Habit | cast | crew | notes | press | storyboard | interview | map
full reviews & selected excerpts:
MOVIE MAKER -Rustin Thompson
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY -Michael Sauter
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS -The Phantom of the Movies
LOS ANGELES TIMES -Kenneth Turan
VILLAGE VOICE -Amy Taubin
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES *** -Roger Ebert
CHICAGO TRIBUNE *** -Michael Wilmington
INTERVIEW -Elizabeth Weitzman
TIME OUT NEW YORK -Michael Freidson
CHICAGO NEW CITY *** (3/20/97) -Ray Pride
CHICAGO READER *** (3/21/97) -Joshua Katzman
PUBLIC NEWS Houston Texas -Jim Presnell
VARIETY -Joe Leydon
FILM THREAT -Lori Robbins
SHOCK CINEMA -Steve Puchalski
VIDEO WATCHDOG -Richard Harland Smith
ALL MOVIE GUIDE -Cavett Binion
HARTFORD ADVOCATE (1/28/98) -John Boonstra
ORLANDO WEEKLY ***** (May 21 1998) -Steve Schneider
CINEMANIA.MSN.COM -Chris Chang
CITYSEARCH.COM -Steve Boone
TV GUIDE ONLINE -Maitland McDonagh
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -Jeff Milar
FILM THREAT ONLINE -Merle Betrand
SWITCH -Scott Pinard
THE TORONTO STAR **** (Sept 8 1998) -Norman Wilner
KITLEY'S KRYPT -Jon Kitley
Rustin Thompson, MOVIE MAKER (January 1999)
BEST OF 1998 ON VIDEO
8) HABIT. A creepy horror film written, acted, directed, and edited by New Yorker Larry Fessenden. Using real locations, a cast of unknowns, and no special effects, Fessenden builds his atmosphere of dread through suggestion and shock cuts, and by bending the rules of vampirism (his vampire can handle the daylight). It's not only scary, but it's also a deft meditation on how alienating bad relationships and the big city can be. This movie puts all of those whiny indie romantic comedies to shame.top
Michael Sauter, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (Oct 30 1998)
RECENT MOVIES: B+
New York's East Village, filmed in sickly hues and edgy rythms, forms the heroin-chic milieu for this vision of vampirism as carnal addiction. And the pale, scraggly Fessenden (wh wrote and directed) fits right in as the strung-out hero, whose strange new girlfriend (Snaider) is literally sucking the life from him. The fact that he's a booze-soaked ne'er-do-well -- who's father just died and whose old girlfriend just moved out -- adds a certain soul-sickness to his sexual obsession. But along with its wasted melancholy, the movie also has a welcome mordant streak. "This f--ing chick is like drinking my blood, like, in a way that's affecting my health," moans the oblivious victim. Reserve this creepy sleeper for Halloween--but only watch with someone you know really welltop
The Phantom of the Movies, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS (Oct 30 1998)
Mullti-talented Larry Fessenden scripts, directs , edits and stars in "Habit", by far the best of several new scare-film obscurities released to cash in on the Halloween homevid season. Fessenden's ambitious 1997 gem arrives as a refreshingly unmannered NYC-set fable dealing with identity anxieties, life choices, addictions, romance, loss and (we nearly forgot) vampires. Sort of a ragged Gen-X Jack Nicholson, actor Fessenden plays Sam, a likeable but self-destructive seeker who embarks on an ill-advised affair with Anna ()Meredith Snaider), a mysterious femme with a kinky thirst for blood. Operating on an obviously low budget, film maker Fessenden works wonders with this seemlessly woven, thoroughly hypnotic exercise in stately grunge, crafting a "quiet horror" film that can take its place with such vintage classics as the original "Cat People" and "Carnival of Souls." Scope it out.top
Steve Schneider, ORLANDO WEEKLY (May 21 1998)
POSITIVELY "HABIT" - FORMING ORGY OF SELF-DESTRUCTION
***** (out of five)
Last year's "In the Company of Men" shockingly demonstrated the damage the male psyche can wreak on the unsuspecting women who get in its way. In Larry Fessenden's "Habit," we're reminded that the harm the psyche can inflict on itself is just as much of a horror.
Writer/director Fessenden plays Sam, a New York restaurant manager at the end of whatever rope he may have once possessed. In the space of one year, Sam has lost his father, alienated his girlfriend and turned a propensity for tipsiness into a full love affair with the bottle.
In long-shot or in close-up, Sam is an obvious mess. Dirty, unkempt hair hangs from his head. When he eats, food falls from his mouth and onto his plate, only to be licked up with his tongue. A mugging has left him with a missing front tooth. He's so disheveled that we suspect he was never sheveled in the first place.
Still, Sam has managed to maintain a narcissism so deep that he suspects nothing when Anna (newcomer Meredith Snaider), a boyishly attractive mystery woman, all but throws herself at him during a Halloween party. The fact that Anna won't tell him where she comes from, what she does for a living, or anything of substance at all about her doesn't dull the thrill of being pursued. Soon, he and Anna have plunged headlong into a passionate liaison, 75 percent of which consists of having unprotected sex in public places. it's the perfect guy scenario.
It takes a long while for Sam to realize something's amiss: Anna's "habit" of biting him during sex, and then drinking his blood, becomes less an amusing kink and more a cause for concern. Suddenly, he's sick all the time, he's frightened of his own shadow, and his few remaining loved ones are meeting with strange fates. Never one to take responsibility for his own misery, Sam comes up with an explanation that doesn't threaten his adolescent view of the world: Anna is a vampire, and she's taking him down the long road to hell.
Maybe she is and maybe she isn't, and maybe that isn't what this film's about, anyway. Fessenden isn't interested in making a horror movie per se; he's out to show how the mythology of popular culture shields us from recognizing that the demons we face are largely self-created. It's unclear whether the film's images of a fanged, predatory Anna are "real" or the product of Sam's over-heated, alcohol-fueled imagination. In the final analysis, it's a moot point. By indulging his own worst impulses, Sam has made his own bed (or coffin) in which to lie. The bad habit is his.
In the early scenes, Fessenden plays the character as a winking parody of Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance in "The Shining." Aping Uncle Jack, of course, is every lost little boy's idea of a good time (just ask Christian Slater). As Sam's dilemma worsens, however, Fessenden's performance deepens into levels of existential desperation that the Nicholson of today is unable (or too apathetic) to portray.
This is independent filmmaking at its finest. On a budget of less than $100,000, a cat and crew culled from the ranks of the New York film and theater communities perfectly replicates the city's isolated ennui. Even the crowd scenes feel desolate. A sensitive and poetic approach to camera movement makes the film's most lurid doings seem the stuff of high art.
"Habit" is the sort of picture we are always promised that the indie revolution makes possible, yet which still seldom washes up among the ongoing deluge of Tarantino knock-offs that strain to attract the attention of major studios. No strangers to the DIY ethos, Fessenden and his Glass Eye Pix are marketing and distributing the film on their own, taking it to one city after another on a carefully plotted tour that began with its October 1995 debut at the Chicago International Film Festival.
The effete (and the squeamish) might not appreciate Glass Eye's commitment to bringing its opera of damnation right to our door, but the more open-minded will rejoice at its singular, unadulterated vision. "Habit" is a craving that just can't be satisfied anywhere else.top
Cavett Binion, ALL MOVIE GUIDE
This well-crafted independent horror film from writer-director Larry Fessenden is one of the better films to emerge from the '90s "revisionist" movement in vampire cinema, which also included Abel Ferrara's The Addiction and Michael Almereyda's Nadja. Fessenden also plays the lead as Sam, a disillusioned part-time bartender in New York's East Village who half-heartedly tries to escape a life of disappointment and failure by immersing himself in alcohol. His woes include the recent death of his father, a respected archaeologist, and a trial separation from girlfriend Liza (Heather Woodbury), who still loves him but refuses to be drawn into his world of alcoholic nihilism. At a wild Halloween party thrown by his two best friends, Nick (Aaron Beal) and Rae (Patricia Coleman), Sam meets a lovely dark-eyed woman named Anna (Meredith Snaider), with whom he's instantly infatuated. The two engage in idle conversation, leaving together when the festivities die down. A mutual attraction seems evident, but Anna disappears, leaving Sam a bogus telephone number. Thus begins a game of romantic cat-and-mouse, consisting of brief and steamy encounters separated by long periods of uncertain waiting for Sam. During the first of these encounters, the two find themselves pursued by a pack of wolves in Central Park, which Anna seemingly repels with a motion of her hand. At their first moment of sexual contact, Anna bites Sam on the lip and licks the blood -- an act which causes Sam to pass out in ecstasy. Their sporadic clinches are often punctuated by similar bouts of bloodletting, and Sam begins to succumb to a desperate, all-consuming need for Anna. His paranoid behavior seems to be a product of his intensifying alcohol addiction ... but Sam begins to suspect his condition is actually the onset of vampirism, caused by Anna feeding on his blood. Despite suggestions that his sanity is in serious doubt, there are several hints that his suspicions may be well-founded. For instance, one of Sam's friends tells him of a wild one-night stand with a mysterious woman who sounds like Anna -- after which he disappears without a trace. Anna also seems to have difficulty entering Sam's apartment or standing near him when he's cooking with garlic. Later, an eerie moment occurs at a ceremony honoring Sam's father, when one of the professors spots Sam's lady friend and is overcome with dread. Fessenden keeps this premise deliriously ambiguous, casting doubt over what Sam is really experiencing (even when it seems obvious that Anna is preying on every one of Sam's friends) and continues to crank up the intensity until the startling and violent climax. The director uses his locations to remarkable effect, fashioning a nightmarish but strangely beautiful world with images like a red-lit Empire State Building, a disorienting ride on a Coney Island Ferris wheel, and a furtive nude photo shoot on Wall Street. As an actor, Fessenden is appealing as Sam, an intense and creative thinker with a crumbled sense of self-worth, a shaky grip on reality and some missing front teeth. Far more horrifying than countless effects-laden vampire films, this surreal yet wholly convincing work merits multiple viewings.top
By Richard Harland Smith, VIDEO WATCHDOG (#60 June 2000)
Before Bram Stoker, all vampirism was local Ü a notion that, if not entirely accurate, goes some little way towards reminding fans of the subgenre that centuries before the undead crossed continents for fresh victims, they first returned to bedevil the communities that had buried them. This history is not lost on New York filmmaker Larry Fessenden (NO TELLING, or THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX), whose second feature, HABIT (1996), is a deceptively familiar boy-meets-girl/girl-bites-boy scenario that reveals itself to be a minutely observed reflection on disassociation and urban loneliness. At a neighborhood Halloween party, Sam (director Fessenden), a thirty-something alcoholic mourning the death of his archeologist father, meets the mysterious Anna (Meredith Snaider). Kissing under the full HunterÍs Moon, Anna bites SamÍs lip, drawing blood ("Just a little bit at a time, because I like you"). When the lovers consummate their relationship, their movements are frenzied and brutal (their crabwise copulation recalls THE EXORCISTÍs jettisoned "spider walk"). Although their nocturnal trysts invariably end with him waking up alone and lightheaded in a public place, Sam finds AnnaÍs attention intoxicating. But as his health fails and friends and pets disappear - and haunted by the mute specter of his dead father - Sam becomes increasingly fearful of this new union and concerned about the prospect of losing a life he has spent a lifetime throwing away.
If HABIT is not quite a work of startling originality, it is certainly a work of startling personality. As the dissolute Sam, Larry Fessenden is an image cut from a Nan Goldin photograph; with his missing front tooth and malnourished aspect ("I'm committing suicide on the installment plan"), he's an archetypal trust fund hipster using his familyÍs money to secure a foothold in bohemia while smoking himself sallow. Its celebration of excess and waste make FessendenÍs East Village - where dissipation is a badge of honor and young girls who refuse to eat are considered par for the course - the perfect feeding ground for the preternatural Anna, whose presence seems motivated less by thirst than as an answer to an innate hopelessness that she has interpreted as a death wish. Despite its association of substance abuse with vampirism, HABIT is less a blood relation to Abel FerraraÍs tortured THE ADDICTION than Robert BiermanÍs underrated comedy VAMPIREÍS KISS, and is streets away from the affected weirdness of Michael AlmereydaÍs NADJA.
Fessenden's milieu is not only well-chosen, but meticulously realized. Director of photography Frank DeMarco gets great mileage out of the counterpoint of dimestore depictions of demons and witches to their fulfillment in flesh and bone (happily, Fessenden largely avoids genre referencing, but does consent to a fleeting quote from MurnauÍs NOSFERATU). For all of HABIT's concern with such weighty issues as damnation and Evil (and all of SamÍs fevered visions of soul-snatching succubae), the world presented here is still a recognizable one in which litter boxes must be emptied and dishes washed before the action can proceed. Travel also figures prominently in the film Ü characters are seen in transit by foot, taxi, subway, expressway Ü suggesting that destiny is primarily a matter of getting there. FessendenÍs eclectic supporting cast benefits from sensitive and unapologetic performances by Off Off Broadway actors Aaron Beall, Patricia Coleman and Heather Woodbury (as SamÍs former lover, her reaction to the news that he is seeing someone else is as priceless as it is heartrending). If HABIT seems overlong at less than two hours, Fessenden errs on the side of generosity, giving his actors plenty of room in which to work, and in establishing a real world for them to live in.
Winstar TV and Video presents HABIT in a full frame transfer that never seems to impinge on Frank DeMarcoÍs gorgeous color photography, beautifully rendered here with deep blacks and a wide palate of saturated greens, blues and reds. The video transfer also preserves the filmÍs painstaking attention to sound, specifically the employment of fleeting background conversations ("YouÍre calling me soulless?") to suggest a global unease and irrationality that does in fact breed monsters.top
John Anderson, NEWSDAY (Friday, Nov 14, 1997)
(***1/2 stars) ALL HIS LOVE'S IN VEIN
If it had been made in Hollywood for $25 million, pundits would be touting the urbanely macabre HABIT as the Wellesian tour de force of the '90s. Given that it was made in New York for a little less than $200,000, in little more than a month, we'll just have to call it amazing.
Erotically charged and infused with dread, HABIT is set in New York's version if Transylvania (the East Village), where Sam (Larry Fessenden), a part-time bar manager and full-time alcoholic, is on the express train to oblivion. His father has recently died and it pains him; his romance with Liza (Heather Woodbury) has deteriorated. Although she loves him she's leaving Sam anyway.
These relationships aren't particularly clear-cut, neither is Sam's battle with himself - not at first, anyway. Over the course of the film history asserts itself, but Fessenden refuses to dump his characters' stories in our laps. He lets them leech out, the way they would naturally. He startles us with visual asides, odd angles and eerie visages - his intermittent cutaways to a ship in New York harbor evoke the vampires' journey in "Dracula"; the sound of a Ferris wheel in Little Italy, whose joint-creaking clamor sounds like cracking bone, augments the Manhattan Gothic texture that HABIT creates.
It's at a Halloween party thrown by his friends Nick (Aaron Beall) and Rae (Patricia Coleman) that Sam, drunk and vaguely destructive, meets Anna (Meredith Snaider). Sly and physically suggestive, she makes an unqualified sexual overture and they hit the streets, where she promptly disappears. But she'll be back, with increasing frequency. And appetite.
In linking Sam and Anna's furious sexual coupling with Anna's need to tap Sam's corpuscles, Fessenden is following a bloody tradition, running from Bram Stoker to Federico Garcia Lorca to Tod Browning to Francis Ford Coppola, that draws out of the vampire legend not just its metaphorical content but its vein of profoundly predatory sexuality. But Sam is also draining off his own life through alcohol. And never does it strike him that a drink-sodden bar manager with fewer teeth than possibilities might not have a lot to offer a woman as sophisticated as Anna. Unless it was a high platelet count.
Ego is always one part of the vampire storyÍ how else would one justify living forever? Force of personality is another; in any relationship, the legend implies, one partner feeds while the other drains. ItÍs a very modern myth that suggests drugs and AIDS and has been explored in recent years by Abel Ferrara in THE ADDICTION and Michael Almareyda in NADJA. Fessenden's version, in which the monster intrudes upon a thoroughly convincing contemporary world, is the most convincing of all.
And this makes HABIT, which Fessenden wrote, directed and edited, a scary film. HABIT was selected Best Film at the '96 Long Island Film Festival. Good choice, because filmmaking, clearly is in his blood.top
Kenneth Turan, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Wednesday, October 29, 1997)
Calendar Highlights: 'HABIT' TAKES NEW BITE OUT OF AN OLD TALE
If an attractive member of the opposite sex with "kind of a timeless quality" came on to you at a hip New York party, would you wonder if this was one of the undead or just be pleasantly surprised? If the best sex of your life resulted, how much would it matter if you started feeling weaker and began noticing what look suspiciously like bite marks on your body? Would you assume the worst or just think your tired mind was playing odd little tricks on you?
Larry Fessenden's impressive "Habit" takes a great deal of pleasure in ambiguously playing around with the vampire tradition. It allows viewers to experience these dilemmas in the same way the protagonist does, gradually but surely imprisoning us and him in an obsessive situation from which escape may not be possible or even desired.
An adroit arty/spooky example of what's come to be known as no-budget filmmaking (projects under $200,000), "Habit" helped win Fessenden - who wrote and edited the film along with starring and directing - last year's Someone to Watch Award from Swatch and the Independent Feature Project.
Though his work has rarely surfaced in theaters, Fessenden has been making films for more than a decade, and his experience shows in how confidently he and cinematographer Frank DeMarco create an air of haunted and unsettling menace out of the rather pedestrian streets of Lower Manhattan.
Sam (Fessenden) is a heavy drinking restaurant manager, a guy known among his friends for getting wasted early and often. A shambling and feckless wastrel who's never bothered to replace a front tooth lost in a mugging, Sam thinks he's hipness personified, but in fact he's just another lonely boy in the big city, more of a psychological soft touch than he can imagine.
Having just lost his father and opted for a trial separation from his artist girlfriend Liza (Heather Woodbury), Sam in at greater loose ends than usual when Anna (Meredith Snaider) seems to materialize in front of him at a Halloween party. There's an immediate connection between them, but Sam is too drunk to effectively capitalize on it, and as hard as he tries once he sobers up, he can't find her.
Then, just when he's given up hope, Anna finds him at a Little Italy street fair, holding out two Ferris wheel tickets and offering "the ride of your life." They have an intense sexual encounter that very night, and when Sam wakes up alone in Battery Park the next morning, there is a prominent wound on his lower lip.
The pattern of that voraciously physical first encounter becomes the norm for this relationship. Appearing unexpectedly Anna teases Sam into having sex in unlikely public places, even in a hospital morgue, while steadfastly refusing to reveal anything about herself. "The less you know about me, the longer you'll be interested," she tells him. "Men like to fall in love, not stay in love."
While his friends ineffectually worry about how strung out he's looking and how physically wrecked he's become, Sam, completely intoxicated with Anna, doesn't care to hear it. The question "Habit" asks is not so much can he escape Anna's influence, but does he even want to.
Though many of the performances in "Habit" mark time at best, Snaider makes a powerful impression in her film debut as the direct, soft-spoken, preternaturally composed Anna. Her assured, attractive characterization is the critical element in the film's success, and she manages to be so genuinely otherworldy you start to wonder if she only worked after dark.
Part of the spooky fun of "Habit" is noticing how Fessenden has discreetly sprinkled traditional vampire film paraphernalia throughout his story. We catch glimpses of a derelict ship and a pack of wolves, a Van Helsing-type character makes a brief appearance, and Anna is troubled by the smell of garlic.
Some of these elements pay off in expected ways, some do not, but all fit with a satisfying smoothness into a 90s urban environment. Imagining you're seeing the undead all around once you leave the theater is a hazard of watching "Habit." You might even be right.top
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES (March 21, 1997)
HABIT MAY BE THE FIRST AMBIGUOUS VAMPIRE MOVIE
*** (three stars)
Are we all agreed--all of us except for Anne Rice--that there is no such thing as a vampire? Yes? And yet the children of the darkness prey on our imaginations, and there is something inexplicably erotic about vampirism. ``Habit,'' a sad and haunting film by Larry Fessenden, is a modern vampire story, or maybe it's not. Maybe in a way the hero is drinking his own blood.
Fessenden stars as Sam, an alcoholic whose life is in disrepair. He spends every waking moment drinking, suggesting a drink or recovering from a drink. His life reflects the discontinuous reality of the advanced alcoholic, for whom life is like being in a room where the lights go on and off unexpectedly. He more or less lives in a bar in Greenwich Village, although he has an explanation: ``I'm the manager four days a week.''
Sam's girlfriend, Liza (Heather Woodbury), has moved out. She's still friendly, but has grown tired of waiting for him to decide to do something about his drinking. His best friend is Nick (Aaron Beall), who wanders around town in a long overcoat, clutching a bottle inside a paper bag and affecting theatrical speech.
One night at a party, very drunk, Sam finds himself talking to an attractive brunet named Anna (Meredith Snaider). She's one of those women who looks at you so attentively you feel self-conscious. Anna looks too attractive for Sam, who is missing some front teeth, needs a shave, and is slurring his words. But one thing leads to another, and eventually he finds himself having sex at her hands, and waking up in a park in the morning with a bloody lip.
He keeps losing track of Anna, but no matter: She has a way of turning up. Sex with her is great (``It's like having hot milk run through your veins''), but he keeps finding little bites and cuts here and there on his body. And he keeps on drinking. ``I'm just not feeling right,'' he complains. Nick blithely explains that Sam's poor health may be because of ``a change in the weather.''
Now, then. Is Anna a vampire? Or not? Fessenden's movie is a sly exercise in ambiguity. More than one explanation fits all of the events in the film, even those we see with our own eyes. Of all the recent vampire movies (``Interview with the Vampire,'' ``The Addiction,'' ``Nadja''), this is the only one to suggest that the powerful symbolism of vampirism could create results even in the absence of causes. You could be killed by vampires even if they do not exist.
The movie is done in a flat, realistic tone that is perfectly suited to the material. Fessenden, Snaider, Beall and Patricia Coleman (as Nick's girlfriend) are all naturalistic actors who find a convincing everyday tone; Snaider is particularly good at controlling a role that was almost doomed to be overacted. And Woodbury, as the ex-girlfriend, supplies the right note of cool, detached sanity.
I have been receiving a lot of mail lately from those who feel I need to have David Lynch's ``Lost Highway'' explained to me. Their explanations are invariably detailed and serenely confident, even though none of them agree. One correspondent, who has obviously never read a single one of my reviews except for ``Lost Highway,'' lectured me that I should be more open to the experimental and not limit myself to praising formula films. I wrote to him privately in colorful detail; publicly, to him and his kind, I recommend ``Habit,'' which in the subtlety of its ambiguity reveals ``Lost Highway'' as an exercise in search of a purpose.
Fessenden, who wrote, directed, acted, and edited this film, is a talent to watch. That he is able to see himself with such objectivity is almost frightening; there is not a shred of ego in his performance. Wandering about the streets, coat flapping open, aimless, sad, drinking without even remembering why, his Sam is an ideal vampire's victim, because he takes so long to catch on. But then of course perhaps that's because there is no such thing as a vampire.
Copyright © Chicago Sun-Times Inc.top | to Ebert web review | to Ebert Main Menu
Michael Wilmington, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, Friday, March 21, 1997
EROTIC 'HABIT' CHILLINGLY REVAMPS VAMPIRE GENRE
*** (three stars)
His eyes haunted, speech slurred and hair and clothes askew, filmmaker-star Larry Fessenden presents a terrifically tense and unguarded portrait of a Lower Manhattan guy on the edge in the modern-day horror movie "Habit."
What possesses Fessenden's raffishly dissolute East Village restaurant manager, Sam? Alcoholism and madness? Or the raging blood lust of a vampire lover who has him in thrall?
Against a background that often seems paralyzingly real, Fessenden and a fine cast take us on a voyage into the terrors of the subjective: a nightmare that, until the final seconds (and perhaps not even then), we can never be sure is a dream or not.
The film begins deceptively, suggesting either a Cassavetes-style naturalistic drama or even a budding romantic comedy. When we first see Sam, he's on his way (dressed as a minimalist Cyrano de Bergerac) to a Halloween party. There he hooks up with old friends Nick (Aaron Beall) and Rae (Patricia Coleman) and meets Anna (Meredith Snaider), an intense, brainy, been-around New York girl with close-cropped black hair and piercing dark eyes. No-nonsense Anna picks him up fast, but disappears into the night before their assignation.
From then on, Fessenden and Snaider keep us on a knife-edge of erotic uncertainty. Sam and Anna keep reconnecting and indulging in wild lovemaking sessions, where despite his enthusiasm, he's troubled by her habit of deep bites ("really unsafe sex" as a friend remarks), her avoidance of garlic and mimirrorsnd her nights-only appearances.
Another incident haunts him. Hell-raising co-worker Lenny (Jesse Hartman) vanishes after describing a nighttime orgy on a pleasure boat. Sam's sensible ex-girlfriend Liza (Heather Woodbury) is upset, jealous. The older friends of his recently deceased dad show concern. Ebullient Nick and Rae try to keep him on keel. But, vampire or not, Anna is someone who can overwhelm all barriers.
Fessenden also wrote, directed and edited this chillingly smart low-budget shocker, and he cannily suggests throughout two possible interpretations. As Sam pursues and is chased by the enigmatic Anna; we could be watching the phantasms of his addiction insanity. Or something else: a night of the sexy undead.
As in the cult gem "Vampire's Kiss," "Habit" evokes true horror: the fear that you can trust nothing around you, especially the evidence of your own senses.
To heighten the uncertainty, Fessenden makes Sam's world as real as possible. (That's why the scenes shot outside Sam's viewpoint are probably a mistake." Fessenden portrays an alcoholic's world with wounding veracity: the distortions, blackouts, eruptions and swooning ecstasies. Among the movie's most sheerly frightening moments are the ones that visualize a drunk's porous, jolted consciousness; the shock cuts when Sam suddenly awakens curled up on park grass or on a subway train far past his stop (with his pant leg slit and his wallet gone).
Fessenden is a filmmaker-actor of real talent and resourcefulness and "Habit," made for a paltry $190,000, puts to shame many studio movies with budgets a hundred times as big. The writing is sharp, the entire cast is good and the atmosphere of the East Village caught to perfection.
"Habit" also shows once again the resilience of the vampire legend, so universally known by now that we can understand why anyone - especially a guy as susceptible as Sam - could get sucked into this nightmare. Whether it's metaphor or reality, the film's naturalistic portrait of seeming vampire love can make hearts race and blood freeze.top
Elizabeth Weitzman, INTERVIEW
The talented Fessenden, who's garnered lots of attention at recent film festivals, performs writer, director, editor, and star duties with equal mastery. Literate, funny, and creepier than anything you'll find at the multiplex, HABIT leaves you exhilarated by its bare-bones ingenuity and eager for Fessenden's next work.top
Michael Freidson, TIME OUT NEW YORK, November 13-20
Habit is the kind of vampire film that defies vampire-film punsî To say the movie ñdoesnÍt suckî or îhas biteî just doesnÍt cut it. ItÍs not that the picture is outstanding; overlong and unrefined, it definitely has its flaws. But Habit avoids pretension - remarkably, considering the movie is set partly in the East Village and, like all good vampire movies, is not really about blood sucking at all.Amy Taubin VILLAGE VOICE, Wednesday 12 November 1997
Fessenden stars as Sam, an unrepentant alcoholic whoÍs just split up with his artist girlfriend (Woodbury). At a Halloween party, the lush meets the mysterious Anna (Snaider), who disappears before he can get her number. They meet again, and the uninhibited gal is soon giving him hand jobs outdoors. SheÍs also slurping his blood, a fetish Sam plays along with until he becomes convinced, gradually, that sheÍs a vampire.
Or is she? Is Sam having a supernatural experience, or is he just a delusional drunk going out of his mind? ThatÍs the filmÍs puzzle, but the answer doesnÍt really matter - as long as Sam thinks whatÍs happening to him is real, it is. And heÍs losing it either way.
Watching him do so is a thrill. Fessenden, whose character also becomes physically ill as the film progresses, is transformed from a walking drunk to a walking dead in subtle turns. Missing a front tooth and looking like a skeleton, heÍs perfectly pitiful. His friends (Beall and Coleman), unsympathetic, artsy Village types, think he should just stop drinking. ñAnd whatÍs with this ill health look?î asks one, as the gaunt Sam rot away. ItÍs a nice moment.
Habit does harp too long on SamÍs confusing situation, and Fessenden, who made the movie for less than $200,000, could have spent more time in front of the Avid editing machine. The Actor-director has created a picture that is simple yet existential, obvious but still challenging. And just toothy enough to make that all righttop
Even if you've had it with vampires, you might be unmoored by HABIT, a Dostoyevskian East Village romance between an alcoholic restaurant manager with a penchant for slicing up his arms at parties and a mysterious woman who may or may not be drinking his blood.
Written by, directed by, and starring Larry Fessenden (winner of the 1997 Independent Feature Project;s "Someone to Watch" award), Habit is a quintessentially New York film - as paranoid a portrait of the city as ROSEMARY'S BABY or TAXI DRIVER. Not particulary scary while youÍre sitting there, it packs its power punch after itÍs over, altering your perception of familiar streets and seemingly ordinary people, alerting you to the vampire within and without.
It's Halloween, and Sam (Fessenden) is on the street chatting up an intense woman he's just met at a party. Sam is compelling, though a bit too burn out to be attractive. A runty Jack Nicholson look-alike with stringy hair and tired skin, he's wearing a papier mache Pinocchio nose and a white ostrich plume pinned rakishly to the back of his head. The defiantly phallic effect is midway between comic and creepy (one could say the same thing about the film as a whole). As Sam sways drunkenly, the handheld camera is forced to make tiny adjustments to keep him in the frame. The movements are small enough to pass unnoticed, but thereÍs no doubt that they have a cumulative kinetic effect. ItÍs this camera strategy, as much the narrative, that leaves you feeling at the end of Habit as if the rug has been pulled out from under you. Which is to say that Fessenden is a real filmmaker, not just a guy with a personal story to tell about alcoholism, abandonment, castration anxiety and other such nifty things.
Having recently lost his father and broken up with his girlfriend, and with his drinking habit out of control, Sam is in bad shape. Vulnerable and adrift, he plunges into an affair with Anna (Meredith Snaider), the mystery woman whose sexual aggression balances his extreme passivity. But soon he begins to feel as if she's draining the life out of him. "I think you've been having very unsafe sex," answers a practical-minded friend when Sam wonders whether Anna's biting habit, not to mention her abstinence from food and drink, might be evidence of vampirism. But whether Anna's powers are supernatural or merely projections of Sam's alcohol-damaged psyche, the effect is the same. Sam is desperate to escape from Anna, even if they both have to die in the process.
Shot and edited with great sophistication, Habit (which cost a mere $190,000) has a caught-on-the-fly, oversaturated look thatÍs perfectly suited to its unkempt, boho milieu.
Fessenden (who was the best thing in Kelly Reichardt's RIVER OF GRASS) is at least as talented an actor as he is a filmmaker. His Sam is a mix of gallows humor and raw emotion, driven by guilt and a perverse exhibitionism, the goal of which is to look as repellent as possible. Whatever you make of Habit, a film that begs for interpretation, itÍs anything but a vanity production.top
Steve Puchalski, SHOCK CINEMAI know what you're thinking: Who needs another Lower East Side female vampire movie? I felt the same way until I saw this corrosive new 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). 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 has moved out, he has scars on his arms from slicing himself up, and the guy jumpstarts each morning with a 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 when he meets a mysterious young beauty named Anna (Meredith Snaider) at a Halloween party, 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. But as he feels increasingly "sick," his outlook on the world becomes shakier, as we wonder if Anna is indeed a vampire, or whether Sam has simply fried his brain after years of excess.
Along with terrific location footage, Fessenden expertly captures the most minute details of Sam's life (which makes you think he understands his character all too well). Better still, he strips vampirism of its usual trappings and re-energizes it with everyday madness. Despite budgetary constraints, HABIT is a beautifully realized vision which is also one of the best films I've seen this year. top | on-line review
By John Boonstra, HARTFORD ADVOCATE 1/28/98
Indy vampire flick makes good ****(four stars)
No matter how many years one has toiled at this task, it remains a profound pleasure to happen upon a film as unexpectedly good as Larry Fessenden's Habit.
This is a true low-budget, independently made auteur outing. Fessenden pulls down credits as director, writer and sound and picture editor, while simultaneously starring as Sam, a restaurant manager and far too frequent boozer.
Sam is in the process of breaking up with his longtime companion Liza (Heather Woodbury, star of an earlier Fessenden opus, Hollow Venus: Diary of a Go-Go Dancer) and coping with the recent, somewhat mysterious demise of his father. He's an entirely regular, instantly recognizable guy: intelligent, but no genius; affable, easygoing and chronically underachieving. He's pretty glib about it, but it's evident to his close chums Nick and Rae (Aaron Beall, Patricia Coleman) that the one-two punch of relationship breakup and parental loss have hit him hard.
In such a vulnerable psychic state, small wonder he's easy prey for the sexually voracious Anna (Meredith Snaider), whom he meets by chance--he thinks--at Nick and Rae's Halloween party. She teases him by flitting in and out of his life, but once her mind is made up, she comes on like a juggernaut. The sex scenes between Sam and Anna are sufficiently intense to make the most jaded viewer speculate whether what's up on the screen is the real thing. Suddenly we realize that the tone up to this point has been a calculated deception, establishing a normalcy that Fessenden is only too happy to shatter when it suits him.
Suspicious coincidences mount. Sam never sees Anna eat or drink in his company. She never shows up by the light of day. A somewhat flaky friend starts looking wiped out, then vanishes. Shortly thereafter, Sam and Anna begin their torrid entanglement and Sam starts experiencing identical symptoms. Can it be true that Anna gets her jollies biting into Sam during the throes of passion and lapping up his blood?
There's a nice ambiguity built into Habit. Most times, when a movie wants to blur the line between what might be happening and what an addled protagonist imagines, the medium can't handle the subdivided message. But Habit is just devious enough to pull it off. Understanding Sam's personal problems and his steady exacerbation of them through binge drinking, it's always within the realm of possibility that we're witnessing the birth of a psychotic delusion. All the familiar tropes of the horror genre are in place, from garlic to nightmares to hints of ancient mysteries made ominously real. But the vampirism on view may be purely psychological, with the poker-faced Anna feeding on Sam's weaknesses.
The filmmaking style is rough, and too many scenes are shot in low light conditions ripe for eyestrain. Fessenden's no glamour boy, either. Even if this film attracts notice, don't expect him to compete with Ben Affleck or Matt Damon anytime soon. But his gawky, gap-toothed amiability perfectly suits the part, while Snaider gives a purposely off-putting, fearless performance. Habit is a creepy little sleeper that crawls under your skin.top | Hartford Advocate
Ray Pride, CHICAGO NEW CITY, 3/20/97
A gritty tale of East Village haplessness that turns into addictive hopelessness. Shooting on a very low budget over a three-month period by a crew of seven in Manhattan's East Village, the Upper West Side, Harlem, Central Park, Little Italy and Wall Street, writer-director-editor-actor Larry Fessenden works in geography both external and internal in telling the story of a restaurant manager, who after the death of his father and a breakup with his girlfriend, starts to drink to excess, which leads him deeper into despair and delusion. "Habit" almost seems like a documentary by Dostoevsky at moments, such is the conviction in Fessenden's conception of and performance of this lonely, wounded man whose meeting with a seductive woman (Meredith Snaider) furthers his downward spiral. Is she a vampire? Does blood kill? Is the East Village this hateful and deadly? Dark yet haunting, bleak yet ferociously plausible, "Habit" answers a definite "maybe" to all those questions.
By Ray Pride, CHICAGO NEW CITY, 3/27/97
She's Gotta Habit:While the Oscars recognized the cream of the established indiefilm crop this year, Saturday night's Independent Spirit Awards (most of which went to "Fargo") also gave an award that should be the fantasy of any struggling filmmaker-$20,000 cash. The "Someone to Watch Award," sponsored, punningly, by Swatch, is given to "an independent filmmaker who has demonstrated unique vision and talent and has not yet received recognition," and selected by the likes of Vogue film critic John Powers and former Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks executive Michele Forman. The choice this year? Longtime Manhattan writer-actor-editor-director Larry Fessenden, whose gritty, slippery East Village vampire fever dream, "Habit," is playing for a second week at Facets. Fessenden will discuss "Habit"-and his award, if you ask-after the 7pm show on Friday, March 28. top
Joshua Katzman, CHICAGO READER 3/21/97
*** (A must-see)
Part of what makes Habit so effective is the narrative's intensely subjective course. We're in Sam's head seeing what he sees, or what he imagines he sees, as his drinking gets worse and his relationship with Anna deepens. We bear witness to his pathetic downward spiral, which plays out with the inevitability of water spinning down a drain. There's a documentary look to the film, greatly abetted by Frank DeMarco's hand-held camera, which bumpily mimics Sam's shuffling, drunken gait or follows him with turbulent tenacity as he races desperately through the streets and subways of New York. This starkly realistic, pared-down approach renders Sam's predicament that much more horrifying; the viewer doesn't have the safety zone, the distance, created by the usual special effects and stylization of horror films.
Fessenden punctuates his visual treatment with a number of haunting night scenes, resonating like so many dreams throughout the film: images include a trio of brightly lit nude women being photographed on the steps of a building in the Wall Street district; a car that's plowed into a fire hydrant, water spewing skyward from its crumpled hood, with a lifeless child nearby; a person dressed as the devil for Halloween waiting to cross at an intersection; and a pack of growling dogs rambling through Central Park. Fessenden convincingly blends these images into the narrative flow, yet they have a cumulative impact, like signposts marking Sam's descent into madness.
Interestingly, Fessenden depicts the three principal female characters--Anna, Rae, and Liza--as strong and prepossessing. They have a fairly clear idea what they want and don't want, and they're not willing to tolerate much bullshit from men. Sam and Nick, on the other hand, are a couple of alcoholic children, intelligent and witty but consumed by bitterness and cynicism. Both appear to have vague artistic ambitions, but they're too mired in ennui and disaffection to do much of anything but drink and riff on their ideas.
Beneath Sam's cool East Village persona is a lonely, all-too-willing victim for the rapacious Anna. After several highly charged sexual encounters with her, Sam is hooked, a junkie who also realizes that what's making him feel so good is exacting an incr easing toll on his health. Bites soon tattoo his body like track marks, the sores and scabs left by a heroin addict's needle. Finally Sam can do little more than fearfully acknowledge his own inability to extricate himself from Anna's grip. When she makes yet another abrupt appearance, at a memorial for Sam's father, one of his father's colleagues is visibly shaken to be introduced to her. Later he leaves a message on Sam's answering machine--but it doesn't even register on Sam when he plays it back. He's already in the soup, flailing. In the spin that Fessenden gives the vampire flick, we're all ultimately our own worst enemies, ushering in the agents of our own demise.
top | full review
Jim Presnell, PUBLIC NEWS, Houston Texas, December 24, 1997
Habit(Glass Eye Pix)
What better way to celebrate Christmas at the movies than with an age-old tale of love, passion, and a whole lot of blood sucking. Opening Christmas Day exclusively at the new Angelika Film Center in downtown Houston, Larry Fessenden's independent art film approach to the time tested genre of vampire films gives Habit a place of its own. Using 16mm film (converted to 35mm for the big screen) to trace the relationship of Sam (Fessenden) and the vampire Anna (Meredith Snaider), the low budget aspect adds a sense of mystery and isolation to truly accentuate just how dangerous this affair has become.
Fessenden employs many tactics to emphasize his realism. The use of unknown and non-actors establishes the commonality of the situation, that it can happen to anyone and assume the form of anyone. Snaider's aloof portrayal of the vampire greatly differs from sensationalized images previously clung to by the mainstream movie-going audiences and producers. In addition, Fessenden's brilliantly stylized cinematography gives the film an art-film feel, providing many dream-like, psyche-searching moments. The controlled randomness of such shots allows one to enter the insanity of the situation. With a relatively weak and predictable narrative, it's this exploration of the insanity that truly captivates.
However, when all is said and done, the film first and foremost is a vampire film. There are no revolutions in the typical narrative of the genre, nor in the denial-based reactions of all involved. Yet what is sacrificed in the absence of big names, wild effects, and an appeal to the cult following of vampires is a realist approach to a surreal myth. The aesthetics and atmosphere of the film break new ground, but as far as the narrative is concerned, don't expect to kick any old habits.
Joe Leydon, VARIETY, April 1996
"It may be late in the day for yet another hip vampire drama set in New York's East Village, but HABIT manages to impress with plausible scripting, first-rate performances and an unsettling mood of mounting dread.
"Larry Fessenden performs as a multi-hyphenate, doing quadruple duties as writer, director, editor and leading man. He is effectively cast as Sam, an alcoholic restaurant manager who'd drinking even more after the death of his father and a break-up with his girlfriend. Early on, it's established that Sam is experiencing frequent blackouts an occasional delusions, so that he doesn't trust his own perceptions when he starts to suspect that his new lover, a mysterious beauty named Anna (Meredith Snaider), may be a vampire.
"Fessenden eschews the campiness of NADJA and the pretentiousness of THE ADDICTION, preferring a style best described as only slightly heightened realism. HABIT is wickedly amusing as it focuses on the perverse eroticism that is intrinsic to the vampire myth--Sam is obviously having the best sex he's ever had--but the pic wisely refrains from pushing the humor too far.
"Unfortunately, HABIT tries to have it both ways in a finale that fails to resolve the mysteries and lacks emotional punch. Even so, Fessenden does manage some suitably creepy sequences, along with a couple of erotically charged frissons.
"As Ann, Snaider gives a self-assured performance that is aptly enigmatic and provocatively sensuous. Standouts in the supporting cast include Heather Woodbury as Sam's jealous ex-girlfriend, and Aaron Beall as Sam's cynical, but concerned, best friend.
"On a tech level, HABIT makes the most of an obviously limited budget. Frank DeMarco's evocative cinematography is particularly noteworthy."
Lori Robbins, FILM THREAT
"SEE IT NOW, WORTH FULL PRICE!"
"What is this current obsession with vampirism anyway? Sometimes I think it's just an acceptable way to talk about sex in repressive times. At other times I wonder if we're experiencing a communal feeling of being sucked dry by someone or something in this era of fin de siecle malaise. At any rate, the vampire movies keep coming and I always run out to see them, although I fainted about 15 minutes into INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (actually I think I just fell asleep.)
"Fortunately, Larry Fessenden's Habit is not another movie for the Anne Rice set. It starts out as a film about urban alienation and self destructive behavior, but borrows heavily from the vampire/horror genre as its story progresses. Fessenden lets us laugh at the whole vampire concept periodically, but he never resorts to Lugosi-saluting camp like another recent vampire opus, NADJA
"It's Halloween, and Fessenden's character is a New York Bohemian struggling with grief over his acedemic father's death. His girlfriend is reluctantly moving out of their apartment, but Sam is so imprisoned by his own ambivalence that he barely notices. At his married friend's Halloween party he staggers about drunkenly, wearing a fake nose and pretending to be Cyrano de Bergerac, until he runs into a mysterious party crasher named Anna (MEREDITH SNAIDER). Obviously a rich, gorgeous, "together" person, Anna seems out of Sam's League, but she has an otherworldly understanding and acceptance of his morbid tendencies. She makes a straightforward play for him, and though she disappears before anything serious happens. am is immediately hooked. Later Anna and Sam cross paths at a street festival and they end up in battery Park, where Anna pushes Sam up against a statue, bites his lip and, shall we say, has her way with him...
"My biggest problem with femme fatale films is that the female characters tend to be flattened into the opposing icons of earth mother and castrating demon. Habit certainly follows this pattern, and I had to laugh at some of the really obvious male fantasies exhibited herein. (I mean honestly--isn't it every man's fantasy to be simultaneously bled and raped by Vampira?) Still, the actresses playing female characters give strong performances, and their characters are more three-dimensionalthan those in 99% of the movies I've seen this year.
"Although Habit is ostensibly about vampires, it ultimately seems to say more about living in New York City. And that's what I liked best about it. The New York of Habit is spooky, dissipated, dark, noisy, filthy and dangerous as hell--and after I saw it, I wanted to get on a plane and go there right away. I guess some of us just can't get enough of a bad thing."
Roger Ebert, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
"HABIT SENDS MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE"
"Larry Fessenden wrote, directed and stars in strong bleak film about a bright but marginal New York waiter who is drinking himself into nightmares and delusion. Anna (Merideth Snaider) is the woman who is attracted to him, perhaps because of his wounded quality; as the drinking continues, he drifts into a mental world that is dangerous for them both. Fessenden does a remarkable job of capturing the chaotic world of advanced alcholism; the character's friends look on, some with concern, others with offers of a drink, as he careens into paranoia."
John Petrakis, CHICAGO TRIBUNE
" *** (three stars) A depressed, self-mutilating alcoholic, who has recently lost his father and broken up with his girlfriend, is easy prey for a seductive young vampire named Anna. Not as slick as INTERVIEW, as stylish as NADJA or as moody as NOSTFERATU, but in many ways this low budget erotic thriller could be the most believable vampire flick I've ever seen. Both lead actors are solid."
NEW YORK UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL
"Always understated, never campy, Habit is a vampire movie for adults that captures the frightening, dark and seductive nature of life in New York."
Joshua Katzman, THE CHICAGO READER
"Written directed an edited and starring Larry Fessenden, this tour de force low budget indie makes intelligent use of vampirism as an allegory for myriad compulsive tendencies: self-mutiliation, alcoholism, sexual obsession, alienation and the madness of living in New York. There's been a run of recent film dealing with modern vampires in the big Apple- including Michael Almereyda's NADJA and Abel Ferrrar's THE ADDICTION - but what makes Fessenden's effort stand out is its complete lack of camp.
Set in Soho, it tells the story of Sam, an alcholic restaurant manager whose girlfriend has decided to move out on him. Just barely keeping things together, a drunken Sam is smitten by the mysterious Anna at a friend's Halloween party. They begin a torrid affair, and Sam quickly realizes there are a couple of strange things about Anna: she never seems to eat, has a propensity for biting Sam while they're making out, and refuses to tell him what she does for a living. To Fessenden's credit, the line is blurred between what is really happening and what represents Sam's descent into madness. A thought provoking modern-day fable of life in the big city."
Tom Harris, LOS ANGELES INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
"Dazzlingly original, masterfully directed, and quite literally, 'breath-taking'"
Deborah Stratman, AFTERIMAGE
"HABIT, written, directed and edited by--and starring--the ubiquitous Larry Fessenden is a sharp East Village take on the vampire genre. Shot on location with true independent proclivity, the film has an unpretentious documentary aesthetic, making the tiny moments of surrealism sharply visceral--refreshing after the recent flood of decadent draculas mired in baroque."
Dan Pearson, CHICAGO SPOTLIGHT
"This frequently surprising American independent offers bloody good fun and a quirky cast of talented unknowns."
Gregory von Hausch, FORT LAUDERDALE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
"Director Fessenden has fashioned a true contemporary gothic tale of horror and seduction. Meredith Snaider is as intoxicating as she is beautiful. Considering the state of today's sexual dangers, HABIT serves as a metaphor warning as much for danger in the darkness, as be careful with whom you sleep."
EASTSIDER, Ft Lauderdale, 6 November 1996
"Fessendsen creates an atmosphere as chilling as a wintry New York night. He also chooses to mine the psychological depths of Fessenden's predicament rather than flood the screen with blood ... Unkempt, blurry eyed and barely coherent, Fessendsen proves thoroughly convincing as a man willing to give up on life, or at least until he is forced to fight it. He also coaxes a sensual performance from Snaider."
XS MAGAZINE, Ft. Lauderdale FLA., October 1996
"FILMS YOU SHOULD RUN TO SEE: HABIT"
"This modern-day film successfully transforms New York's East Village into a gothic nightmare ... This movie has some great bad dialogue... Fun in a trashy sort of way."
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