Abel Ferrara: 'The blood just looks better black. It's scarier'

Abel Ferrara – 'The blood just looks better black. It's scarier'

Director of Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant and King of New York discusses the re-release of The Addiction and working with Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken

Abel Ferrara's The Addiction is getting its first 4K Blu-ray release. A grimy vampire story set on the streets of New York, it stars Lili Taylor on a downward spiral of destruction after a late night encounter with the undead, and despite the director's assertions, it utilises vampire mythology to present a stark allegory for drug dependency.

Ferrara first made a name for himself with the notorious Driller Killer (banned in the UK in 1984 as a Video Nasty but now freely available) then hit a hot streak in the late 80s and 90s with a series of hard hitting, gritty thrillers including King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, Dangerous Game, The Addiction and The Funeral.

Speaking from his home in Rome he's a bullish interviewee. You get the impression he doesn't want to play the game. For example, when asked to sum up the plot of The Addiction in his own words he looks genuinely angry: 'no I can't, you saw the film, you tell me.' Not a great start. Ferrara doesn't suffer fools gladly but he's obviously incredibly passionate about his work.

What attracted you to making a vampire film?

I didn't approach it as a vampire story; it was about a character who went through all these changes. I liked the character and what happens to her, these events are predicated on the genre of a vampire film. The vampire story didn't begin with a movie, its thousands and thousands of years old. It's an iconic character that you see all over the world, from cave walls to folklore so this was just [writer] Nicholas St John's version of it.

You use vampirism as an allegory …

She's biting people, it's not an allegory. It's happening so what's allegorical about it? It's right there, it's happening.

Most people have interpreted it as being about drugs; do you think that's a fair reading?

I think it was about faith more than drugs, but using all that junkie paraphernalia and language. You can tell it definitely was a vampire movie shot in 90s New York, crack city.

Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?

I think we just wanted to make a black and white film, we thought if we don't do it now we'll never do it. It was low budget so we had the option; we were calling all the shots. The blood just looks better black. It's scarier.

It's a tough role. Did you enjoy working with Lili Taylor?

I remember she was great, she understood the material, she understood the character, it's beautiful when the actress and material come together like that.

Abel Ferrara – 'The blood just looks better black. It's scarier'

Christopher Walken has a small but pivotal role in The Addiction. You worked together on several films, did you have a special relationship?

That's why we kept working together, he's obviously a great actor and he liked shooting with me, he liked the crew, Nicky [St John] was basically writing for him [the three of them also worked together on King of New York and The Funeral].

How did you find watching The Addiction again almost 25 years after you made it?

The film changes every time you watch it. That's what's beautiful about movies. But the film doesn't change, it's you that's changed. That's the magic of cinema, you see a movie one time it means something to you, see it ten years later it means something totally different to you.

You went straight from the remake of Body Snatchers to The Addiction. Was making such a dark low budget movie a response to working on a big budget Hollywood production?

I don't think it was a reaction. We had the script and we had a chance to do it. You can't bring that kind of material to a producer in Hollywood. [Hip hop mogul and producer] Russell Simmons backed us up, he believed in it and got the money for it. It didn't go through meetings or groups of people, one guy believed in it so let's shoot the fucking thing while we can.

We were shooting it because we wanted to make that film, the crew and everyone, no one was making that film for a pay cheque, they were doing it because of the material.

Driller Killer became infamous in the UK in particular. What do you think of its legacy?

Texas Chainsaw [Massacre] was kind of the inspiration for that movie. Any film that actually gets made I think of fondly. A lot of movies don't get made. You make a film called Driller Killer, what can you expect?

What are you working on next?

Working on a film called Siberia with Willem Defoe. It's like a crazy cross between Ulysses trying to find his way back home, an adult Alice in Wonderland, but a documentary at the same time; if you can imagine all three things happening at once.

The Addiction is released on 4K Blu-ray (Arrow Video), Mon 25 Jun.