Released in 1983, just two years after the launch of MTV, The Hunger looks like a film made in the thrall of the new music channel and its influence. Director Tony Scott had previously only directed commercials and music videos. In this, his first feature film, he blatantly chose to emphasise the stylised visual element of the film at the expense of any cohesive story or content. Despite being based on a novel by Whitley Strieber, The Hunger plays like a 100-minute extended rock video occasionally interspersed with snatches of dialogue.
The film caused a bit of a stir at the time because of Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandonís long and fairly explicit sex scene. Mainstream films had never shown lesbian sex between two female stars before (and they havenít done it much since either). The film now has quite a big lesbian following and according to Sarandon ďit certainly changed my fanbase.Ē Of course Sarandon had already made The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Deneuve had made Belle de Jour, so neither of them were strangers to pushing the envelope in sexually daring, provocative films.
The Hungerís plot features an elegant New York couple, Miriam and John (Deneuve and David Bowie), who, like vampires, have to feed on the blood of humans to remain immortal. One day the youth that John had thought was eternal suddenly comes to an end and he begins to age rapidly. Within the space of a day, he looks like a 100-year-old man. Miriam banishes him to a coffin in the attic with all her previous partners who had undergone the same inexplicable sudden aging. She then finds another new lover in the shape of a beautiful doctor played by Sarandon.
This may sound like some semblance of a story, but plot is definitely secondary in this film. It is merely an excuse for shot after shot of curtains billowing in the wind, light streaming through tall windows and doves fluttering in slow motion. Twenty years on from The Hunger and Scottís films still feature MTV-like visuals, but they at least have a bit more substance now.
The real problem with The Hunger is the script. The dialogue either doesnít make any sense or is so ludicrous that itís a wonder the actors can keep a straight face. Itís a shame they donít have better material to work with, because this is a cast that most directors would kill for. Bowie, in what is really only a supporting role, doesnít get to show what he can do. Most of his screen-time is spent groaning under a ton of aging make-up and prosthetics. Deneuve plays it icy cool and reserved, looking like she stepped straight out of a Chanel commercial. Only Sarandon gets to hint at any depth to her character.
The Hungerís climax is the most preposterous part of the film. Miriamís attic-full of undead exís rise, zombie-like, from their coffins and solemnly proceed to attack her. Their make-up is so bad they look like rejects from Michael Jacksonís Thriller video. During all this, the billowing curtains and fluttering doves go into super-drive, as if all the preceding billowing and fluttering had just been leading up to that moment. Itís utterly risible and more likely to induce tears of laughter than terror. Rather than being unsettling itís just totally unsubtle.
(Released by MGM/UA and rated "R" by MPAA.)