Review: The Hunger
Vampire lovers Miriam and John Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) are looking for a cure for John’s current predicament. You see, John, several hundred years old, is rapidly aging all of a sudden, yet he is unable to die. 6,000 year-old Miriam has seen this happen several times with previous lovers, whom she is able to transfer some of her vampire powers to, but not all. They've been in contact with doctor Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), an expert in the subject of aging. Miriam decides to seduce the good doctor and turn her into a vampire, but hopefully with a more successful outcome this time than her previous lovers like John. Dan Hedaya and his hideous hairdo play a nosey detective, while Cliff De Young plays a concerned colleague of Sarah’s.
I’ve never been able to embrace this glossy, 80s New Wave lesbian vampire movie from former TV commercial director Tony Scott (slick entertainments like “Top Gun”, “Enemy of the State”, and “Déjà vu”) the way I’d like to. The late, great David Bowie gives easily the best performance in the entire film. He’s interesting, the rest isn’t. It’s a wonderfully shot film by Stephen Goldblatt (“Lethal Weapon”, “Joe vs. The Volcano”) but that isn’t enough. Two minutes in and you realise that MTV style and New Wave trappings are all this film is really going to offer, and that does get old quickly (Bauhaus’ performance of the truly dreadful ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ in the opener is just nauseating and corny beyond belief). It’s chilly and remote, with the majority of the performances following suit. After 30 minutes you wish it’d stop wanking off and actually go somewhere. Sadly, I don’t think it ever really does.
The opening scene is memorably nasty, weird, and sexy, and any pervert worth their salt knows all about the sex scene later between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. I mean, it may not be red hot, but it’s two screen icons, it’s still Catherine Deneuve sucking Susan Sarandon’s tits set to classical music. This is the one and only movie you’re gonna see that happen, and for some that’s enough incentive. It’s cinematic history, and 18 year-old me thought it was the best thing ever. 37-38 year-old me wishes the two actresses seemed more committed and were playing interesting characters So it’s silly, it’s funny, it’s one of a kind and one of the only standout scenes in the film, but…it’s chilly and strangely deflating.
Susan Sarandon just isn’t very good here. This was before she developed into the great actress of the 80s and 90s that well know. Yes, she already had “Pretty Baby” and “Atlantic City” under her belt, but here we get “Rocky Horror” Sarandon, not “Dead Man Walking” Sarandon. Catherine Deneuve looks elegant and has shown in prior and subsequent roles an ability to act. Here though, she’s a bit stiff and chilly, and acting in an English language film has never been her forte. As for Cliff De Young, he was OK in “Flight of the Navigator”, but for the most part is a poor man’s Jeff Daniels. That holds true here.
There’s an interesting, decrepit sadness to the vampires here you don’t often get in films, and whilst no actor, David Bowie certainly stands out here (The makeup is still pretty good, too). In fact, that’s all the film has: Style, moodiness, David Bowie, and Catherine Deneuve sucking Susan Sarandon’s tits set to classical music. I need more than that, because after a while, all the things one likes about the film start to wear thin, too. That’s pretty typical of director Scott, whose debut directorial effort this was. He was a flashy but often quite empty filmmaker (The chilliness and pretentiousness of the film, however, are more indicative of his brother Ridley).
Some people will like the film, I doubt many will love it. I think it ought to have stopped being cool and turn the heat up. Dramatically inert, there’s not enough to cut it as a feature film, I’m afraid and it eventually disappears up its own arse. I guess everyone needs to see this vampire chic film at least once, but I think the decade gave us better vampire films (“Near Dark” and “Fright Night”), let alone previous decades (“The Horror of Dracula”, “The Vampire Lovers”, “Vampyros Lesbos”). Based on a novel by Whitley Strieber (whose books have spawned such films as “Wolfen”, “Communion”, and “The Day After Tomorrow”), the screenplay is by Ivan Davis (who wrote a few minor TV movies) and Michael Thomas (“Backbeat”, the gorgeous “Ladyhawke”, the crass “Welcome to Woop Woop”).