The Hunger (1983)


*. There has long been a critical consensus on The Hunger. In brief, that it is all style and no substance.
*. I don’t see any reason to challenge that view. Tony Scott got a lot of flack for being a director of commercials and music videos who just transferred this sensibility to the big screen. On the DVD commentary he does nothing to shy away from the charge, frankly admitting that the look of the film was very much of a piece with the world he was coming from. “I brought the commercial world to the world of movies,” he says, though he also points out that this was not an original development since his brother Ridley, Alan Parker, and Hugh Hudson had all followed the same career trajectory and been doing work in the same vein.
*. As far as criticism of the look of the film itself went, Scott is equally at ease. He remarks how critics slammed The Hunger as “artsy, esoteric, and self-indulgent,” and that they were right. He only adds in his defence that it is “still an interesting film.”
*. Well. Sort of interesting. But not interesting enough, at least in my book.
*. A couple of shots of drapes blowing slowly in the otherwise still air would not have been too much. Or perhaps even five or six such shots. But once Scott got up to a dozen it was probably time to start cutting back. And after two dozen . . .
*. I can understand the darkness of the Blaylock’s mansion, seeing as they’re vampires. Though they’re never called vampires in the script and I’m not sure if they’re bothered much by sunlight (or crosses, or whatever). It’s also odd that they appear in mirrors when they’re otherwise not visible, which sort of inverts the usual vampire lore. But anyway, to get back to my point, I can understand their mansion being dark. But why does the medical center have the same dismal, bluish lighting as the disco? And why do so many people wear cool sunglasses at night, in dark buildings?
*. Scott said he was inspired by Roeg’s Performance, which was an influence I didn’t pick up on at all. Is it just because both movies had rock stars in them? He also says the style was inspired by Helmut Newton. I guess you could see someone like David Fincher being a modern inheritor to this look. During his commentary, Scott says if he were making The Hunger today he’d do it in a grittier, more realistic and less operatic way. But still somewhat operatic. That sounds like Fincher.


*. I would have thought a more obvious influence was Daughters of Darkness. The plot has a general resemblance (the decadent vampires who have a falling out, only for the queen to die and be succeeded by her lesbian lover), and I can’t believe they weren’t consciously trying to make Catherine Deneuve look like Delphine Seyrig. But Daughters of Darkness isn’t even mentioned by either Scott or Sarandon on the DVD commentary.
*. I found the editing to be painful. There just isn’t enough time to establish where you are before you’re bounced to somewhere else. And is all the obvious cross-cutting really necessary? I think the sequence where Bowie ages while waiting to see the heartless Dr. Roberts works very well on its own. I didn’t need to see the monkey dying at the same time. Because Bowie doesn’t have progeria, right?
*. Another reason I like that aging sequence is that it’s something we can all relate to. Your doctor doesn’t see you on time very often, does she? But this time she’s sorry!


*. David Bowie had a number of prominent movie roles, but I don’t think he’s any better than any other rock star has been on screen. Which is to say, he’s a hopeless actor. At least he doesn’t have to do much here but get old. The make-up effects for his aging are great though.
*. I was surprised they showed a large urine stain in the front of John Blaylock’s pants when Miriam crates him up. I guess that’s realistic, but still not something I expected.
*. I wonder when the wedding of alternative music (punk or whatever) with a gothic look and vampirism got started. Long before this. Perhaps it was with those Hammer vampire films set in swinging London. It seems vampires are drawn to clubs, and for a while “vampire sex clubs” were sort of a thing.


*. Bauhaus were never my thing. But then, neither was Bowie. I don’t care for the score of this film at all. The classical notes sound chintzy. The Lakmé flower duet, later to be used in a famous British Airways commercial (directed by Hugh Hudson, to come full circle) during the love scene between Miriam and Sarah is insipid. And what is that annoying noise being made when Tom discovers Sarah going through her withdrawal symptoms? It made me want to turn the sound off entirely.
*. Eternal life seems kind of dull on these terms, doesn’t it? You get to wear nice clothes, and live in swell digs, and listen to lots of classical music, but aside from that . . . not much. Maybe that’s why they all spend so much time making smoking look sexy.


*. It was marketed as an erotic horror film, and we all know what that means, don’t we boys? Hot lesbian action! Roger Ebert: “The Hunger is an agonizingly bad vampire movie, circling around an exquisitely effective sex scene.” I wonder what he meant by “effective” in that context. Tumescence?
*. At the end of the day, it’s a movie that just doesn’t add up to much. There’s about enough of a story to fill a half-hour television slot, tricked out with lots of flashy art direction. After a while, a very little while actually, it starts to get annoying. The climactic confrontation in the attic at the end was too much, what with the blowing drapes, flapping pigeons, and crazy camera tilts. (“Crazy” because according to Scott it’s actually supposed to be the attic itself that’s tilting! Ask yourself how that’s possible.) And what were all those damn pigeons doing in the apartment anyway? Did they fly in from Blade Runner? A John Woo picture? Everything in that attic would have been covered in pigeon shit. I know.
*. Then the studio insisted on adding a coda that brought Sarah back to life and stuck Miriam in a box. I don’t think it makes sense (Sarandon: “I was kind of living, she was kind of half-dying, nobody really knew what was going on”), but they wanted to leave the door open for a sequel. They didn’t get one (because, in Scott’s words, “The Hunger didn’t make a bean”), though there was a short-lived TV series based on the premise. Because for a movie that never had a story in the first place, where was there to go?


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