Habit VHS

Reality Bites

Look around the average video store these days and you’ll see that the vampire movie is still alive, undead and well. The shelves are crowded with direct-to-tape bloodsuckers, all vying for the rental bucks of goth-bedecked Anne Rice fans. Most of them crow about how they offer a whole new take on the vampire movie. Most of them are lying, but Habit isn’t one of them.

Writer, director and editor Larry Fessenden has given us a vampire film that truly tries something different – taking the vampire character almost entirely out of it’s usual romantic surroundings and planting it deep inside a sloppy urban drama. Fessenden also acts as his lead character Sam, a disheveled Hell’s Kitchen cafe manager whose life is unravelling around him despite his clumsy attempts to hold it together.

Sam’s grieving after the death of his father (played by Fessenden’s own dad, Hart), a man whose success and literary achievements Sam can never hope to match. He’s also fighting a losing battle with alcoholism and his relationship with his artist girlfriend. Though talented, he feels trapped by the safe familiarity of his slacker lifestyle. Sam’s seedy story is already fairly interesting, but things pick up considerably when he meets a mysterious woman named Anna (Meredith Snaider) at a friend’s Halloween party.

Stumbling drunk, Sam loses track of the attractive but strange Anna during the evening, but she soon returns, popping up to greet him when he least expects it. Her relationship with him is exciting, carnal – even carnivorous – but decidedly one sided. Sam only sees her when she chooses, keeping her address, profession, and almost everything else about her life a secret. This isn’t all that concerns Sam about Anna – an associate of his disappears soon after telling Sam about a hot affair he’s been having with a woman that sounds similar to Anna.

Sam really begins to worry when he starts to feel weaker every time he sees this intense woman (easy metaphor noted), a development he soon suspects has a lot to do with the way she always bites him, drawing blood during sex.

This is not even close to being the first vampire movie to concentrate more on the victim than the monster, but it’s rare for a supernatural tale to be grounded so firmly in believable reality. And technically, Fessenden was ahead of the game – this Habit is a remake of an earlier lower budget version he made in 1981.

Sam could be somebody we all know, and his confusion and terror easily become our own. This also makes Fessenden’s more traditional thriller scenes stand out all the more. He shot Habit in washed out tones that border on black & white documentary grit. But just as you’re accepting the vampire into our reality, the nightmare in our midst gives us a shock. A little blood goes a long way here.

Fessenden is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.

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