31 Days of Hell: The Hunger

31 Days of Hell continues with The Hunger. 

the hunger
"If they ask me to play Let's Dance
one more time, I'm gonna
eat someone's face off."
The late Tony Scott (Top Gun; True Romance) directed his one foray into the horror genre, a vampire film penned by Communion author Whitley Strieber.  A classy precursor to the goth movement and early display of the slick talents of Ridley Scott’s brother, The Hunger is a dark love triangle between a 300 year old vampire couple, John and Miriam Blaylock (David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve), who must kill to keep from aging and Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a gerontologist busily researching medical methods to decrease aging.  After dining on human blood, John finds himself aging at an alarming rate and will stop at nothing to find a cure for his rapid physical decay.

Best remembered for a steamy lesbian sex scene between Deneuve and Sarandon (in the prime of her physical beauty, I should add), The Hunger predates films like The Crow for its audiovisual tonality and sense of apocalypse.  Tony Scott’s slick visual style with fast cutting and heavy blues hasn’t aged a bit although there are times the set design compounded with the pack behavior of the vamps isn’t too far away from brother Ridley’s Blade Runner.   

Opening in a nightclub with the band Bauhaus playing Bela Lugosi is Dead, intercut with images of the cold and cool bloodletting by Mr. Bowie, modern viewers will be pining for Brandon Lee to come out to dole out justice.  The frequent use of classical music to suggest timelessness to the vampire’s age is particularly unique, as if the most ancient of musical compositions were only heard yesterday by the nocturnal feeders.  Most interesting is the moral compass imbued in The Hunger, as a now elderly Bowie (underneath layers of remarkable makeup work) wrestles with the guilt over his decision whether or not to kill a human near and dear to him in order to survive.  One area that struck me as peculiar was the vampires’ imperviousness to sunlight, whereas typical vampire lore has the fanged feeders scored by the light of day within seconds.  There’s also less emphasis on the presence of prototypical sharp fangs, and only within a glimpse of flashback to we get to see one of the beasts of the night show its true colors.

the hunger
"And now for the best part
of the movie, 
the kiss between
two dudes 
dressed up as lesbians
dressed up as 
vampires dressed
up as............"
Unfortunately, given the year of The Hunger’s inception, it was subjugated to the studio pretenses of the early 1980s which did not tolerate dark endings.  Without giving anything away, both author Whitley Strieber and actress Susan Sarandon expressed dismay over the decision to change the ending from the novel to something more palatable to 80s audiences, a move which would damage everything from Blade Runner, Brazil, and Little Shop of Horrors.  

Upon initial release, the film was savaged by critics as being stylish over substance but in recent years has garnered reappraisal for the gothic atmosphere created by Scott.  No doubt the much-touted lesbian scene produced plentiful box-office returns, as this was an early time for such a hot scene to appear in mainstream cinema.  However, one can’t help but feel all the buildup and cool veneer couldn’t fix the compromised finale, making The Hunger something of a disappointingly wasted opportunity.  But at least it was sexy to look at.

-Andrew Kotwicki