July 16, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 46: Habit (1995)

Directed by Larry Fessenden. Starring Larry Fessenden ("Sam"), Meredith Snaider ("Anna"), Aaron Beall ("Nick"), and Patricia Coleman ("Rae"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Fox Lorber)
Running time: 01:52:29
Country: USA

I promise: no more vampire movies after this! I'd actually like to cover some of the Jean Rollin vampire movies before Summer of Blood ends, but no more aside from that!

HABIT is the product of writer/director/producer/musician Larry Fessenden, who also stars in the film as the lead character Sam. I honestly didn't know much about Fessenden until I watched THE LAST WINTER a couple of years ago. He's someone I recognized as an actor because of his trademark missing tooth and messy hair, but I didn't realize just how involved in "the arts" he was. That said, it's fitting that HABIT is immersed in the scene of young artists and Bohemian types that Fessenden seemingly comes from. It starts out as sort of a glimpse into the world of these characters with Sam as the main focus - more of a slice-of-life, character-driven film than a plot-driven one. It's as close to "mumblecore" as you can get before there ever was a genre with such a ridiculous name. With the nearly two-hour running time in mind, I worried that this would be a chore to get through. It ultimately sort of ended up being the case, but most chores are rewarding in the end, right?

When HABIT starts, Sam goes to a Halloween party and meets the pretty but mysterious Anna, played by Meredith Snaider, who reprises her role from the original 1982 short film. They hit it off, drunkenly exchange numbers, and meet up again sooner than later. Going into this with the knowledge that it's a vampire movie, it was just a matter of waiting to see how the vampire elements play out. Given the subtle visual clue after the initial meeting of Sam and Anna, it doesn't come as a surprise when she essentially ends up changing him, and by that I mean providing him with kinky unprotected sex every time they meet up. It's through their intimacy that Sam undergoes physical changes - kinda like he got bit by a vampire! All of this on the heels of Sam getting dumped by his ex, Liza, who's the opposite of Anna in a lot of ways.

The kinky sexual encounters eventually leads to bloodletting (naturally), which causes Sam to grow suspicious and believe that Anna is indeed an honest-to-God vampire. That said, the vampirism in the film blurs the line between traditional vampirism and a metaphor for AIDS or some sort of STD. At one point Sam talks to one of his best friends - the voice of reason - about his suspicions. His friend, in return, drops an amazing monologue about how vampirism exists in the evil of humanity and how things like drugs and alcohol are what suck the life out of us - not a creature with fangs.

Sam and Anna start to drift apart at a certain point and things get pretty dark, although the question never ceases to remain: Is this all in Sam's head or is Anna in fact a vampire who's slowly killing him?

At this point, with the history of horror cinema taken into consideration, the unconventional vampire film has been done many times (and to great effect in a lot of cases), but, for its time, I can only assume HABIT was a breath of fresh air for the horror genre and for the indie scene in general. The fact that it was well-received on the festival circuit is a testament to that. As for me, watching this for the first time almost twenty years after it came out, I can't quite take myself back to that place. I did, however, find it to be a great snapshot of New York in the 90s. I'm sure some of you reading this know of my obsession with old-school New York City, so, on top of the fact that it's 90s as fuck and I'm a fan of the culture and fashion aspect of the 90s Grunge and Alternative scenes, the setting of HABIT appealed to my interests. Throw in some creepy horror imagery, a good performance from Fessenden (who reminds me of a young Jack Nicholson meets Ethan Hawke - weird, I know), and a bunch of subtle references to Bram Stoker's DRACULA and vampire mythology in general, and HABIT is a neat (and smart) little vampire drama with a decent amount of atmosphere.

Score: 7

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