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Sink Your Teeth Into This: Revisiting The Hunger (1983)

Nothing Human Loves Forever

Tagline for The Hunger

Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie), are your typically average elegant, fashion conscious and yuppie vampires-next-door living in a chic modern-day Manhattan mansion. They perform classical music in the daytime, and party at nighttime, luring young unsuspecting youths back for a foursome. There is a threat to their centuries-old romance when John begins to age and rapidly dies. Despite Miriam promising that he will live forever. Miriam’s quest for a new life partner leads her to Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor researching on how to expand humankind’s biological clock. Sarah falls victim to the beautiful vampire’s seduction and enters a world of erotic sex and brutal murder. But when Sarah fights back, refusing to accept her fate, Miriam encounters a formidable enemy and must accept that she’s vulnerable too.

The vampires in The Hunger aren’t your typical bloodsuckers. This stylish couple wander around in daylight, they don’t have fangs, and their existence is eventually explained (via the medium of cod-science, naturally) – as the result of an invasive strain of blood that transforms its human hosts. The interesting thing however, is that this isn’t a movie about vampires at all. It’s about style. And there’s style here in the bucket load. It’s not a complicated plot, but Tony Scott’s erratic and very over-the-top style make The Hunger at times surprisingly hard to follow. His frantic, often confusing cross-cutting and elaborate montage sequences seem to have no other purpose than to alienate the viewer.

The Hunger

The opening scene is strong. Crossed cut to a performance by the rock band Bauhaus of their appropriately themed song Bela Lugosi’s Dead. It sees Miriam and John feeding on a couple of local Goths, while caged animals in Sarah’s lab tear at each other’s flesh in graphic close-ups. The sequence makes for uncomfortable viewing, it’s both erotic and disturbing at the same time. This is partly my issue with the film, it’s constant shift in tone. This is a world full of sound and vision, not character or story. We see a few short flashbacks of John being turned by Miriam, but there’s a lack of back story to both of their characters, and its somewhat frustrating. Who created Miriam, and why doesn’t she age like John does? There’s so many unanswered questions by the time that the film has finished that it will leave you craving for more. Or just completely turned off by the whole thing.

The Hunger marks Tony Scott’ debut film, but in fact his first film credit was at age 16. As the eponymous lead in Boy And Bicycle, the 1965 short directed by his brother, Ridley, which would eventually inspire the elder Scott’s much-lauded Hovis advert, ‘Boy on Bike’. Three years later, after Tony had followed Ridley to the Royal College of Art in London, he directed his first film, a short film about the American Civil War called One Of The Missing. Despite graduating from college with aspirations of being a painter, he was soon tempted into making adverts with his elder brother’s production company, Ridley Scott Associates. It would be over a decade until Scott directed another feature film. Following years of cutting his teeth in advertising, the director took the reins on The Hunger, making the leap from ads to films a few years later than his brother.

The Hunger

Surprisingly, David Bowie gives his most ”human” performance here despite playing a vampire. Wandering around in his trademark 80s light suits and fedoras saying ”freaky” stuff, and pouting in the mirror. He may seem like this cool and collective vampire, but you get the sense that he is this vulnerable, needy creature who needs reassurance. This may not be his strongest performance and he comes across disconnected, but that odd sense of being other worldly that served him so well in The Man Who Fell To Earth, makes him a perfect choice here. Although he’s a killer, but it’s suggested that he’s doing it all for love, which makes his eventual desperate murder of a child all the more interesting. The mental and physical breakdown of John is gripping, and it’s a shame that it’s over far too quickly. However, he does make a reappearance towards the end, and brings some undead friends with him.

Catherine Deneuve is ian ce-cold bitch here, and she is incredibly seductive because she’s so cold and aloof. The lesbian seduction scene between Deneuve and Sarandon will make some cringe in places. However, at the time it was a controversial and ground-breaking moment for a number of reasons, not least of which was that both actresses appeared in the scene seemingly without the use of body doubles, requiring Scott to close the set to preserve his stars’ dignity. But what must have been eye-opening, even important at the time seems rather over-the-top now.

The Hunger

The visual design here is dated, but incredible, and makes you admire just how camp but effortlessly cool the 80s were as a decade. The use of deep shadows and high key lighting, which creates this German Expressionism look and film noir atmosphere. Even the costumes worn by Catherine Deneuve look like they belong to a different era. In fact, the mise-en-scene looks a little like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Although, Blade Runner has stood the test of time, and The Hunger is withering away like Bowie’s aging vampire. The references to quaaludes, Iggy Pop, Walkman’s and poloarid cameras only help cement the film in the year of 1983. And it’s just too hard to ignore the outdated technology (and everyone smokes indoors… which seems unreal in 2018).

Overall, The Hunger is an odd movie which feels so surreal in places that it’s quite jarring. Several times it tries to be a mature ‘sophisticated’ vampire film, but it keeps tripping over horror clichés along the way. The police officers are presented as bumbling fools who don’t think a woman laughing at the mention of a child’s disappearance is unusual. And this is a movie where at least two vampires meet their ultimate demise by falling down a flight of stairs (there aren’t any stakes in the hearts here). The Hunger was essentially an art-house update of the wave of unashamed sexy vampire flicks of the 1960s and 1970s like Vampyros Lesbos, The Vampire Lovers and Blood And Roses, which saw the lust for blood intermingled with lust for flesh. The film influence has bled into popular culture, perhaps most noticeably in American Horror Story: Hotel, and despite being from the worst year in film history, The Hunger is actually fairly decent. And, trust me, this is a way better love story than Twilight!


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