Stream to Scream: “HABIT” (1995)


When a name like “Larry Fessenden” comes to mind, many different people can think of many different things. To some, Fessenden is a virtuoso character actor, slipping into small yet great (and often charismatic) roles into a myriad of horror projects, whether it be a lead role in Glenn McQuaid’s I SELL THE DEAD or a scene-stealing cameo on an episode of THE STRAIN. To others, Fessenden is a miniature magnate of independent horror, with his Glass Eye Pix production company helping launch the careers of Ti West, Jim Mickle and many more. But what Fessenden should be best known as is one of the best independent directors in the genre today, and an excellent example of that reputation is his 1995 psychosexual vampire film, HABIT.

For those unfamiliar with this macabre indie masterpiece, HABIT follows a young, alcoholic man grieving the loss of his father and a recent break-up, who meets an enigmatic young woman at a Halloween party. Soon, he finds himself inexplicably obsessed with the woman, with whom he embarks in a sexually-driven relationship that involves violent nightly trysts and orgasmic bloodletting. However, the man soons finds himself experiencing an inexplicable illness, and as his symptoms become worse, he begins to suspect that his partner may be something more vicious than a vixen.

But to Fessenden’s credit, HABIT doesn’t look like a horror movie; in fact, the style of the film is incredible indicative of the work of his indie contemporaries Abel Ferrara, Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater in that there’s a very purposeful, intimate composition of every shot, yet the camera is allowed to breathe and move around. The film’s descent from urban fantasy to hallucinatory fever dream terror is gradual and contemplative but also hypnotic in a sense, and the audience gets almost a claustrophobic sense from the predicament from our hero. And once the film goes firmly into genre territory, it’s completely in line with the narrative, with drives just enough doubt into the situation to ride the line of psychological horror and full-on vampire flick.


As director, writer, star and editor, Fessenden puts himself front and center of HABIT, offering his cinematic voice both figuratively and literally. As a director, Fessenden offers a supernatural tale through a grounded, realistic eye, concentrating on the drama surrounding the ordeal than the extraordinary circumstances, and dipping into surrealism only when necessary. However, credit for the film’s incredibly visual style should also be shared with the daring work of cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco, whose bold and careful work elevates HABIT beyond its simplistic storytelling. And the music by Geoffrey Kidde only adds to the entrancing effect of the film, boiling under each crucial moment rather than using sound as a punctuation mark.

The acting of the piece is also incredibly strong, most of whom had limited or no experience in the medium before (which certain helps Fessenden’s realistic take on the material). Fessenden himself is superb in the lead role, going from a charming, bitter soul to an utterly paranoid, desperate mess with equal skill. Meredith Snaider is also absolutely stunning as the hypersexual, predatory Anna and her chemistry with Fessenden is nothing short of compelling especially once the relationship becomes apparently one-sided. Meanwhile, HABIT also sports great performances from the likes of Aaron Beall, Patricia Coleman, Jesse Hartman and Heather Woodbury, the latter offering perhaps the most sympathetic character in the piece.

Overall, HABIT is an astoundingly well-made tale of sex, blood and psychological distress that functions as not only a great horror film, but a great film period. Fessenden operates at the top of his game, and his mix of greek tragedy, indie art film and brooding vampire story makes for one of the more original and sadly underrated fright films of the ‘90s. However, with an impending Scream Factory Blu-ray and Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix soldiering into new territory every day, hopefully HABIT will be rediscovering, finding a home in the nightmares of a new generation of fright fans.

HABIT is currently streaming on Shudder.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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