The Hunger, 1983.
Directed by Tony Scott.
Starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, and Beth Ehlers.
A scientist specialising in the research of ageing and sleep finds herself at the centre of a love triangle between two centuries old vampires.
One of my running themes this year has been to look at a few big screen adaptions Bram Stoker’s iconic novel Dracula. However, as a change of pace for this week we’re going to take a step away from the Count and take a very different kind of vampire film. This time we ditch the Gothic castles and cobwebs of the 1880s and instead head into the glitzy nightclubs and Goth bands of the 1980s as we take a look at Tony Scott’s ultra-stylish The Hunger.
The late Tony Scott was, I think it’s fair to say, a director who largely favoured style over substance. That’s not a criticism against the man’s work, because when he was given free reign to do his thing, Scott’s flashy directorial style was often what turned potentially mediocre or bad films into films visually creative works that kept your attention. Or to put it another way; some of his films might not have been great but damn did they look good.
The Hunger marked Scott’s feature film debut and with it, we begin to see his approach towards storytelling that doesn’t bog itself down with complex characters or themes but more than makes up for it by being a treat for the eyes.
Through the use of deep blues, shadings and silhouettes, Scott creates a visually gorgeous film whose nearly every frame is a beauty to behold. While he may repeat certain visual motifs, such as filming his actors through white curtains, using heavy slow motion or seemingly borrowing a few cues from his brother Ridley (note the heavy use of blinds and a nice little watery reflection trick ala Blade Runner), Scott never fails to create an image that is overpowering, intoxicating and simply stunning.
Kudos to the clever use of smoke in numerous scenes which gives them a very noirish type quality. Although this might be less a stylistic decision and more to do with the fact that everyone (and I do mean everyone) smokes like a chimney to the point that I feel like coughing from the second-hand smoke seeping through my screen.
The often beautiful cinematography is complemented by the creative editing that cleverly juxtaposes dialogue that, if presented in a conventional fashion might sound unconnected to characters, but thanks to the editing manage to subtly hint at both what is happening to them and of their emotional state.
An early moment that shows this is a group of doctors discussing a monkey that recently killed it’s mate and how it is undergoing a mental and physical change, with the intercutting of the voices with John (David Bowie) awakening and seemingly subtly suggesting he is undergoing a similar physical and mental change. It’s a smart and subtle approach that makes an already visually intriguing film all the more engrossing thematically.
Perhaps the most striking combination of the cinematography, editing, as well as some clever use of music, comes in the film’s now somewhat infamous love scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. I have to applaud Scott for managing to create a sequence that, unlike something like Blue is the Warmest Colour, manages to be an honestly beautiful love scene that not for one moment ever comes across as gratuitous or sleazy.
The plot, while rather thin, is a refreshingly different take on the vampire mythos. Don’t expect any hunters with crucifixes to show up here because rather it is the ageing process itself that is the vampires’ main enemy. The film cleverly toys with the often used vampire trope of “eternal life” and turns that apparent blessing into a terrible curse. You might live forever but that doesn’t mean you stop getting old and eventually you’ll live so long that you’ll wish you could die.
On the acting front, things are equally curious and fascinating, with the performances of Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and the late David Bowie, making for an enigmatic trio who you can’t take your eyes off of.
After spending some time with Dracula this month, it’s refreshing to watch a vampire film that puts a woman at its centre, with Catherine Deneuve’s seductive, subdued and hypnotic performance as Miriam managing to create a cinematic vampire who might just be more fascinating than the Count himself.
Deneuve’s strength is that, although Miriam is essentially the film’s villain, we never ever get a sense that she is an evil person. She might lock her lovers in coffins her attic, but Deneuve manages to capture the pain and anguish that this process causes. It’s a terrific performance that is a nice change of pace from the hammy theatrics of Lugosi and the gloriously campiness of Gary Oldman and might be one of the most underrated cinematic vampires of all time.
David Bowie once more demonstrates that aside from his considerable musical talents that he was a pretty good actor, with his restrained and, at times, tragic performance as John is a personal highlight of the film for me. Although I mainly say that because I’m a huge fan of Bowie already.
I also have to give Bowie credit for managing to create a haunting depiction of the true cost of “eternal life”, with the singer/actor managing to elicit continued sympathy even as he becomes increasingly unrecognisable under heavy makeup.
It’s an odd sight to see but by the end of the film’s he’s not so much The Thin White Duke but more the Decayed Old Prune. Also, is it me or does he seem to turn into George Smiley from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at one point?
Susan Sarandon’s engaging performance as Sarah Roberts is arguably the strongest and certainly the most developed of the principal trio, with the actress gamely embracing the dark and often erotic aspects of the film’s story. Sarandon’s scenes with Denevue are perhaps the strongest of the film, with the chemistry between the two being managing to elevate potentially awkward moments of seduction into ones that feel genuinely romantic.
Beautifully shot and edited with fascinating performances across the board and boasting an interesting and different take on the vampire mythos, The Hunger demonstrates Tony Scott at his absolute best and is easily most underrated horror films of the 1980s. A visually stunning masterpiece that, while perhaps not going to be to everyone’s tastes, is still one that’s worth a look. Check it out.
Scare Rating: ? ?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★