Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Habit or What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Sam's Body?

November 1985 at a Kaiser hospital in southern California -

At some point, I had rolled over in my sleep onto my I.V. tubing and crimped the line for both my antibiotic and potassium drips. My fever, which had been abating, quickly changed direction and shot back up. I had been placed on a gurney and unceremoniously parked in a stockroom closet of the hospital because there were no beds available. I wasn't alone. A man who was easily in his late 90s had been lodged in the same closet on another gurney right next to mine. He was in the last stages of some respiratory illness that caused his labored breathing to become even more intense, and he would emit an unearthly moan every few breaths. At any moment, I kept expecting him to get up NotLD-style, walk over to me and start feasting. Oh by the way, this wasn't the bad part of the story, that came several weeks earlier when I tangled with the vampire who eventually put me in the hospital.

Synopsis: Man + vampire = bad times

There are certain movies that you connect with on a personal level. I don't know if I can call Larry Fessenden's Habit my favorite movie, but it's certainly the one I'm most obsessed by, probably because I feel such a personal connection. When I was younger, I was very much like Sam, the protagonist of Habit, an over-educated underachiever who walks through life with a beer in one hand and a pithy comment on the tip of his tongue. Sam's the type of guy who combs his hair with his fingers, wears an overcoat to cover his fashion faux-pas, and always seems to be carrying a little pick-me-up in a brown paper bag. He's charming, glib and friendly, but not too responsible, ambitious or sober minded. He's also the perfect victim for a vampire.

At the beginning of the film, Sam's father has died, his girlfriend has left him and he's pretty much treading water vocationally speaking. Sam's in a vulnerable state, but he seems fairly oblivious to the fact. At a Halloween party, he meets a young woman named Anna, and begins a relationship with her. She then proceeds to suck the life out of him.

The question of the film is not whether Anna is a vampire, but what kind - literal or figurative. Fessenden throws in all kinds of gothic and vampiric iconography in addition to dream and surreal sequences to cloud the question so the viewer is never quite sure if Sam's going nuts or Anna is indeed a literal vampire. This is the most interesting aspect to the film - unreliable narrator or very reliable vampire? Add to this hand held, cinema verite-style camera work, interesting NYC locations, an unusual red and green color pallet, a brilliant mix of pop, folk and orchestral music, and a stellar, unselfconscious performance by Fessenden in the lead role, and you have an outstanding film. I've seen it upwards of 30 times, and I've yet to tire of it. It is almost as hypnotic and sexy as its female antagonist.

There's not much to complain about on the downside. A couple of times, I could hear actors reading lines instead of emoting, and the editing gets a little iffy in a couple of spots, but overall, this is an incredibly well put together low budget film that packs a subtle, intelligent and stylish punch. 

Now if you were like me, and have almost had the life drained out of you by a strange new love interest, and wound up in a hospital closet with a raging fever and a barely breathing man in the adjacent gurney, you would probably feel a personal connection to the film as well and give it a high final score of:

Very cool - Fessenden with his production company Glass Eye Pix has been involved in making some of the best American horror of the past 10 years including House of the Devil, Bitter Feast, I Sell the Dead, Stakeland plus Ti West's upcoming film The Innkeepers.

Not so much - I have the two Just Desserts songs from the Habit soundtrack and would love to have the rest of the music including the haunting orchestral score but it is not available as yet.

Spoilery WTF? Meredith Snaider, who does a very nice job playing the enigmatic Anna, is only listed in the IMDB for this film and no other, which is weird because of what happens to her character in the very last shot of the film.

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