'The Addiction' and 'Nadja' feature vampires with no bite

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated October 20, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Nadja

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  • Movie

The Addiction; Nadja

Remember when vampires were fun? Back when people like Christopher Lee played them, they were true bloodsucking freaks — hothouse demons who only happened to be walking metaphors for sexuality and death. (When Lee flashed his incisors, he was having too good a time to be anyone’s metaphor.) At some point, though, the formula got reversed. Today’s vampires are nothing but metaphors — at least, the ones currently stalking art houses in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction and Michael Almereyda’s Nadja. Both films are languid black-and-white dream puzzles set in the netherworlds of downtown Manhattan. Both feature young female vampires who speak in the punk-blitzed tones of the existential undead. And both made me feel as if I were getting the life sucked out of me.

In The Addiction, Lili Taylor, a philosophy grad student at New York University, gets bitten in the neck and turned into a kind of supernatural drug addict, hooked on blood. Ferrara, whose scabrously powerful Bad Lieutenant is one of the rare unblinking excursions into the addictive psyche, would seem to be the perfect filmmaker to convert the notion of vampire as junkie into queasy, gory psychodrama. But The Addiction is a Ferrara dud. Instead of spinning out a modern horror story, he turns the film into a crackpot lecture, making vague herky jerky ”connections” between vampirism, the Holocaust, and the history of modern philosophy. The usually impish Taylor is reduced to prowling the streets in wraparound shades as she drops fashionably affectless assessments of Kierkegaard.

Episode Recaps

If Ferrara is undermined by his pretensions, Michael Almereyda, the writer-director of Nadja, is ruled by his. This coffeehouse creep show posits Dracula’s daughter (Elina Lowensohn) as a Eurotrash beatnik who has journeyed from Carpathia to the East Village. There is much morose discussion of her dysfunctional clan, as well as a strenuous camp performance by Peter Fonda, who seems to be trying to become the new Dennis Hopper. Lowensohn, an appealing siren, delivers Almereyda’s mopily ”lyrical” dialogue (”Nights without sleep. Nights in which the brain lights up like a big city…”) in the tones of a seductive hypnotist; as the film goes on, you can feel yourself getting sleepy, very sleepy. Almereyda’s one inspiration was to shoot some scenes with a Fisher-Price toy camera, which subdivides the screen into blurry squares. Considering how little there is going on in Nadja, it’s an oddly pleasant sensation to see the images melt before your eyes. The Addiction: C- Nadja: C-

Nadja

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