Larry Fessenden’s “Habit” is a beautifully executed, low budget masterpiece— a realistic and thought provoking vampire and psychological horror film.
I came across this film in the late 90s while taking a stroll to a local video store that existed on the main strip of shops in town. Perusing through the thousands of films, the thick blood splattered font along the spine of the DVD caught my eye. HABIT. A short name for a title I had never heard of before peeked my interest, which furthermore became invested once I looked at the cover and read the back.
The heavy green tint upon a man’s face who looked disheveled and hungry. The film’s title loudly spread across his forehead. Across the bottom was the quote:
“The most believable vampire flick I have ever seen.” – The Chicago Tribune.
Up until that time, the only seemingly realistic vampire films I had seen were Abel Ferrera’s 1995 film The Addiction and Romero’s 78′ MARTIN. Habit felt like a dare. So I immediately snatched it up, headed home and was introduced to what became my favorite vampire film of all time. Right next to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic NOSFERATU.
This film was originally a short that was made by Larry Fessenden himself, along with Meredith Snaider, in the early 80s.
The original short had a run time between 17-20 minutes. This simple fact that over a decade later Fessenden returned to this project, I believe, really speaks volumes in terms of his passion towards his love of film in wanting to tell this tale on a grander scale.
The film opens with Sam (Fessenden) at home looking over pictures of his recently deceased father prior to heading out for the night, beer in hand. Arriving drunk at a Halloween party provided by Nick and Rae, two friends Sam frequents in his spare time. After accidentally spilling a pot, Sam is quick to admit he’s a horrible drunk to everyone and begins cleaning up his mess.
Across the room, Sam catches a woman staring at him. It is here we are introduced to Anna, portrayed by Meredith Snaider. Upon trading names, Sam jokes to her that being around Nick and Rae works because “they are always well stocked.” As they leave, Sam is clearly even more drunk and realizes he has to return the wrong coat he left with. Anna gives him her number but says she’ll wait for him to return.
Sam loses her and her number post shindig. As his drunken night continues, he grows curious about his encounter with Anna. Asking Nick if he knew who she was, he’s given no answer. And his quest comes to a halt, as she is seemingly lost to him.
We learn he’s going through a separation with his girlfriend and that he manages a restaurant. After helping his ex move to her new apartment, he meets up with Nick and Rae at a carnival — only to run into Anna. From here on is where the film really takes off.
There’s something very unusual about Anna.
There’s her reluctance to answer Sam’s questions about her life, or to eat or drink in front of him. Her sudden appearances and disappearances into and out of Sam’s nights. The way she observes Sam while being there for him, listening to every word he says. Waiting for invitations before walking into homes. Uncomfortably noticing garlic hanging in Sam’s apartment. Sam’s employee Lenny, who boasts on and on about a mysterious woman he’s met, as his health appears to be getting worse and worse.
Could she be what is so easily wrapped up here in a nice bow for us to believe, or is there something more going on? Should we digest this as a vampire film or a psychological drama involving a man whose drinking has led him into madness? There is a personal chaos going on with Sam here that is balanced with Anna and her odd behaviors, including drinking Sam’s blood little by little.
This full feature definitely explores the story a bit further than the short, delivering a more haunting and tragic tale.
Fessenden brilliantly avoids obvious answers to just what it is we are seeing — or think we are seeing — ultimately leaving us to figure out those answers for ourselves. Perhaps, it’s best not to know but to always wonder.
The go-for-broke, guerilla-style method of shooting this film helps encase the east side of Autumn in NYC, providing a chilling atmosphere that also possesses a modern timelessness to it. Fessenden’s direction helps draw the audience in, keeping them hooked with his honest and convincing storytelling.
The unpolished population of people walking throughout the streets. The naturalistic dialogue between these characters that sometimes feel improvised. Fessenden as Sam doesn’t feel out of place whatsoever. His energy makes him completely believable as a man lost in grief, alcoholism and insanity. Meanwhile Snaider’s role as Anna provides us with a very ethereal mysteriousness.
Habit also tackles the sobering realization we all are forced to face at some point in our lives.
Sometimes, the friends we grew up with slowly begin to drift away, ready to move on, forming their own lives. Growing out of the “forever” we believed in for so long, some of us desperately do our best to cling to to these friendships. For many years, they were our everyday and everything. When that’s over, many of us feel lost and confused.
That kind of forced growth can even be dangerous — especially if deep-seated inner demons are involved.
This film would’ve never been as strong as it stands if it was created with a Hollywood budget and directed by anyone other than the great Larry Fessenden.
This film is intimate. It is special, as heartbreaking as it is frightening, and an absolute Fessenden masterpiece.
You can pick up Habit as part of the four-film Larry Fessenden Collection via Shout/Scream Factory. Along with Habit, the Blu-ray contains No Telling, Wendigo, and The Last Winter in HD for the first time, along with both brand-new and vintage bonus features including short films and music videos. Pick it up today and discover why Guillermo Del Toro himself calls Fessenden “one of the most original voices to emerge in the horror field.”