The Post-Modern Vampire: “Nadja” and “The Addiction”
Vampirism in cinema tends to direct itself toward a reliance on folklore imagery and a literary narrative structure. In the early years of movies, portrayal of folklore content was most often presented under the guise of “authenticity,” meaning that vampire tales were usually designed as period pieces. More recently, there have been efforts to consider how folkloric figures would/should adapt to the present day. Hence the eclectic concept of the postmodern vampire. What elements of the contemporary world, with its particular struggles and luxuries, serve the foundational attributes of old-world horror tales?
Using vampirism in a superficial capacity so as to “up the stakes” (pun intended) of a film is a very common avenue of expression in the horror genre. Though highly intelligent, the vampire’s overriding “bloodlust” almost always undercuts the potential for reimagining the human psyche in the wake of immortality: how does one truly absorb the concept of immortality, and do they choose to harness it or let it harness them? Immortality is often loftily referenced in vampiric cinema, but merely as a quick way to disassociate the “antagonist” from the viewer. In very few films — “Interview with the Vampire” is one — do we see an individual having to digest and battle internally with the idea of being forever unchanged.
Michael Almereyda’s 1994 film Nadja paints for the viewer a swirling, dismal, black-and-white New York City. Pop music, nightclubs, seedy bars, and less-than-extravagant apartments (often accompanied by the at times aggravating Pixelvision) provide the backdrop for the title character as she enters the city to recover the remains of her father. Truly stuck out of time, Nadja is accustom to her native Carpathian Mountains, where there is an abundance of space, and in that space is her identity (along with the culture and history of vampirism as a whole). What Nadja does very well that separates it from most earlier “vampire flicks” is to present the idea of the world changing faster than an immortal being can keep up with. Once time is no longer a burden, it tends to move faster. As the world grows smaller, the hiding places dwindle. The only place to hide is in plain sight, and vampires everywhere are selling their mountaintop castles for studio apartments in the Lower East Side.
The following year, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction establishes a disobliging and truly adversarial relationship between control and powerlessness. This internal strife is delivered on screen in several forms: the literal addiction and withdrawal from substance abuse (in this case, blood), the helplessness of the vampire’s victims and the vampire’s power to dictate fate, and the minutely-discussed political undertones of fascism.
“Look at me, and tell me to go away. Don’t ask. Tell me.” This statement against free will and empathy acts as an interpretation of the driving force of the affliction that is vampirism in The Addiction. There is an awareness of helplessness in this grimy, noir-esque installment in the horror genre that pushes against the conventional tenor of the vampire genre. The physiological wounds that remain in the wake of physical or emotional trauma are absent in most horror works; the damage is inflicted, and once an escape is made, or the antagonist is defeated, there is little more to do than fade to black.
The Addiction explores the fallout: the coming to terms with the violation of one’s person. In the aftermath of a vampire’s “feeding” off Kathleen (the protagonist of the film) the viewer catches a glimpse of the silent whirlwind of shock and terror that feels eerily similar to the immediate emotional rebuilding process after a sexual assault: the aimless drudging back to your apartment; the sense of awe and tragedy when you see that those who are supposed to help you are not (and have never been) properly capable of doing so; the realization that self-defense, awareness of your surroundings, and a strong moral constitution mean nothing when a being whose influence extends farther than you could ever fathom wishes to impose their will upon you.
Blood acts as the crux of the narrative arc as the literal (and somewhat hamfisted) substance addiction metaphor, and as power, which is personified as the driving force of the human condition. Blood at times does act as an allegory for human nature; the idea that the human race cannot learn from itself, for all that society could ever gain or hope to gain is already eternally inside of us. Kathleen stays the falsehood in the saying “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” hinting that our failures and successes are what comprise us from the beginning — there is no altering or correcting the course. The political theories of the film further this thought by applying the imposing force of vampirism as a symbol for fascism, depicted as draining of the life-force of a victim and then daring them to put up a fight.
Powerlessness in the face of a sprawling world which is being compressed and ruptured under the weight of its own creations, and the powerlessness of neutrality — with the tides of “free will” only flowing toward the division of the tyrant and the victim — provide an existential and introspective convergence in both Nadja and The Addiction. They demand a level of attention and critical thought that is highly uncommon in the horror genre, even in the occasionally cerebral vampire subgenre.