There’s just something about thrift store finds. You see something on tape with a bizarre cover and a semi-promising recommendation from Roger Ebert on the front explaining that it’s a realistic vampire movie, whatever that means. But, since the price tag on it is $0.99, it’s not much of a gamble. If it sucks, chuck it. If it’s good, hey, you’ve scored out on some obscure something-or-other you never would have heard of before and were actually entertained and had your senses stimulated for 112 minutes.
Habit (1995) was written, directed and edited by Larry Fessenden, who also plays the main character Sam, a drunk reeling from the death of his father and the recent breakup with his girlfriend. At a party, he meets and falls in instant lust with a mysterious woman named Anna, a sort-of prototype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, before the MPDG was a plot device used to show that the main character male of the movie doesn’t require change in their already-perfect behavior in order to be happy (all you need is a woman who understands your quirks and eccentricities and embraces them). No, she represents something much darker in the framework of this particular film. Something much more essential to the root of addiction and helping us understand what makes these characters tick.
Here, like in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (released the same year), vampirism is a metaphor for dependence. Whenever there’s an interesting take on something in film that’s been explored to death before, you can count on Abel Ferrara to offer his vision, too. 4:44 Last Day on Earth versus Melancholia, anyone? In both cases, both films presented unique versions of the same type of horror, with their own unique insights on the human condition.
What’s most original with Habit is how the story is told. The movie really wants to put you in the head of Sam. What must it be like to be bitten by a vampire and feel the sickness overwhelm you? Would you just think you’re going crazy? What would draw your attention to the vampire? Would it be some sort of hypnotic spell? How would you react to the situation once you realized you were being fed off by a vampire? Would anyone believe you?
Furthermore, there are two different kinds of logic you can follow when watching the film and each interpretation makes sense:
1. Sam has met and has been put under the spell of the undead nosferatu, a vampyr! In the classic tradition of this kind of story, she keeps him under a spell and he’s drawn to her, sexually, bestially, he craves her and she craves his blood. The attraction, at its very core, is making him ill, both through the vampire disease spreading through his veins and the impurity of the relationship itself. Anna appears in his apartment by way of magic, since he already invited her in before as per the traditional lore and her murderous jealousy is sparked when she overhears him on the phone trying to patch things up with his ex-girlfriend.
2. Sam has met and developed a lusty crush on a girl that he has met at a party. They’re newly dating and between mysterious conversations about this-or-that they have lots and lots of sex. His guilt (sleeping with another woman while still hung up on his ex), coupled by an obvious dependence on alcohol, is effectively killing him. He decides to patch things up with his ex-girlfriend when Anna walks in, using his key to gain entry into the apartment. Feeling both guilty and sick, he quits alcohol cold turkey and his symptoms are exacerbated to an extreme from withdrawal and what he perceives to be Anna’s angry vampire rage are things he’s actually done himself while in a blackout stupor.
In defense of the vampire scenario, there are certain things used to hint at the reality of this which we, the viewer, witness but Sam does not. If the delusions are specific to Sam because of his mental health problems caused by a liquor-induced madness, all of these things should be witness by him, as we see these events unfold through his eyes. If we see something that he does not, that means that this is a reality. The camera does not hallucinate, characters do.
The sores on his lip and arm are from where Anna is sucking the blood from him.
In defense of the alcoholic scenario, he may have noticed some of these seemingly invisible-to-him events unfurl, but saw them out of the corner of his eye or was too drunk to give much reaction and figured that what he was seeing MUST have been a trick of the eye, so either barely or invisibly acknowledged these things. Also, past events of his life describe him as someone who used to have a very violent temper, and we know for sure that he has an extreme drinking problem.
The sores on his lip and arm are caused by his failing health and by a kinky bite during a sexual liaison.
Which reality do I believe? Both. I believe both scenarios were given equally valid consideration and both are happening parallel to each other. Anna is both a vampire and not a vampire. Sam is both dying from alcoholism and dying from the bites and nightly visits he receives from her. Her random appearances in his life can be thought of as both fortuitous and coldly calculated. Anna murdered and Sam murdered.
Habit is a well-thought, well-shot exercise in psychological horror. Larry Fassenden is excellent in the role and goes against that socially perceived notions of what makes someone attractive. Meredith Snaider, as Anna, is beautiful but not traditionally so. Nothing about this movie is traditional, really. The way it’s shot and edited gives it a surreal quality with some real sensitivity and emotion, and the mythic tale of the vampire is subverted.
The movie is a real treat and deserves to be seen again by a larger audience, almost 20 years after its initial release. Better late than never?