I totally relate to Miriam Blaylock (CATHERINE DENEUVE) in THE HUNGER. How many times has someone told me that they will love me “forever” only to transform into something resembling the contents of an ashtray a mere 200 years later? Speaking of ashtrays, if you’re trying to quit smoking (or Venetian blinds for that matter) I advise you stay well away from TONY (brother to ALIEN mega-genius RIDLEY) SCOTT’s neo-noir, gothadelic new wave eye-sorbet rendering of WHITLEY STRIEBER’s novel of the same tag. On the other hand, if you are a fang-fan who has never stuck their teeth into this influential a-vamp-garde chic-er-than-thou milestone then take a gander in the mirror at a life half lived.
When it was released in 1983 the brain dead zombie critic chant was, “Style over substance”! Seriously, I just read a slew of reviews for this classic and nine out of ten drop the exact same go-to complaint. Lazy viewers! If a film is kind enough to ladle out the “style” then the least you can do is bring your own “substance.” Just because a movie is drop dead gorgeous doesn’t mean it’s empty headed. C’mon, this is one of the few vamp movies that actually dives into a major source of the lasting power of the undead mythos, the universal fear of mortality and liver spots. If you want to say it kind of falls apart at the end, I’ll back you up on that but time has proven that this baby’s bite leaves a legit mark.
As much as I’ll admit that the films final chapter is a tinge too dry and flaky (blame the crunchy past-love corpses!) THE HUNGER’s divinely aggressive opening is one of the most fantastic and instantly enthralling I can think of, so let’s not be greedy. If you are not instantly snookered by BAUHAUS’ severely apropos BELA LUGOSI’S DEAD then you too must be a dried husk in a coffin waiting for oblivion to commence and that’s coming from somebody with no black clothing in his wardrobe. It’s not just the song itself, but the way the film thunders back and forth between the tune, the titles and the revving action and synth-sorcerous sounds of the film… OK, I admit I used to play this opening bit on VHS over and over again and now every beat of it is branded into my brain…
Much slobbery attention has been given to the semi-sappy Sapphic love scene between CATHERINE DENEVUE and SUSAN SARANDON and it is attention well earned. Anyone can present a cinematic montage that pushes the validity of a homosexual union but this assemblage of images presses the feared superiority of one. Y’all can keep your FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and the sand in the cracks it implies; if you’re not hearing “lakme” while you’re sealing the deal you’re doing it wrong. I know it’s “artsy fartsy” and therefore threatening to knuckle draggers and mouth breathers everywhere but it’s also lusciously transcendent. I say kick RICHARD GERE off the fire escape, if any genre is brave enough to venture into the romantically sublime, my money will always be on horror and THE HUNGER is my proof that I’m backing the right pony.
Personally my pet favorite scene involves noted gender annihilator DAVID BOWIE enacting an episode from everybody’s life in a doctor’s waiting room. Realizing the old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be and she ain’t what she used to be at an alarming rate, he seeks out the advice of accelerated decrepitude specialist Dr. Sarah Roberts (SARANDON…and yes that was a BLADE RUNNER shout out! He ain’t heavy, he’s my RIDLEY!). Magazines are their usual zero help as the clock ticks and he is hit over and over again on the head with DICK SMITH’s famous LITTLE BIG MAN stick. The set up is excruciatingly familiar yet horrifically exaggerated and there’s a vaguely comic, “It’s funny because it’s true” element as well. Oh TONY SCOTT you were so very good when you tried to replicate your brother RIDLEY! I usually recommend that artists find their own voice but in your case I’ll make an exception. (OK, that wasn’t necessary,, but it will surprise no one that I have no use for TOP GUN.)
I love THE HUNGER, smoky SCOTT-isms and RIDLEY-aping aside, it ultimately stands as its own sleek beast. It may loose some steam in its final lap but as it is only too happy to point out, don’t we all. I have an inkling that it might be dated but as my head exists in 1982, it is actually one year in the future for me. There’s style to burn for sure but behind the non-stop artifice and unlikely attic doves, I contend there’s plenty of existential gristle to gnaw on and a time to pay the piper addiction parable too. Just because this sculpture wasn’t carved with axe blows don’t underestimate the boiled down bleakness to be found bubbling beneath the polished surface. Oldster BOWIE’s bloodletting of a trusting, young gum-smacking sidekick is alarmingly vicious and disturbing and, conscious or not, the films screeching death-throe lab monkeys and post-tryst, flesh betrayal must have squeezed lemon juice on the then fresh rug-burn knowledge that cupid could carry a scythe. THE HUNGER is only speaking of the fleetingness of human life after all. Don’t be fooled by a pretty face.