The Hunger (1983 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Scott|
|Produced by||Richard Shepherd|
|Screenplay by||Ivan Davis
|Based on||The Hunger
by Whitley Strieber
|Music by||Denny Jaeger
|Edited by||Pamela Power|
|Distributed by||MGM/UA Entertainment|
|Box office||$10.2 million|
The Hunger is a 1983 erotic horror film directed by Tony Scott, and starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. It is the story of a love triangle between a doctor who specialises in sleep and aging research and a vampire couple. The film is a loose adaptation of the 1981 novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber, with a screenplay by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas, and is Scott's feature directorial debut.
Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful and dangerous immortal vampire, promising specially chosen humans eternal life as her vampire lovers. As the film begins, her vampire companion is John (David Bowie), a talented cellist whom she married in 18th century France. The film opens in a night club in New York, to a live performance of Bauhaus playing "Bela Lugosi's Dead". There they connect with another young couple who are brought home and fed upon by slashing their throats with a bladed Ankh pendant. The bodies are disposed of by an incinerator in the basement of John and Miriam's elegant New York townhouse, where they pose as a wealthy couple who teach classical music. The only student shown is a young tomboy violinist named Alice Cavender (Beth Ehlers).
Periodically killing and feeding upon human victims allows Miriam and John to possess eternal youth or what the latter was led to believe. Approximately 200 years after his turning, John begins suffering insomnia and ages rapidly in only a few days. John realizes that Miriam knew that this would happen and that her promise of "forever and ever" was only partially true: he will have eternal life but not eternal youth. Feeling betrayed, he seeks out the help of Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a gerontologist, alongside her boyfriend Tom (Cliff De Young), who specialises in studying the effects of rapid aging in primates, hoping she will be able to help reverse his accelerating decrepitude. Sarah assumes that John is a hypochondriac or mentally unbalanced and ignores his pleas for help. As John leaves the clinic in a rage, Sarah is horrified to see how rapidly he is aging. John rebuffs her once she tries to help him.
After returning from the clinic, Alice drops by unexpectedly to say that she cannot attend the next day's lesson. While inside, she believes John to be his own father due to the accelerated aging. In a last attempt to regain his youth, John murders and feeds upon Alice, whom Miriam was grooming to be her next consort when she came of age, to no avail. As John's aging advances, he begs Miriam to kill him and release him from the agony of his decrepit body. Weeping, Miriam tells him that there is no release. After John collapses in the basement, Miriam carries him into the attic full of coffins and places him in one, then asks the surrounding ones to "be kind to him tonight." Like John now, Miriam's former vampire lovers are doomed to suffer an eternal living death, helplessly moaning and trapped in their coffins. Later, a police official comes to the Blaylock residence, looking for the missing Alice. Miriam feigns ignorance and claims that her husband is in Switzerland.
Sarah comes looking for John at his home but only finds Miriam. With the two women feeling an attraction towards each other, Miriam acts upon this as she now feels alone after losing her lover and the young girl she was grooming. (In a memorable scene during a piano adaptation of The Flower Duet, Sarah says: "Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?") The two have a sexual encounter during which, without Sarah being fully aware of it, Miriam bites her arm and a blood exchange occurs in which some of Miriam's blood enters Sarah's body. Miriam attempts to initiate Sarah in the necessities of life as a vampire but Sarah is repulsed by the thought of subsisting on human blood.
Sarah returns home and goes out to dinner with Tom, who becomes argumentative about her 3-hour disappearance at the Blaylock residence, of which she is strangely quiet. The next day at the lab, the team investigates Sarah's blood by Tom's authority and reveal she has some kind of infection that is taking over. Confused, Sarah returns to the Blaylock residence to confront Miriam about her sudden changes. Still reeling from the effects of her vampiric transformation, Sarah allows Miriam to put her to bed in a guest room.
Shortly afterwards, Tom arrives on Miriam's doorstep, trying to find Sarah. Miriam informs him that Sarah is in the upstairs bedroom. Sarah, starving and desperate, tries to resist the urge to kill Tom but gives in to temptation, when Tom refuses to leave her side. Sarah then joins Miriam by the piano and Miriam assures her that she will soon forget what she was and come to love Miriam. As the two kiss, Sarah drives Miriam's ankh-knife into her own throat, attempting to kill herself as she forcibly holds her mouth over Miriam's mouth, forcing Miriam to ingest her blood, possibly working on a hunch regarding the "blood borne metabolic aging disease" and "host" relationship she was told about affecting her blood. Miriam carries Sarah upstairs, intending to place her with her other boxed lovers. A rumbling occurs and the mummies of Miriam's previous lovers emerge from their coffins, driving her over the edge of the balcony. As she rapidly ages, the mummies fall and become dust, ostensibly providing the trapped souls with release.
As the film draws to a close, the police investigator returns only to find a real estate agent is showing the town house stripped of all possessions to prospective buyers. Sarah is now in London, standing on the balcony of a chic apartment tower (one of the three towers of the Barbican), in the company of an attractive young man and woman and is serenely admiring the gorgeous view as dusk falls. From a draped coffin in a storage room, Miriam repeatedly screams Sarah's name (an overlay of the audio from earlier in the film).
The final scene of Sarah on the balcony was added at the studio's behest, with a view to leaving the film open-ended and allowing for possible sequels. Sarandon later expressed regret that this sequence seemed to make no sense in the context of the rest of the film: "The thing that made the film interesting to me was this question of, 'Would you want to live forever if you were an addict?' But as the film progressed, the powers that be rewrote the ending and decided that I wouldn't die, so what was the point? All the rules that we'd spent the entire film delineating, that Miriam lived forever and was indestructible, and all the people that she transformed [eventually] died, and that I killed myself rather than be an addict [were ignored]. Suddenly I was kind of living, she was kind of half dying... Nobody knew what was going on, and I thought that was a shame."
- Catherine Deneuve as Miriam Blaylock
- David Bowie as John Blaylock
- Susan Sarandon as Dr. Sarah Roberts
- Cliff De Young as Tom Haver
- Beth Ehlers as Alice Cavender
- Dan Hedaya as Lieutenant Allegrezza
- Suzanne Bertish as Phyllis
- James Aubrey as Ron
- John Stephen Hill as Young disco man
- Ann Magnuson as Young disco woman
- Shane Rimmer as Arthur Jelinek
- Bessie Love as Lillybelle
- Willem Dafoe as 1st phone booth youth
- John Pankow as 2nd phone booth youth
- Bauhaus as Disco Group
Howard Blake was musical director on The Hunger. Although a soundtrack has been available since the film's release (Varese Sarabande VSD 47261) this issue omits much of the music used in the film—see § Movements. Blake also composed the orchestral score for Flash Gordon (1980) alongside rock band Queen and the Oscar-winning animated short film of Raymond Briggs', The Snowman (1982).
Blake's notes on working with director Tony Scott: "Tony wanted to create a score largely using classical music and I researched this, many days going to his home in Wimbledon with stacks of recordings to play to him. One of these was the duet for 2 sopranos from Delibes' Lakmé, which I recorded specially with Elaine Barry and Judith Rees, conducting my orchestra The Sinfonia of London. Howard Shelley joined with Ralph Holmes and Raphael Wallfisch to record the second movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in E flat. Ralph recorded the Gigue from Bach's Violin Partita in E and Raphael the Prelude to Bach's solo cello sonata in G, to which Bowie mimed. I was persuaded to appear in one scene as a pianist, for which I wrote a 'Dolphin Square Blues'. Tony wanted to add a synthesizer score and I introduced him to Hans Zimmer, then working at The Snake Ranch Studio in Fulham but Tony eventually used a score by Michel Rubini and Denny Jaeger with electronics by David Lawson. It is hard however to exactly separate these elements."
Bowie was excited to work on the film but was concerned about the final product. He said "I must say, there's nothing that looks like it on the market. But I'm a bit worried that it's just perversely bloody at some points."
The Hunger received mixed reviews upon its release and was particularly criticised for being heavy on atmosphere and visuals but slow on pace and plot. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, described the film as "an agonizingly bad vampire movie". Camille Paglia writes in Sexual Personae (1990) that The Hunger comes close to being a masterpiece of a "classy genre of vampire film", but is "ruined by horrendous errors, as when the regal Catherine Deneuve is made to crawl around on all fours, slavering over cut throats." Elaine Showalter calls The Hunger a "post-modernist vampire film" that "casts vampirism in bisexual terms, drawing on the tradition of the lesbian vampire...Contemporary and stylish, [it] is also disquieting in its suggestion that men and women in the 1980s have the same desires, the same appetites, and the same needs for power, money, and sex."
The film has found a cult following that responded to its dark, glamorous atmosphere. The Bauhaus song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" plays over the opening scene and credits. The film is popular with some segments of the goth subculture and inspired a short-lived TV series of the same name. The Hunger was nominated for the Saturn Awards for Best Costume and Best Make-up. It holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews.
- The Celluloid Closet, a 1995 documentary film about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender roles in film, in which Sarandon talks candidly about The Hunger's lesbian seduction scene.
- "Festival de Cannes: The Hunger". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
- Tony Scott, DVD audio commentary, 2004, Warner Bros.
- Susan Sarandon, DVD audio commentary, 2004, Warner Bros.
- Blake, Howard (2006). "The Hunger op.314 (October 1982)". howardblake.com. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
- Loder, Kurt (12 May 1983). "Straight Time". Rolling Stone magazine (395). pp. 22–28, 81.
- Ebert, Roger (3 May 1983). "The Hunger". rogerebert.com. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
- Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press, 1990, p. 268.
- Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. Virago Press, 1995, p. 184.
- Scheib, Richard (1990). "The Hunger". Moria. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
The film has gained a small cult in subsequent years, particularly among the gay community who appointed Susan Sarandon as some kind of icon.
- Barton, Steve (23 September 2009). "The Hunger Remake Coming From Warner Bros.". DreadCentral.com. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
- Fernandez, Jay A. (20 September 2009). "Gersh Agency books Whitley Strieber". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 May 2015.