie horror circles. He’s been the mentor to TI West and through his production company, Glass Eye Pix, he’s produced a number of the more interesting Indie horror films of the past decade, as well as notable non-horror indies like Wendy & Lucy and The Comedy. And like Cassavettes’ did with Shadows, Fessenden remade his first film and the resulting remake is Habit.
The film is about Sam, an alcoholic New York Bohemian/waiter whose father has just died and has separated from his long-time girlfriend. He meets the mysterious Anna at a Halloween party, and let’s just say they don’t end up having the healthiest of relationships.
Habit feels like a movie that Fesseden has spent significant time with (over 15 years, in fact from its 1982 version to this 1995 version that wasn’t released until 1997). Fesseden stars, directs, edited, and even did the sound editing. It has a confident style; the movement of his camera is far more sophisticated than you’d expect to see in a low-budget horror film and even though it’s shot in 4:3 he has some beautiful framing. He also has a terrific editing instinct. The script can be a bit on the nose and there are two scenes that don’t work: The scene of Anna and Rae in the rain seems like it may have held more significance in another edit, and Nick’s final speech to Sam goes on too long and isn’t nearly subtle enough. But nearly everything else is quite effective.
I mentioned earlier that there are a few notable weaknesses in this film, but in evaluating low-budget indie films I think it’s often more important to consider the overall effect of the film and its ambition rather than potential limitations which often are drawn from practical wants. And here, the mood and tone is perfect. It’s simultaneously sexy and a bit repulsive (some my find the sex scenes a bit troubling, and they are supposed to be); both romantic and sad. Calling this a vampire film, while it technically might be, can be misleading. This is first and foremost a film about a broken, self-destructive man who enters into a relationship with an equally broken woman; it’s more Strindberg than Dracula, more Sid & Nancy than Salem’s Lot. It’s reminiscent of Romero’s Martin, both in its ambiguity and that it’s horror draws from the painful disintegration of relationships and mental states instead of gore or jumps.
This is also a terrific New York movie. It’s a portrait of New York that is poetic in its squalor and grime in much the same way as Burroughs or Lou Reed (the film’s rather outstanding soundtrack is heavily influenced by the VU and I could totally see Lou Reed write the song version of this film). I’m definitely a sucker for this aesthetic which is similar to several other New York indies recalling early Abel Ferrera (whose The Addiction is the other New York Vampire masterpiece of 1995), early Cassavettes, and lesser known NY horror directors like Henenlotter or Giovinazzo. I’m not sure if it was something about the city itself that dictated this aesthetic, if there was something about their indie production methods that it was a result of, if they were watching the same things, or if there was just something in the water (a mix of all of these?). But I like it.
The ability of horror is to, through metaphor and the expressive freedoms the fantastic allows, explore the human condition, particularly its darker sides and its spiritual potential; both of which are often neglected or handled without much nuance in other kinds of films. Not everyone may want their horror films to be poetic expressions of loneliness and addiction, but for me this film demonstrates how those states can be presented in a way that perhaps allows other people who are unacquainted with those experiences to better understand them. Several critics have called this the most realistic vampire movie they’ve seen, and I think what they mean is that we can understand how and why the relationship here develops. The ambiguity in the film and it’s final scene is that whether vampires exist or not, we have seen how someone who is lonely enough can enter into a relationship that they know full well may destroy them.
Would make an interesting double feature with: Def by Temptation