the hunger

1983

Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas

There are bad movies, there are excruciatingly bad movies, and then there's The Hunger. This is the kind of film that makes me wonder how many synonyms there are for the word pretentious. It may not be popular to say so, and I'm sure many people have admired this film for some reason or another over the twenty years since it was made, but really, once you get past the sensationalism of the sex scene and the eerily self-indulgent camera work, what you're left with is a very bad vampire movie. And not bad in a good way. Just plain awful.

It is an excellent sex scene, so tender and beautifully rendered. The lead-in line — "Mrs Blalock, are you hitting on me?" — is as great as a similar line uttered once by Dustin Hoffman to his Mrs Robinson. The two women circle each other, one curious, one the perfect predator, until a mutual submission is made. It is exquisite, and works perhaps even better when seen in isolation. Heck, why not just fast forward to the seduction, watch it, revel in it, and then spare yourself the rest of this mind-numbingly boring experience?

The plot (as far as there is one) revolves around Miriam Blalock (Catherine Deneuve), a rich, seductive woman with a terrible secret. She and her husband John (David Bowie) are vampires, and they prey mercilessly on the beautiful, goth boys and girls of Manhattan. They hunt together, the perfect tag team, picking up couples and luring them back to their enormous house for sex. Once they get their fill of blood, they wrap up their victims and dispose of them in a purpose-built furnace in the basement. It is quite a smooth operation.

Then the unthinkable happens. John contracts a deadly disease that causes him to age rapidly over a period of days. He seeks out the help of a reknowned doctor who is doing research in the field, Dr Sarah Roberts, but she dismisses him as a prank. John withers away and is literally thrown into his coffin by Miriam, and we see he is one of about twenty lovers Miriam has somehow managed to outlive. They have withered away, but they cannot die, so they keep each other company in a pile of coffins. She loves them all, and is loyal to them in her heart, but her addiction to youth and beauty and blood is too strong. She must move on and find another human companion.

Sarah is curious about John, and pays Miriam a visit. Cue the aforementioned seduction, which doubles as Miriam's opportunity to turn Sarah into a vampire. I'm not quite sure how, in the haze of sex, Sarah somehow doesn't notice she is sucking Miriam's blood, but suck it she does. A lot of curtains blow around in an ethereal way, and a lot of doves fly into shot (where the heck did the doves come from?), and then the two women are basking in the afterglow.

The film then goes into a death spiral. Sarah soon wakes up from whatever ridiculous trance she's been in and realises she's changing. Miriam tries to smooth it over, but Sarah won't sink quietly into the depths of depravity. She fights her new lover in a desperate battle to remain human. Sarah's husband isn't quite prepared to let her go either.

There's some more hideously self-conscious camera work that makes us feel like we're in a bad Stevie Nicks video, and twenty minutes later Miriam is suddenly getting her just desserts as all her past vampire lovers rise from their coffins to take revenge for being shoved away in boxes to rot away. At least the terrible zombie effects made me laugh, which was pretty much the only enjoyment I got from the last half of the film.

I'm not quite sure what I expected. A classic film perhaps? Something with an ageless beauty, or some other timeless quality that would justify why people still talk about this film today. The sex scene is pretty safe by today's standards, but I know for its time it was considered explicit. It is sensual, and daring, and deserves so much more than the hideous film that surrounds and suffocates it on both sides.

The film hasn't aged well. The score is a hideous mess. Goth historians might recognise Bauhaus frontman Pete Murphy whining out his classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (subtle this movie ain't) in the beginning. The rest of the score is ill-fitting, scratchy instrumentals and scattered baroque violin pieces. The Hunger practically drowns in its own overblown style, as well as being an excellent advertisement for lung cancer (did anyone NOT smoke in the eighties?) Stephen Goldblatt the cinematographer deserves some marks for his interesting lighting effects and visual style, but these are just consolation points.

The Hunger tries so hard to be sexy, and elegant, and macabre and fierce all at once, and succeeds in being none of those things. After a while I found Deneuve too cold to be either sexy or appealing. Like Miriam's vampire lovers rotting away in their dark prisons, I just wanted it all to be over.

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