Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.
I knew going in that The Hunger as a sexy vampire movie from the time before vampires became the go-to teen love interest. I knew it had to be stylish since it stars Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. The one thing that doesn’t scan is that The Hunger was directed by Tony Scott. Tony Top Gun, freakin’ Days of Thunder Scott. Who would have guessed that he had a stylish and sexy horror movie lurking in those veins?
Anyway, The Hunger really is about sexy vampires. While even the classic vampire stories have a great deal of gothic romance to them, The Hunger goes out of its way to make them dead sexy (you see what I did there?). Our vampire couple is Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie), who teach classical music (her on piano, him on cello). At night, they cruise discos and nightclubs to find new prey, something we see in the opening scene.
Things have been good for a few hundred years, but that’s about to come to an end, because suddenly John is falling victim to evidently the only sickness a vampire can get in this world. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he begins aging at an incredible rate. One minute he looks like David Bowie, a couple of hours later he looks like David Bowie’s grandfather. As it happens, Miriam knew this would happen. She is apparently immortal, but her lovers remain young and vital for a couple of centuries and then hit their expiration date and go bad very quickly.
Realizing that something is not right, John pays a visit to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a gerontologist working on various ideas about aging. She brushes him off when he still looks like David Bowie, but when she returns a few hours later, he looks 30 years older. Pissed off, he leaves and suddenly Sarah is desperate to get her experimental hooks into John. For his part, John returns home and, not knowing what to do, kills one of his and Miriam’s students, a student Miriam had evidently picked as her next companion.
It’s worth noting at this point that the vampirism of The Hunger is substantially different from the traditional, classic vampire. Think of all the classic vampire strengths and weaknesses, and you’re not going to find them here. These are vamps who can walk around in daylight and have no issues with garlic and crucifixes. There’s also no turning into bats, or magical powers of seduction, so our vampire heroes are stuck with their natural abilities in terms of seduction. Fortunately for them, circa 1983 Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie have little trouble in that regard. Hell, they don’t even have fangs. When feeding time comes, they open their victims’ throats with an ankh pendant.
Anyway, Sarah shows up at Miriam’s house to see if she can locate John. Instead, Miriam seems to decide that Sarah will be her next companion and seduces her. What follows is probably the most erotic lesbian scene filmed in the 1980s that concludes with Miriam drinking a small amount of Sarah’s blood and Sarah evidently doing the same. This infects Sarah with vampirism, which slowly becomes evident when Sarah can’t keep any food down. This becomes very distressing to her boyfriend/lover/colleague Tom Haver (Cliff de Young).
I was completely invested in The Hunger until the final minute or so, where it goes completely off the rails. The ending makes absolutely no sense to me, and I can’t imagine it makes sense to anyone else, including the screenwriter or Tony Scott. Evidently, that ending was tacked on by the studio much to the distress of everyone involved. Not only does the ending not make much sense, it seems to destroy the entire point of the film, the main central question that the film asks. I can’t go into that without hitting spoiler territory, but I think it’s important enough that I need a rare spoiler.
*** VAMPIRE ATTACK! ***
At the end, Sarah kills herself rather than spend the next few centuries with Miriam. She does so by stabbing herself in the neck with Miriam’s ankh pendant while kissing her, hoping that the new transfer of blood will kill Miriam as well. It seems to work. What follows is best understood as a sort of dying phantasm in Miriam’s head. All of her former lovers who age but remain undying return and surround her and she ages instantly and dies. The question that the film is asking and answering is one of price. Sarah’s character is obsessed with the idea of age and aging. How much would she pay to have the gift of youth? Her answer, evidently, is that killing victims weekly is too high a price to pay.
And then the movie tacks on a scene of Sarah in a new city with a new lover at the end, evidently continuing the cycle. The entire reason for her suicide is glossed over and made pointless. It was a stupid choice by the studio, and it taints an otherwise interesting erotic thriller.
*** VAMPIRES REPELLED! ***
The Hunger is worth seeing, because it’s surprisingly stylish from the otherwise oven mitt-like hands of Tony Scott. The ending is stupid, but that’s not anyone’s fault but the studio’s, and up to that last minute or so, it’s interesting, sexy, and almost wholly unique in terms of the mythos it creates. As an interesting side note, it’s fun to see Dan Hedaya in a small role and Willem Dafoe with a single line. You know who else is in this? Bessie Love. Bessie Freakin’ Love, who starred in the first talkie to ever win Best Picture. Gotta hand it to the old girl for longevity!
Why to watch The Hunger: Straight up the sexiest vampires you’re likely to find.
Why not to watch: The end makes absolutely no sense.