Contributed by Lola Tarantula
With both David Bowie and Tony Scott gone, now seems like the perfect time to reexamine The Hunger. Although the film is without a doubt a cult classic, it isn’t anywhere near as renowned as other vampire films, such as Interview with a Vampire or The Lost Boys. Despite its low standing on the cinema totem pole, The Hunger is a film with bite. Featuring meticulous attention to detail, stellar performances, and music to die for the movie offers a unique perspective that sets it apart from the standard genre fare.
The Hunger is based off of the novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber. The story follows the vampire Miriam and all those caught in her tangled web. Miriam possesses the ability to live forever, and she’s able to pull her chosen paramours along for the ride. Unfortunately for them, the deal isn’t quite as sweet. Her lovers do age after a prolonged period of time, however they do not die. When her lover, John begins to age at a rapid rate, he turns to Dr. Sarah Roberts, who specializes in anti-aging science. Sarah is soon pulled into the madness. She finds herself under Miriam’s spell. Miriam makes Sarah into her new vampire companion, but Sarah isn’t willing to accept her fate, and neither are Miriam’s old chosen ones.
In many ways, The Hunger is another take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Like Carmilla, The Hunger is the story of a vampire that seems to love her chosen victims, but can’t help stealing their life force. Miriam loves Sarah, John, and all of the others. However, it’s a flawed selfish kind of love. She is more concerned with her loneliness than their well being. When they grow old, she stashes them away like unwanted items of clothing. In one heartbreaking scene, John requests that Miriam kiss him. By this point he’s become more or less a walking corpse. She indulges him for a moment, but then she turns away. He then begs for her to kill him, but she tells him she can’t.
Although The Hunger may have been spawned from a classic vampire story, it offers up original ideas in spades. One of the most interesting things about the film is the way Miriam kills her victims. Miriam’s backstory is that she was some sort of Egyptian queen. Therefore she wears an ankh shaped dagger around her neck. She has another ankh dagger that she gives to her partner. Together they use the daggers to slit the throats of their prey. Then they drink the blood. This is one of the most creative methods of vampirism in the entire horror genre.
In addition to the clever story, The Hunger contains some beautiful performances from Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. Deneuve as Miriam manages to be seductive, tragic, and violent all at the same time. No matter how cruel her acts are, she always manages to make the audience feel for her. Bowie as John is perhaps the most fascinating character of the film. He starts out as a man blinded by love, but as he ages he becomes bitter and resentful towards Miriam. Bowie is able to express the double edged sword of loving and hating someone at the same time with precision. Susan Sarandon offers a comfortable performance as the level headed protagonist Sarah. Her role doesn’t have as much scope as Bowie’s or Deneuve’s, but she gives dimension to the part she was given.
Finally, The Hunger wouldn’t be The Hunger without the gorgeous visuals. Noir-ish shadows accompanied by billowy curtains is the theme of the film. A filter of deep blue gives rise to the melancholy mood of the film. Miriam’s house is full of classical art and smooth marble floors, that complement the gritty city streets of the outside world. The constant presence of curtains, pigeons, and veils conveys a romantic, timeless feel. When combined with 80s Duran Duran haircuts and outfits, The Hunger gives off a vibe that is all its own.
The only place the movie falls down is a somewhat ambiguous and confusing ending. Apparently, the ending was not Tony Scott’s idea, but rather a decision made by MGM. The studio wanted to leave room for a sequel, so they put in a little epilogue scene that just doesn’t fit. One could argue that this is why filmmaking by committee is a bad idea.
Today, The Hunger is regarded as a favorite by many in the horror scene. It is remembered as the film that introduced the band Bauhaus to the world, and also for its famous sex scene between Sarandon and Deneuve. The film produced a spin off series of episodic erotic horror stories. The movie would launch Tony Scott’s career. However, he never again made anything as profound or artistic as The Hunger.