The story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen continues to pay off. It is like catnip to those who like car crashes and morbid podcasts about serial killers, those who love tales of heroin addicts and punk rock and knifings and late night New York madness, and those who love a sordid mystery. Sid was the untalented and extremely dim bass player of the Sex Pistols. Nancy was the groupie who won his love and turned him into a druggie. In Sad Vacation (2016), we get to relive the events leading up to their nasty deaths, and once again wonder what went on that night at the Chelsea hotel when Nancy was found dead in the bathroom, bleeding out like a stuck pig. Did Sid stab her? Did their drug dealer do it? Did she accidentally kill herself in a silly game with a sharp blade? The knife wounds on her body, we learn, weren’t especially deep. We learn that Sid and Nancy liked cutting themselves for laughs. We learn that Sid was childlike, certainly not a killer. She, however, had tried to kill herself more than once.
Nancy gets few breaks in Sad Vacation. Though a couple of interviewees claim to have liked her, most refer to her as a horrible young woman, the typical band follower recast as a nightmare succubus. What did Sid see in her? He probably took her for granted as part of the punk rock dream. Some blame her for getting Sid hooked on heroin, but it also seems he was on his way to being a drug addict long before he met her. She simply hastened his downfall, introducing him to her New York junk-shooting friends.
Sid fares slightly better than Nancy in this telling. Before the drugs took hold, he was allegedly a funny, likeable young guy. It’s hard to gauge this from Sad Vacation, because aside from a few clips of Sid making faces at the camera, we only see him nodding off in a drug haze. As for his musical abilities, and any potential he had to break off from the Pistols to become a star on his own, it isn’t likely that he had the gumption. Had he lived long enough, another 30 years or so, he might’ve made an interesting character on reality television. He had that mentality – he wanted to be paid just for being Sid.
Director Danny Garcia makes Sad Vacation more watchable than one might expect. The story has been told many times, but he finds a good tone for it – the soundtrack goes through your head like a steady roar, the ugly drone one might hear in Hell – and turns up a few interesting tidbits. Some may wish to hear more about the Sex Pistols, or more about Sid’s mother, or more about the investigation and Sid’s eventual overdose. Suspicious characters are mentioned and then dropped. No matter. This case has intrigued since 1978 not for the details, but for the way the players looked. Leather jackets, spiky hair, overdone lipstick, fishnet stockings, knives and needles. Sid and Nancy were doomed, but they knew how to play their roles.