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The Hunger (1983)

March 8th, 2011 by unkle lancifer · 9 Comments

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.

Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 lottie_of_millhavenNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I know its become a cliche, but the first viewing of this movie changed my life. I still remember being about fourteen and being totally shocked that a movie could so perfectly capture everything that was going on in my mind at the time. Bauhaus? Ankhs? Sunglasses inside? Count me in!

    It was also the first time I’d seen anything approaching homosexuality in a film not played for laughs, which was a very positive thing for a young confused girl to see.

  • 2 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    After forwarding through the movie to get the steak screen grab I decided to watch it last night (but only after seeing it more than 100 times in my teens and 20s) and I honestly don’t understand what is dated about it. I was reading a bunch of threads on imdb and someone on there also said that it doesn’t stand the test of time – or some such comment – and really, I don’t get it.

    Although I do admit the crumbling corpse segment kinda bores me – I really do love the very end – as well as the rest of the movie. It is just so incredibly beautiful and cool and interesting with the flashes back and forth while John is remembering the forever business – and maybe my idea of cool is dated (in fact I’m pretty sure that is the case) – but really what is it that jumps out as dated – other than that one doctor’s yellow plastic framed glasses.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm


    I have to say that sex scene was very important to me as a teen too. At the time there was nothing. If homosexuality wasn’t shown as a joke it was shown as something very tragic or in need of the straight world’s half-hearted condescending “tolerance”. The Hunger kind of clues you into the reality that it’s something pretty simple that just happens to go over some people’s heads.


    Ha, you know I have to learn NOT to read Imdb threads before I write a review because I become so defensive. It hard for me to see it as dated too. I think it has a lost in time quality and some of it looks more 40’s than 80’s. If I saw Sarandon in that metallic jacket and hair cut today I would think she was hip as hell.

    I think the part that falls apart for me is when Miriam brings that nameless guy in for Sarah to feed on. The editing is just way too loose and all over the place. Then by the time Sarah’s boyfriend shows up I’ve kind of lost my footing during what should be a climactic scene. And yeah, I wish the corpse revenge was handled differently (although I love comparing how similar it is to MANIAC’s ending in my brain) The editing again makes it hard to gain traction…

    Still though, the movie delivers SO MUCH for so long that I feel like an ingrate complaining about less than 20 minutes. I’ve made this analogy before but it’s kind of like having an excellent meal and then a shoddy desert and then only remembering the desert. It’s not a perfect movie but who needs perfect movies anyway?

    Maybe we both see the world through out of date plastic yellow glasses!

  • 4 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Even though I invariably find myself rolling my eyeballs uncontrollably I CANNOT stop reading the damn imdb forum threads on movies I am in the midst of watching or have just watched. It’s a sickness.

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm


    I refuse to read them on a movie I have not seen yet but I can’t stop going there as soon as I’ve finished a movie too!

    So if anyone ever reads a review at kindertrauma and it sounds like I’m yelling and foaming at the mouth you now know why!

    I’ve had to scrap whole reviews because they were like “Now you listen here! This is a Great movie! How dare YOU question it’s worth?”

  • 6 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I saw this movie three times in the theater when it played at a revival house in the early 90s. I had seen it before, but it was so great seeing Bowie on the big screen. Then a couple of years later I saw him really up close when I was front row during his Outside tour! I like this movie a lot, but honestly, so many years have passed I only remember bits…

    However, when I was a kid, I’d see the vhs clamshell box for this and the very first time I can remember having deja vu was at that store looking that Hunger vhs case. My neice had come to visit (we are the same age) and she said, “We need to see this,” or something like that and I could almost say the words with her because I had a memory of us standing in that exact spot having that exact conversation. Craziness always attaches itself to the Bowie.

  • 7 rifframoneNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Being a fan of Bowie, rhps, alternative music and horror I did go into this movie biased toward liking it- and yeah, I did like it. It’s been a few years since I have seen it, but I still remember it as a beautifully shot movie- to some extent, that is what I remember even more than the plot. Rich, deep colors and wonderful lighting- and a vampire story with no fluff. I could go for a few more like this one.

  • 8 Elizabeth MolloyNo Gravatar // Mar 9, 2011 at 7:17 am

    “threatening to knuckle draggers and mouth breathers everywhere” Brilliant! That’s the exact problem I have with modern film ‘fans’. Love the Topgun-bashing too.
    I’ve always been meaning to see The Hunger, and now – because of this erudite & entertaining review – I shall! Thanks 🙂

  • 9 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Mar 12, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Only reason I didn’t like the movie is because I read the book and the book is so awful I wondered who the author slept with to get it published. (Same thing I wonder about Groom’s Forrest Gump. One of the few times a movie is superior to the book.)

    I mean, in the book the vampire basically rapes the doctor while she’s in bed with her boyfriend. (Performing oral sex on her while she’s asleep then leaving off just quickly enough that the doctor has to go masturbate. All part of the vampire’s plan to get the doctor to agree to become her new companion.) I don’t like rape in any form.

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