Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas (Based on a novel by Whitley Strieber)
Cast: Catherine Deneuve (as Miriam Blaylock); David Bowie (as John Blaylock); Susan Sarandon (as Sarah Roberts); Cliff De Young (as Tom Haver); Dan Hedaya (as Lieutenant Allegrezza)
Synopsis: In New York live two immortal vampires - Miriam (Deneuve) and John Blaylock (Bowie). John however is to end up like Miriam's many lovers over the millennia and rapidly age, their collected interest in the science of aging leading a scientist Sarah Roberts (Sarandon) to end up in their radar and into Miriam's arms in particular.
I entered the viewing of The Hunger with fond memories of it from many years ago and as a fan of Tony Scott. The late older brother of Sir Ridley was incredibly underrated, where even when he was making popcorn fodder there was a quality a cut above many other filmmakers in how his films looked and in terms of the content of them. When he transitioned to his later style, more maniac and heavily edited, he was superior to Michael Bay in every way, less the scrambled images of the later but what could lead to innovative and inspired moments in material that would be plain and ordinary made by other people. Even the magnificent gay pride film Top Gun (1986) looked sumptuous in its colour and design even if it was military propaganda.
Significantly The Hunger removes a great deal of vampiric folklore. They can walk in the sunlight and death is possible even if they are immortal. Deneuve and Bowie seem like the cousins of Tom Hiddleson and Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), a disconnect that is nonetheless propped up by immense personalities between both actors, neither putting a bad performance. Deneuve in particular is an inspired choice, an entire weight of European cinema and its glamour appearing in this film as a result, Sarandon more than perfect as her acting match as the individuals with the most screen time. The eighties sheen of the film nonetheless emphases an otherworldly glamour that still shines. The "MTV" aesthetic of the film is entirely of its own decade but The Hunger never descends into being trite and badly dated. The film is in fact closer to films by Jean Rollin of all things despite being a Hollywood production, not just for the relationship that develops between Miriam and Sandra that leads to a landmark LGBT sex scene in Hollywood cinema, but also because Rollin was far more concerned with mood than plot. The Hunger drifts off and becomes more of an atmospheric work halfway through, less about a conventional conclusion but something more abstract.
There's a greater, more discomforting take on death and life than many vampire films in this one. The first sequence, of Miriam and John seducing two punks to fed off, is intercut with jarring violence between two monkeys that counteracts the sexuality of their seduction and Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi's Dead playing in the score. One of the most startling moments of the film is of the accelerating aging and death of a monkey as part of Sandra's experiments on a biological clock done in time-lapse motion, and it isn't long into the film when The Thin White Duke is acting under a lot of prosthetics emphasising this grim reality. There is only inklings of these themes and ideas, but even if the main narrative is slight enough is felt for maximum impact, the emphasis on mood instead to its advantage as a great deal is expressed in what is merely implied than actually discussed.
The rapid editing, gels on the camera lens and excessive use of fog machines could be applied to a pop video of the time as much as for this film. But as time has passed this style is far and away more unconventional because of how far Tony Scott pushed the aesthetics. This is not that far away from the later films in his career in its bombardment of the viewer with images. Chronology of the narrative and back-story is disrupted which is a significant and inspired stylistic trope, dialogue between two people from a future interaction playing just before that time in the plot, and as far as the distant past intervening with the then-present day in unexpected flashbacks of Miriam and John's lives.
That it was shot in England but recreates New York adds an unconventional air to the proceedings, as Stanley Kubrick films did in his refusal to leave England for any of his work, the likes of Dan Hedaya in a small role as a grotty police investigator not covering up the unworldly nature of the production. The lushness of the classical music to the set design, even if it's of its time, gives the film a greater richness to its look. It also offsets startling moments, such as a horrible fate to a likable character in the vampire's music room, for immense impact.
Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
As of the result of the style, I can say with surprise that The Hunger does qualify for this list. I came to rewatch it after many, many years having past forgetting what its tone and look was originally, expecting another stylish Tony Scott film, a horror movie to my immense interest. Instead I've ended up confounded by the distortion of the timeline of scenes and an overriding atmosphere, MTV-like or not, that's like stepping into a nether realm separate from ours. The performances and their qualities help build the mood with sincerity too, even Bowie's distant mannerisms effecting. Even at its gaudiest with the eighties lighting The Hunger brings out a sense of hyper reality to its content.
My interest in revisiting this film was spurred on by a list of the most stylish horror films ever made, not suspecting it would actually get onto the Abstract Canon. What it shows is that there are mainstream examples of the abstract in the least expected places, especially with the things being tried out in eighties pop culture. The Hunger also proved to be an incredible film for me personally to see again.