In 1980s New York swinging couple Miriam and John Blaylock (as played by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) teach classical music by day and prowl the nightclubs at night. Looking for willing couples, they lure them back to their townhouse with the promise of sex, only for it to be fatally revealed that they are two vampires out on the hunt. Killing and disposing of the bodies in their basement incinerator, it seems that their lives will go on forever. However, it doesn’t. Now approaching 200 years old, John’s body starts to rapidly disintegrate in a matter of days. Approaching specialist Dr Sarah Roberts (as played by Susan Sarandon) he hopes her studies in rapid ageing can save him – but is it too late for a man who was meant to live forever?
… The Hunger is a cold portrait of two ageing vampires who thought they could be forever young and find themselves becoming forever old.
Director Tony Scott’s lush debut, 1983’s The Hunger, is a film so “eighties” that it hurts. -Now, that’s no criticism, far from it. The simple fact of the matter is that in reassessing this movie, it immediately becomes so patently obvious just how many movies it has influenced, and also much like the characters it follows, it hasn’t aged a day.
Opening with the suitably vampiric features of Bauhaus’s frontman Pete Murphy singing “Bela Legosi’s Dead“, this is the perfectly ironic image with which to start any vampire movie. Bathed in antiseptic light throughout, the sweat and saliva of The Hunger is a modern gothic horror done right. brushing past its excesses and uneven story-telling, it’s hard not to be captivated by a movie which looks so much like a ‘music video without a song’. That said, for many critics of the day they described it as a perfume advert stretched out to 90 minutes and given Tony Scott’s background in commercials, in a sense they were right. There are obvious borrowings from Scott’s brother Ridley with its discarded interiors, billowing curtains and flapping white doves that you could be forgiven for feeling you’re inside J.F. Sebastian’s apartment from Bladerunner – minus the toys.
Yet the real influence of The Hunger is its minimalist approach to the vampire lore. Criminally lean by modern-day scripts, The Hunger makes no pretence or attempt to establish its world before the drama begins. In essence, The Hunger is a cold portrait of two ageing vampires who thought they could be forever young and find themselves becoming forever old. -And possibly more than its look, it’s this economy and refusal to explain itself that marks it out the most. Coming closest, by comparison, would be the (lack) of storytelling in Dario Argento’s Suspiria and its similarly jaded theme in Jim Jarmusch’s excellent Only Lovers Left Alive.
So, bizarrely ahead of its time, this is a film that weirdly possesses a longevity that few movies have attempted let alone achieved since. Compared to when I first saw it on Betamax (yes, don’t let the voice fool you, I’m as old as videotape) watching The Hunger now is a slightly unnerving and disconcerting experience. With the quicksilver Peter Pan of pop no longer with us, it’s odd watching him, playing an old man near death and the output of his final album Blackstar.
In the final analysis, David Bowie could have been born to play so many roles (in particular Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who fell To Earth) but for me, his role in The Hunger was a marriage made in celluloid. Set inside its Helmut Newton-like interiors, the thin white duke was able to disappear within its frame without even having to brush a hair from his eyes, so perfect is the combination.
Damn, he was beautiful.
As are Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. France’s ice queen amazingly combines both youth and decay onscreen whilst Sarandon brings a palpable earnest-like quality that will remind you of a young Sigourney Weaver. However, caught inside the blushing eyelid of a movie projector, this 2015 Bluray transfer grants all of them eternal youth.
Whereas Bladerunner‘s replicants were running out of time, here Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie had too much of it – which is an interesting twist on the vampire story when you consider that “innovation” isn’t really a vampire movie’s first consideration.