Review by Andrea Matthews
The world’s cinemas have long been haunted by vampires. The brilliant and truly frightening 1922 German film Nosferatu introduced the angular Count Orlock, a vampire with knife-sharp nails who slinks around in the shadows searching for victims. It was and still is an amazing creation. There is the inimitable Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Dracula, one of the most well-known versions of the good Count. Fast forward to the 1979 film with the same name, and you’ll find a noble and elegant Frank Langella, who left many of us young women opening our windows before going to bed and turning down the collars of our pajamas to expose our necks. Skip ahead to 1983 and we have The Hunger, the most sensual, elegant, and thoughtful vampire movie to date. (Keep your Robert Pattinson, ‘tweens! This one was made for grown-ups.)
In The Hunger, we are drawn into a vampire world by two of our era’s most seductive stars: David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. (Just watching them playing chess together for 90 minutes would be riveting. And indeed they are reputed to have done just that during breaks in filming. Could they be any cooler?) Combined with the sleek visual aesthetic of director Tony Scott, we have a true winner. An ethereal and engrossing version of the classic horror story – perhaps the most sensually thrilling and sexually charged of them all.
The film begins with Miriam and John Blaylock (Deneuve and Bowie), a vampire queen and one of her changelings, several centuries into their bloody, wedded bliss. In the throb of a crowded nightclub, these ultimate hipsters knowingly watch each other from across the room. The first shot of Deneuve captures her stunning, timeless beauty, hidden behind dark glasses, her deep red lips blowing smoke into the hazy, dim room. (Could anything make smoking look any cooler?) And Bowie, scanning for their next victims, is also beautiful, sexually electric. Deneuve’s Miriam is watching Bowie’s John, who is watching the crowd. The film cuts between the pulsing urgency emanating from our stars and the uber-hip Peter Murphy – lead singer of the renowned band Bauhaus – punked out and clinging to the inside of a cage. He is singing, of course, the band’s stellar hit, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” It just doesn’t get better than this. The one-night-stands our two stars bring home with them are in for the surprise of their lives. They, and we, learn that the Blaylocks have a lust for blood.
From there we move to New York’s Upper East Side, to the Blaylocks’ well-appointed home. Without the nightclub opening, we wouldn’t know what century or country we were being ushered into; the home’s billowing, sheer drapes, the antique furnishings, the regal décor, and the thick, exotic atmosphere belie both time and place. And the musical accompaniment augments the visuals in perfect balance. Here, in this amazing home, is where the real story begins.
The Hunger is the film debut of director Tony Scott – brother to Ridley Scott – who shares his sibling’s stunning sensibility in creating the visual aspects of this movie. (Think Blade Runner, thick with atmosphere and a thoroughly believable futuristic world.) Both brothers began their careers making commercials in England before coming to America to test the waters of movie-making. This has obviously given them an eye for capturing mood and atmosphere, and for being outstanding seducers of their audiences. Tony Scott’s aesthetic gives the film the elegance that makes it so satisfying to watch. It is truly a visual seduction – supported by the sensuousness of its stars and a collection of some of the most stirring pieces in classical music history. It’s so alluring, it elevates all the senses. Viewers will succumb and fully surrender to this film.
Of note is the amazing aging of John Blaylock, when the vampire spell of eternal youth inexplicably stops working for him. Critics were astounded by the miraculous appearance of this body growing older, decade by decade, in the space of mere minutes. (Remember, this was before computerized alterations were de rigeur.) It’s a true feat, and heartbreaking to watch.
Also of note is Susan Sarandon’s presence as a doctor researching progeria, a disease that ages people prematurely. It’s a nice conceit – Miriam Blaylock seeking out any advances in stopping a rapid aging process. You’ll have to forgive the stunning Sarandon’s awkward appearance, as this was, after all, the 1980s; her haircut is, well, so 80s, and her (and Deneuve’s) makeup is overdone – glaring interruptions in an otherwise visually perfected world. Add to that the ridiculousness of the doctor’s demeanor, and you’ll want to edit out the scenes in her research facilities to maintain the full beauty of the movie. (Sarandon introduces herself in the film as a specialist in progeria – pronounced, incorrectly, pro-ja-REE-uh – and her need to light up a cigarette every time she stands in front of her research primates’ cages is ridiculous and oh-so-dated.) All this can be forgiven, however, by the beautiful lovemaking scene she has with Miriam. It is a scene so delicate and erotic that will entice viewers of all sexual proclivities.
The Hunger remains a classic vampire movie. It dances in its beauty and gentility, its memorable music, and the magnetism of its stars. That it touches on the sorrows of eternal life is a bonus. Come prepared to be transported. — Andrea Matthews
Andrea Matthews is a writer living in Minneapolis.
The Hunger screens Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday December 7 at 5:00 and 7:00, at the Trylon. You can purchase advance tickets here.