Let’s go back to the vault a bit shall we? A little vampire film that took a bite of its generation and sold it to us to the sound of Bauhaus. The early 80’s were rife with films that captured various scenes, both so few captured both the underground Goth and Punk scenes as well as The Hunger. It is an iconic work within the vampire genre without which, in part anyway, we would unlikely have been given Vampire the Masquerade almost a decade later.
Does it stand up thirty years later?
We often complain about how often Hollywood adapts from books, this is not a new problem. Whitley Strieber, who also gave us the werewolf classic Wolfen, wrote the novel for this as well; just two years prior. It was adapted for the screen by Ivan Davis, who did nothing else really, and Michael Thomas. Thomas on the other hand gave us another 80s cult classic Ladyhawke, then vanished to relative obscurity until 2011’s Devils Double. The dialogue is a bit straight forward with little to no actual subtlety in it, but the directness helps create an interesting tone mixed with the performances. No one in my experience actually talks like they do in here, yet it works within this early 80’s / late 70’s aesthetic.
The film toys with the ideas of bad pseudo-science that we all so love from that era with studies into things we now know are just down right silly; yet with a few tweaks could be brought to modernization via such terms as Stem Cells. What would you do to stop aging? What price would you pay? What if the clock had paused but then started again – what would you do? These are some of the questions the movie dances around and doesn’t quite give you the answer but instead leaves you to get invested and decide for yourself.
It takes a good director to build that kind of investment and for that we have the late Tony Scott. The younger brother of Ridley Scott would later go onto give us some of the most well known films of the 80’s and early 90’s. Little films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, True Romance, Days of Thunder, and The Last Boyscout. The Hunger, is his first big Hollywood film. It does show at times, mixed with the style of edgy films at the time. Quick cuts, harsh blue and white lighting, and odd shadows. Unusual blocking mixed with limited sets that combine claustrophobia and open space at the same time. The film feels shot on a budget, yet the hints of genius make it look like the budget was very well spent.
The actors are forced to do a lot with little. There is a near, hopefully, intentional withdrawal from emotion in the three big performances. Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie (yes David Bowie) play Miriam and John Blaylock, our vampires. Though interestingly, I don’t recall the word being used. Susan Sarandon is our scientist who comes in contact with the pair and ensnared in the life of the Blaylock’s. All three are riveting in their lack of overall emotions yet the passion they are able to bring, especially Sarandon and Deneuve. This is perhaps to me why Cliff De Young comes across so distant from them and jarring in his performance as another scientist and love interest to Sarandon. For all the reservedness of the three mains, he is opposite. There are almost no other relevant cast members to mention as these four are critical to the story; and Deneuve and Sarandon steal every scene they share with each other and it’s hard to tear your eyes away, not accounting for how 80s Sarandon’s hair is.
From an FX perspective. THIS. DO THIS. I keep harping on how much practical is better than CG. This is why. While the effects are not 100% up to par thirty years later, a combination of practical and camera work sell what effects there are. Make up effects do the rest and we love the movie for it. The movie knew this too as the credit is titled: Make Up Illusions. The two credits here go to Carl Fullerton and Dick Smith. Fullerton has earned two Oscar nominations in his career, and worked on other films suchas F/X, Wolfen, and Silence of the Lambs. Recently he seems to be Denzel Washington’s personal make up artist. The late Dick Smith, is legendary in the FX community. His last film was the House on Haunted Hill; while his first was in 1941! I know a number of the major artists who credit Smith and his work for getting them into the industry. I tell you this to tell you how amazing the make up is in the film. Amazing
I would be lying to myself, and you, if I told you that The Hunger holds up now as an overall product. Effects wise it does, but overall aesthetic, acting, and style it really doesn’t. It *is* better than some of the vampire schlock we get these days though. It’s erotic moments of which there are a few are shot with such care and precision that they are truly erotic.
You just don’t see that these days. A lesbian vampire film would be soft porn at best, without the hint of real, sensual eroticism to it. The film also was riding the very end of the 70’s Hammer and other such erotic horror with the tune shifting already to films like Vamp and The Lost Boys.
The Hunger is an absolute must see for any vampire aficionado. Horror wise? Not so much. It does present a very specific slice of 80’s life and is still worth seeing overall. This is one I think I would like to see if it could be remade.