The Hunger (98 minutes) 1983/Rated R – starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff DeYoung, Beth Ehlers, Dan Hedaya, Rufus Collins, Suzanne Bertish, and James Aubrey. Directed by Tony Scott. Released through MGM/UA Home Entertainment.
Before author Whitley Strieber flipped out and started chatting with aliens in his books “Communion,” “Transformation,” and countless others (he’s made such a cottage industry of his “true-life” contacts, the little critters are practically living in his spare bedroom), he was a writer of urban horror novels like “Wolfen” and “The Hunger.” The enticing element to “The Hunger” is the “casual” atmosphere in which vampires walk among us. Anyone is prey for a little blood meal in Central Park or down a side alley. They’re chic, they’re cultured, and they want to be your friend, for life.
“The Hunger” tells a very simple story. Catherine Deneuve plays Miriam Blaylock, an ages-old beauty who has maintained her eternal youth by the standard jugular lapping but also by keeping a string of mortal companions alive in an undead state to fill her empty years. Trouble is, the companions only stay young for about a century or two, then they rapidly age to a withered, debilitating state in a matter of days. David Bowie plays her husband who is experiencing the “final” process as the film begins. When he seeks out help from Susan Sarandon, a scientist examining aberrations in aging, Sarandon falls under the spell of his lover, Deneuve, who sees Sarandon as her next century’s pal around town.
The pleasure derived in viewing “The Hunger” is actually found in its eye for detail. Director Tony Scott, like his brother Ridley, practically invented the film language of long shots jumping to exquisitely extreme close-ups over a matter of seconds in a scene. Music video directors immediately copped the technique as their own, usually without the same flair or reasoning behind the edits and have pounded us with unnecessary imagery ever since. Scott’s pacing for this film is languorous. Outside of his later film, “Revenge,” the cigar-chomping director of such testosterone epics like “Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide,” “Beverly Hills Cop 2,” and “Days of Thunder” uncharacteristically showed restraint with this film. His handling of a notorious lesbian scene between Deneuve and Sarandon is astonishingly erotic considering his later “boys-club” sensibilities. He actually allows characters to “breathe” in scenes without the Attention Deficit Disorder inclination common these days to edit the pace of a spare conversation like a Nintendo game.
Although the dialogue is detached and antiseptic, and the hard-edged fashion can be traced to Flock of Seagulls circa 1983, Scott keeps a dream-like flow to the narrative that almost puts it in an alternative universe altogether. Stephen Goldblatt’s photography is impeccable, although image motifs like flapping doves and diffuse lighting are a tad overused. The film’s ominous, discordant score is used to great effect as is the muted, echoed sound design.
Bowie’s performance is superb. Instead of coming unhinged with his weathered fate, he maturely chooses to remain calm and pensive. With this choice for his character, Bowie is fascinating to watch, as he ever so slightly changes his mood from desperation to wistfulness to bitterness to resignation. The moment when he has transformed into a withered man and asks Deneuve to kiss him like she did when he was young and healthy is handled by both actors in a sensitive, moving manner usually not found in standard vampire fare. While Sarandon plays an important part in the storyline, it’s the romance between Deneuve and Bowie that holds the greatest depth of meaning to this tale. (Trivia note: look quick at two guys standing at a phone booth. They’re actors John Pankow and Willem Dafoe, who three years later would act together in “To Live and Die in L.A.”).
Unfortunately, “The Hunger” lurches to an unsatisfying conclusion. Had the screenwriters taken the time to explore more unconventional endings for the tale, this film would truly be worthy of the top ten list of vampire flicks. As it is, “The Hunger” should still satiate your bloodsucking yearnings in a pinch.
© 2000 Ned Truslow