The Hunger (1983)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #427

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 29 April 1983
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Cult Film
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: $10,190,512
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Tony Scott
Producer: Richard Shepherd
Screenplay: Ivan Davis
Based on The Hunger by Whitley Strieber
Special Effects: Peter Montagna
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
Score: Denny Jaeger, Michel Rubini
Editing: Pamela Power
Studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Peerford Ltd.
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Beth Ehlers, Dan Hedaya, Rufus Collins, Suzanne Bertish, James Aubrey, Ann Magnuson, John Stephen Hill, Shane Rimmer, Bauhaus, Douglas Lambert, Bessie Love

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Bauhaus Bela Lugosi’s Dead

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The eighties were one helluva stomping ground for vampires. Aside from the obvious (The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Fright Night), numerous other films surfaced during this period which focused on that decisive love bite. Amongst those who fell by the wayside were Jerry Ciccoritti’s Graveyard Shift and Richard Wenk’s Vamp, both way better movies than they ever received credit for. Another passed over gem was Tony Scott’s first theatrical feature, The Hunger which performed reasonably astutely at the box office but was often accused of being pretentious and overly stylized, ultimately fading into obscurity.

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However, this provided a springboard for Ridley’s younger brother, who had been content with shooting commercials before being spotted by the studio’s first choice director Alan Parker and suggested to producer Richard Shepherd. Three years later he soared the skies with Top Gun and went on to enjoy considerable success over the next twenty-five years leading up to his tragic suicide in 2012, gifting us such classics as True Romance and The Last Boy Scout along the way. But this melancholic tale of love, loneliness, and loss still remains largely overlooked to this very day.

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Like Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, the word “vampire” is never once uttered throughout the film’s duration and The Hunger opposes convention in favor of reconstructing the genre and trying something entirely exclusive. In many ways, it echoes the approach taken by George A. Romero with Martin, albeit with far greater supernatural connotations. Enter a ton of dry ice, an abundance of moody lighting, seductively billowing drapes, and a handful of agoraphobic doves to help achieve the required look and Scott’s often criticized trademark pop promo-style cuts which help supply no end of eighties chic.

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One only need look at the casting of David Bowie as rapidly ageing John Blaylock to know exactly Scott’s desired demographic. The actor had impressed seven years earlier in Nicholas Roeg’s cult classic The Man Who Fell To Earth and his character here is similarly mysterious and brooding. Bowie threw himself into the role with aplomb, learning to play the cello and standing on the George Washington Bridge night after night performing punk rock renditions to give his voice the hoarse edge required to suit the role. This would prove something of a sweet spot in his acting career, with significant roles in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Labyrinth and unsung John Landis masterpiece Into The Night following in short succession.

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He plays the three-hundred year old lover of former Egyptian queen, Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), who is nearly six thousand years his senior. Alas, for John (and Bowie fans the world over), his youthful looks are fast diminishing and it appears as though Miriam is soon to be left searching for another companion to help fill her endless days. Unlike her, each suitor comes with an expiration date and John’s is all but up. She is something of a hoarder and refuses to dispose of each of her withered loves, instead keeping their still conscious withered shells in caskets in her attic. On one hand it is rather a touching sentiment, but John’s not too enamored by the notion of being fitted up for his pine receptacle just yet so takes matters into his own hands.

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He seeks the help of Dr Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), who specializes in age research, after noticing her plugging her new academic novel Sleep and Longevity and, after initially being brushed off and left in the patients’ lounge for two hours (the equivalent of several decades given his fast accelerating ailment), he loses heart, exits the building, and plods straight into the path of disgruntled mid-afternoon motorists with “you stupid old fuck!” ringing in his now elongated earlobes. All of this leaves Sarah feeling understandably culpable and she tracks him back to the stately home he shares with his sugar mommy. This is where the hunger begins in earnest as she swiftly falls for the immortal woman’s inescapable charms.

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The now infamous same-sex love scene between Miriam and Sarah caused no end of controversy at the time and was filmed on a closed set, causing much speculation as to what actually took place behind closed doors. Sarandon has made no secret of the fact that she found the ravishing French actress to be hugely desirable and insisted that the screenplay was altered to reflect her sobriety during the seduction stating that “you wouldn’t have to get drunk to bed Catherine Deneuve, I don’t care what your sexual history to that point had been”. She makes a good point. The scene in question is actually sensually shot and in no way vulgar; more pre-nineties Penthouse than Hustler.

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As for vampirism, The Hunger prefers to remain ambiguous and there are no protracted incisors or punctured jugulars on exhibit. Any blood is excised via miniature daggers concealed in necklace pendants, bearing the symbol of Ankh, an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic fittingly denoting life. This is as close as we get to mythology and, instead, the film focuses more on the immortals themselves and the world they choose to inhabit. It has since been suggested that the sketchy vampire dynamic is merely a metaphor for the burgeoning A.I.D.S. crisis of the eighties but I prefer to think it as a unique take on a well-worn theme which dares to not spell itself out for the viewer, allowing them to reach their own conclusion.

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The Hunger is unlike any other film of its time and is as frosty and detached as the bloodsuckers it portrays. It often feels as though we are being kept at arm’s length throughout and not afforded the chance to truly feel for any of the characters depicted, which at times can leave us a little disconnected. It is undoubtedly a case of style triumphing over substance and Scott’s film certainly has the former in abundance. It also boasts solid turns from Deneuve and Bowie, as well as an astonishing one from wide-eyed Sarandon as Miriam’s not-altogether reluctant new plaything. The studio made eleventh hour changes to the ending to pave the way for potential sequels which have never come to fruition. Personally, I think it’s ultimately worked out for the best as The Hunger is best regarded as something of an eternal loner, just like Blaylock herself.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Although billed as an erotic horror movie, The Hunger is neither with any great level of commitment. After shooting wrapped, Bowie expressed concern that it was too perversely bloody but his fears proved unfounded as any blood is spilled sparingly throughout. Having said that, the serenity is punctuated with various instances of fleeting violence which are very well realized and occasionally startling. Meanwhile, John’s accelerated transformation from dashing young cavalier to emaciated walking cadaver is a thing of stark brilliance and way ahead of it time. As for that notorious sex scene, it can feel a little like a Kate Bush promo video at times but that’s not to say it isn’t still strangely arousing.

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