“You're a part of me now and I cannot let you go.”
I miss David Bowie and Tony Scott. Both men, incredible talents and warm gentlemen by almost all accounts, left this world too soon and we’re all worse off for the loss. 1983’s The Hunger is a special moment in each of their respective careers, as it was Scott’s feature directorial debut and one of Bowie’s earliest and best acting performances.
I’d seen The Hunger many years ago and I don’t think I fully understood the movie then. It’s a peculiar film, completely unlike most vampire tales, with an unusual pace and a somber tone. The Hunger is a horror film in so much that it has vampires, immortality, and more than a few slit throats, but it’s really much more of a romance, and a sad one at that.
Lovers for a hundred years or more, John (Bowie) and Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) are now facing the end of their union as John’s immortal spirit begins to fade and die. Though he looked approximately 30 years old for all his life, he is now aging years with every day. They both go to a scientist who has some peculiar theories on aging, Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), but the doc isn’t quick to believe them. When John becomes increasingly feeble, Miriam begins looking for her next companion, and apparently has her eyes set on Sarah.
It’s a film of two halves, I guess, with Bowie dominating the first half and Sarandon dominating the second, and Deneuve acting as the bridge that holds them together. I like the first half more – partly because of Bowie’s mysterious performance, partly because the themes feel more genuine – but the second half is not without merit. Getting there is a bit awkward, as it transitions from a fantasy romance between vampires to a lesbian romance with all the grace of a softcore erotic film. ‘Oops, I spilled something on my shirt, let me take it off.’ But that’s part of the appeal, I suppose, as The Hunger also fits into that popular sub-genre of the 80’s: the erotic thriller.
The aging makeup that they put on Bowie is fairly remarkable. Sometimes between shots he appears to have aged decades. Only at its most extreme does it ever appear rubbery, but that might simply be because I could no longer see Bowie under the latex. Indeed, even before his death at age 69, Bowie always appeared more youthful than he did in this film.
Huge credit must also be given to Tony Scott. The Hunger is about as cool and as sexy a directorial debut can get. Time and space are liquid, crashing into each other, flowing. An eerie, sensual mood dominates the picture. For much of the film, there are no scenes, just feelings and motivations running parallel to each other. The first 10 minutes are an insane flurry of images and emotions – a nightclub, swingers sex, vampire murder, and a lab monkey going homicidal – it’s such a bold way for a first time director to open his debut. It’s an amazing opening.
I didn’t get The Hunger before. But films change as we do, and now I find that I rather love the film. It’s one of Tony Scott’s best movies and the entire cast puts in great work. If, like me, you didn’t dig it before, I highly recommend you give it another look.
Tomorrow: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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