Tony Scott’s first major film breakthrough, 1983’s The Hunger, has so much going for it that it’s difficult to identify precisely why it isn’t a favorite of mine. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert opened his film review with the following: “The Hunger is an agonizingly bad vampire movie, circling around an exquisitely effective sex scene.”
The “sex scene” he speaks of (there is more than one erotic scene in the film) is worth talking about, because it, and vignettes like it, are important.
Vampire films have been imbued with the erotic since the early 1900s when they were first made. Without going into a rich topic, I will say it is obvious we find a great deal of eroticism in death, and that eroticism is the central pull of the vampire myth. In the case of The Hunger, the film’s “sex scene” is Ebert speaks of is between the two very powerful women center to to the film. The scene is less powerful than the build up before it, and the sex, as viewed through a contemporary lens, is not particularly interesting. It is saturated by the male gaze, and is neither explicit nor very interesting. The scene was, however, cited as being important in gay and lesbian film history because it is a scene between two women, and is placed as a beautiful, erotic experience (The Celluloid Closet, 1995). Sadly, up until the eighties a positive view of lesbian sexuality was hard to find. Some might say these depictions are still too rare (discussion: “Why are all lesbian movies sad?” 08/18/2015 on AfterEllen.com) – and of course, it is easily argued that it isn’t a positive experience at all, based on what follows.
Sexual politics and film history aside, The Hunger is well-paced, sad, and stylish enough to please cinephiles and goth-fans alike. The film’s stars – Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon deliver delicious performances, if at times Sarandon is required to deliver some rather ridiculous lines. Bowie provides a serious and rather sad and human depiction. Deneuve is more subtle still. Seemingly the elegant queen bee vampire of all time, she is – when it comes down to it – simply selfish and stunted.
The plot is well-paced. There is a bit of B.S.-vampire-science, but not too much. There are also disturbing bits of animal cruelty depicted and some of them look real. A few adorable cameos surface: Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Dan Hedaya, and Suzanne Bertish, for example.
The film has not aged well, and could benefit from a restoration. The events onscreen are so dark and hazy – everyone’s smoking cigarettes indoors and you wonder if they had to pay for light by the photon – that what was surely meant to be an artistic style ends up keeping the film in a musty closet (pun not intended). However, it’s still a great film and is a must-watch for any fans of the stars – or the annals of vampirism.
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