Cast & Crew
Cliff De Young
Miriam, a beautiful vampire, preys on NYC clubgoers with her vampire lover John. When John suddenly begins to age rapidly, he seeks out the help of Sarah, an expert on premature aging. However, the insatiable Miriam wants Sarah for herself and seduces her, leaving Sarah with an increasing thirst for blood.
Cliff De Young
John Stephen Hill
Terence A Clegg
Ceri Evans Cooper
A. Kitman Ho
Roger J Pugliese
Maurice Joseph Ravel
Michael L Stone
The success of Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976), John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) lowered the average age of the American moviegoer and ushered in the era of the slasher film, body count programmers made for and starring teens and young adults where once had trod mad scientists, vampires, vampire slayers, grave robbers, hunchbacks, and sundry Gothic constructs. With a few exceptions (the 1980 indie Last Rites, which transplanted Dracula to New Jersey in the guise of a Garden State mortician), vampires became persona non grata in films worldwide while werewolves (The Howling, Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London, all 1981), ghosts (The Changeling , Ghost Story , Poltergeist ), and date-specific psycho-killers (My Bloody Valentine , Happy Birthday to Me , New Year's Evil ) stomped the terra. It took the aptly-named independent producer Richard Shepherd (The Fugitive Kind, Breakfast at Tiffany's ) to guide bloodsuckers back to the genre fold, with his purchase of the film rights to Whitley Strieber's ambitious 1981 vampire narrative The Hunger. Before the book had met its street date, Shepherd hired screenwriters to adapt the tale of Miriam Blaylock, an immortal being subsisting on the blood of others while offering something like (but not quite) immortality to a string of lovers.
Shepherd had wanted initially to place The Hunger (1983) in the capable hands of British director Alan Parker (whose gritty Midnight Express was an international hit in 1978) but settled instead for affordable first-timer Tony Scott. Kid brother of Blade Runner (1982) director Ridley Scott, Tony Scott came to features from a background in TV commercials, where he had learned to employ an economy of visuals to communicate the maximum mood. (In his lifetime, Tony Scott alleged that he and countryman Adrian Lyne had swapped projects, that Lyne had been assigned The Hunger while he had been stuck with Flashdance.) To bring to un-life the elegant immortal Miriam Blaylock, Shepherd and Scott chose French actress Catherine Deneuve who, then in her late forties but looking ten years younger, was the ideal candidate to sell the concept of eternity. To play Miriam's 300 year-old lover John, the filmmakers tapped reptilian rocker David Bowie (who had as an up-and-comer appeared in a 1969 TV spot for Luv ice cream pops directed by Ridley Scott) while Susan Sarandon (who had just turned down the Geneviève Bujold role in Clint Eastwood's Tightrope ) rounded out the cast as the sultry gerontologist who becomes the object of Miriam's boundless affection.
Though set in New York City, The Hunger was shot in London, where Mayfair's stately Chesterfield Gardens stood in for Miriam and John Blaylock's uptown pied-a-terror. (One week was spent in Manhattan, capturing exteriors, where a young Willem Dafoe was hired to play a street thug.) Strieber's source novel had skated a fine line between the coarse and the cultured, with the tale's first victims being a pair of lumpen no-hopers from Long Island (John attacks the girl while wearing a black track suit worthy of Tony Soprano) and the second an acid-scarred teen prostitute picked up at a pancake house. Adapted for the big screen by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas, The Hunger divests itself of such provincial charms, piping in neon and bee smoke to lend to the proceedings a sense of oneiric displacement informed by MTV-style flash. Standout setpieces include a seduction/attack by Deneuve and Bowie on club kids Ann Magnuson and John Stephen Hill (backed by Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi Is Dead") laid under the opening titles, Bowie's subsequent, regretful leeching of a young music student (Beth Ehlers, later a regular on the daytime drama The Guiding Light), his withering to a desiccated husk while beached in Sarandon's waiting room, and Deneuve and Sarandon's highly-touted love scene, shot in gauzy montage and backed by "The Flower Duet" from Léo Delibes 1882 opera Lakmé.
While even the film's detractors admitted The Hunger had style to burn, critics were universally unkind. Writing in The Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert branded the film "agonizingly bad" while Kim Newman (in his landmark 1988 genre overview Nightmare Movies) declared it "artificially preserved, superfluous and unapproachable." Though The Hunger tanked at the box office, the film's fans stayed true, fed on repeat viewings via cable television, VHS tape, and laser disc. Forward-looking from a genre perspective, The Hunger enjoyed a measure of vindication when vampire movies bounced back with a vengeance mid-decade. Films such as Fright Night (1985), Vamp (1986), The Lost Boys (1987), Near Dark (1987), Vampire's Kiss (1988), and Def by Temptation (1990) co-opted The Hunger's visual gloss but laced their narratives with lashings of broad humor. Whitley Strieber penned two sequels to his source novel (MGM had tinkered with the ending of The Hunger to leave room for a follow-up) but no franchise followed. Borrowing only the title, the British-Canadian syndicated horror anthology series "The Hunger" (1997-2000) stayed well away from the 1983 film though Tony Scott directed the premiere episode and David Bowie was brought onboard in the final season as master of ceremonies. Rights holders Warner Brothers have announced a remake of The Hunger but the project has languished in Development Hell, it seems, forever.
By Richard Harland Smith Sources: David Bowie: Starman by Paul Trynke (Little, Brown & Company, 2011)
Bowie: A Biography by Marc Spitz (Crown Archetype, 2009)
The Ridley Scott Encyclopedia by Laurence Raw (Scarecrow Press, 2009)
The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Bram Stoker's Dracula by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Limelight Editions, 1993)
Susan Sarandon: Actress-Activist by Marc Shapiro (Prometheus Books, 2001)
The Hunger on DVD
The opening sequence is still striking and sets the appropriate ominous tone for what follows. While Balhaus performs "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in a trendy goth bar, Deneuve and Bowie cruise the dancers on the floor and set their sights on a pair of decadent club kids. They lure them back to their lair where Bowie and Deneuve pair off with their victims, dispatching them with knife-like pendants during sex. It becomes apparent that Bowie's constant need for blood is a sign of his body's rapid deterioration. Unlike his lover Deneuve, who vampirized him in an earlier century, Bowie is not blessed with eternal life and his demise is imminent. Of course, living forever has its setbacks too. Deneuve is condemned to watch her lovers wither away one by one but the cycle never ends; she continues to reinvent herself with each new conquest. By the time Bowie is finally put to rest in his coffin, Deneuve has already started circling her new object of desire, Susan Sarandon, a best-selling author and medical specialist on aging. Their mutual attraction and the consummation of it forms the second half of the film, leading to a denouement that is ripe for a sequel.
One can easily see now the problems moviegoers may have had with The Hunger. Despite its stylishness, and there is too much of it like icing on a cake, it lacks tension and genuine scary scenes, except in a few isolated cases. Part of the problem is Tony Scott (this was his debut feature) who often works at cross purposes in his editing decisions. Suspense and even narrative cohesiveness is often sabotaged by his insistence on telepathing information to the audience via his frenetic intercutting - Sarandon preparing to cross the street and a speeding truck barreling down the avenue; Bowie's entrance into the subway and an oblivious skateboarder practicing alone in a darkened corridor. Probably the crudest instance occurs when Scott cuts from vampire sex to a shock close-up of a bloody rare steak being sliced open. Dick Smith's makeup, usually the highlight of any horror film he works on, is not so impressive here, looking like parodies of the work he did for House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Little Big Man (1970). Admittedly, the sequence where Bowie ages rapidly in a doctor's office is well executed but other scenes - Deneuve being attacked by the mummified remains of past lovers - is laughable. Of course, the biggest controversy surrounding the film was the not very explicit lesbian seduction scene between Deneuve and Sarandon. Here we have two of the screen's sexiest actresses cavorting in bed in a scene that resembles a Helmut Newton photograph (Tony Scott admits the sets and the staging were inspired by the photographer's work). While it might not have shocked urban audiences at the time, it wasn't exactly the sort of thing that Middle America wanted to see at the mall cinema.
On the plus side, The Hunger is a fun pop culture relic of its era from the iconic presences of Deneuve and Bowie to its now dated sense of fashion. The film's smoky, light drenched cinematography was obviously inspired by Blade Runner (1982), but also a visual influence on Flashdance (1983) and 9 1/2 Weeks (1986). It's also fun to spot the numerous movie homages (Peeping Tom, 1960, Daughters of Darkness, 1971, etc.) that pop up throughout the film. And look for Willem Dafoe in a tiny cameo outside a phone booth and New York performance artist/musician Ann Magnuson appears as a victim in the opening sequence.
The Warner Video DVD of The Hunger presents the film in its original aspect ratio in an eye pleasing transfer that accents the film's muted color scheme and diffuse lighting effects. The commentary track with Tony Scott and Susan Sarandon is fairly revealing as Scott notes his own ambivalence toward the film, one that goes from admiration to defensive at the drop of a hat; "Too trendy, too esoteric, too weird," he states at one point. He also admits the look of the film (which was set in NYC but filmed in London) was heavily influenced by the work of Stanley Kubrick and his own brother Ridley (who directed Blade Runner). One can see that Tony's own background as a producer of television commercials is obvious in every frame of the film. Sarandon, who only participates sporadically in the commentary, admits that The Hunger "changed my fan base." Of course, she had already made The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) so this wasn't exactly her first exposure to cult fandom. For fans of The Hunger, this is a worthwhile library addition though it might have been a genuine cult classic if Scott had opted for a more direct horror approach.
For more information about The Hunger, visit Warner Video. To order The Hunger, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
The Hunger on DVD
Released in United States Spring April 29, 1983
Released in United States May 1983
Released in United States 1996
Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival as part of program "The Fast and the Fallen" March 21 - April 4, 1996.
Released in United States Spring April 29, 1983
Released in United States May 1983
Released in United States 1996 (Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival as part of program "The Fast and the Fallen" March 21 - April 4, 1996.)