The director Tony Scott is generally associated with his mainstream actioners, from Top Gun to Unstoppable. But his first feature, now receiving a new Blu-ray release, was a much more arthouse affair: The Hunger, an erotic vampire movie which, back in 1983, bombed at the box office and was so slated that Scott vowed never again to read reviews of his movies. But it’s since built up a cult following, particularly among the goth sub-culture who’ve taken to its lurid take on the vampire mythos.
The Hunger stars Catherine Deneuve as ancient vampire Miriam Blaylock and David Bowie as her husband John. Miriam met John in 18th century France, and granted him eternal life. But not eternal youth, it turns out; though he’s managed to hold onto his good looks until the 1980s, one day John begins to age rapidly. With John all old and wrinkly, Miriam grows attracted to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a scientist studying the causes of ageing, not to find answers but to take her on as a new lover.
This love triangle may be pleasingly unconventional, but it is pretty much all there is going on in The Hunger. Much like the more recent Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s often a ponderous movie, with Scott’s staccato cutting between scenes only superficially livening up the pace and failing to mask the scarcity of plot. There are a few sequences when the story begins to grab the attention – John realising he’s beginning to age; Sarah furious at Miriam for poisoning her blood, in what could be interpreted as an AIDS allegory; an energetic final confrontation – but these are bookended by the more plodding sequences.
That said, even the less interesting parts of the story can be a delight to watch, with a gothic class to Stephen Goldblatt’s dark and blue-tinged cinematography, plus three incredible central performances. Deneuve is alluringly icy as the dominating Miriam, while Sarandon plays Roberts with a much more grounded charm, earning our sympathy as she’s horrifyingly changed by Miriam’s callous manipulation. Bowie is another perfect casting choice; aloof, detached, but somehow mesmerising, he’s as much at home as a soul-searching vampire as he was as the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. It’s just a shame that, for a significant amount of his screen time, his performance is hidden behind prosthetics used to age him.
Appropriately, though, The Hunger hasn’t aged as poorly as some other films of the period have – it’s just as captivating and as frustrating as ever. If you’re looking for an easy vampire flick or for some typical Tony Scott action, this is probably not for you, but if you’re open to something a little more unusual, it may be worth a try.
Special Features: Commentary with Susan Sarandon and Tony Scott
THE HUNGER (1983) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: TONY SCOTT / SCREENPLAY: IVAN DAVIS, MICHAEL THOMAS / STARRING: DAVID BOWIE, CATHERINE DENEUVE, SUSAN SARANDON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HMV EXCLUSIVE)