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HABIT (1997).

I know what you're thinking: Who needs yet another Lower East Side female-vampire movie? I felt the same way until I saw this uniquely-corrosive NYC feature from director-writer-star Larry Fessenden (who's been banging around the underground scene since the mid-'80s, with pics like HOLLOW VENUS and NO TELLING), which subverts the usual horror tropes in order to focus on the more tangible terrors of life, death and loneliness -- as a man loses control of his life and falls prey to his own demons... In an edgy, open-wound of a performance, Larry plays Sam, a thirtynothing sloppy drunk who's "committing suicide on the installment plan" and believes "all love ends in sadness." His girlfriend (Heather Woodbury) has moved out, he has scars on his arms from slicing himself up and the guy jumpstarts each morning with a stiff drink. Along the way, Fessenden captures the seediest aspects of urban life; and more important, for the first hour, the concept of vampirism isn't even mentioned. Instead it sucks you in as a Bukowski-esque drama of crazy love. Sam's life seems to change for the better at a Halloween party, when he meets a mysterious young beauty named Anna (Meredith Snaider) who, at first, seems like an unlikely date for this lush with the missing front tooth. Of course, Anna has her odd side, which includes disappearing or appearing at the strangest times, as well as a kinky edge which leaves Sam with a series of ugly bites. As he feels increasingly "sick," his outlook on the world becomes shakier, and we wonder if Anna is indeed a vampire, or whether Sam has simply fried his brain after years of excess... While his script turns on the concept of a seductive female vampire, this bleak but brilliant tale relies more on psychological horror, and is ultimately closer in spirit to Dostoyevsky than Bram Stoker. Shot on the streets of Manhattan (including Little Italy's San Gennaro Festival) and inside genuine shithole apartments, Fessenden and cinematographer Frank DeMarco expertly capture the seediest. most minute details of Sam's life. And while it's not new for a director to cast themselves in a lead role, few are as unguarded and effective as Fessenden, who fearlessly exposes the most self-destructive aspects of obsession (and seems to understand his troubled character all too well). Though Snaider is a little stiff at first, she slowly grows into the role, bringing a strength and sexual energy to the story. Stripping vampirism of its usual trappings and re-energizing it with everyday madness, HABIT is a beautifully realized vision -- as well as one of the most haunting films I've seen this year.

© 1997 by Steven Puchalski.