Planet Cult continues the month of October with another horrific entry. This week, we take a look into the secretive, hedonistic underworld of the vampire starring the most vampiric of actors, David Bowie, along with the ripely alluring Catherine Deneuve. After death , there is only . . . Hunger.
Besides Nosferatu and the original Dracula, not many films centered around vampires are considered high art. Overall, movies that have featured vampires have always been considered nothing more than entertainment, achieving the title of ‘cult classic’ at most. Not that the 1983 film ‘The Hunger’ is high art. It isn’t. In fact, it’s probably the complete antithesis of what a high art film should be. Then again, The Hunger literally has just about every single trait that makes a film “high art”. Let’s hit the check list!
-A film aimed towards a niche market or group of people, instead of the mainstream. In this case . . . Let’s see . . . this was made in 1983, so . . . In this case, it would be 46 year old TwiHards.
-Long boring dialogue. You know, when people keep on talking and nothin’ eva happenz. Makes you want to kill yourself instead of just pressing stop on your remote.
-Camera angles that are supposed to mean something but don’t. Examples: Shots of a glass, the sink, a rotating fan, feet, green grass, blue sky, shadows against a wall, closed doors that you expect character will come through but never does. Oh, and pizza rolls. Rows and rows of cottage cheese and pizza rolls. Okay, okay, I’m obviously exaggerating.
– A film so serious the only time anyone ever smiles is to brush their own goddamn teeth or suck some blood.
– Drama! Lots of harrowing drama underscored by somehow relevantly quiet moments. Yes, my friends. There is drama in the form of a story about a vampire cougar-queen who uses up different men over the centuries and stuffs them into coffins for safekeeping, hoping they might someday be worth more than her lost 1960’s Barbie doll. This calls for a lot of scenes of lamentation, struggling, and . . . gradual dying, I guess. You know, Academy Award winning material.
Seriously, all joking aside, I really like this movie. Sure, it’s got some dull moments, but the overall story is profoundly interesting. The Hunger’s about an old female vampire named Miriam Blaylock. She and her husband, John, like to prey on the oblivious, and when the story opens, we find them on the hunt at a punkish nightclub looking for fresh blood. John is in absolute love with Miriam, continuously acknowledging that they’ll be together forever. But suddenly, and rather abruptly, John begins to rapidly age, quickly on his way towards a possible sure death. John decides to seek the help of an expert, a geriatrics researcher named Sarah Roberts. What follows could be interpreted as John’s death, as he’s boxed in a coffin by Miriam for all eternity. Miriam then eyes Sarah as a potential replacement for John. The rest of the film, is for you to discover.
The Hunger may prove to be a disappointment for some, since David Bowie’s character dies in the middle of the film, and leaves the viewer with a pair of less interesting characters. However, after seeing the ending, you may come to realize that the story’s focus is really on Miriam and the manner in which she dispenses past lovers, and the ultimate price she has to pay for her actions. The structure of the story reminded me very much of Psycho. Though the Hunger is nowhere near as masterful in its script as Hitchcock’s magnum opus, it is an example where the lead character is pulled out of the film to draw focus to what might appear to be a less significant character. And the shift occurs more than once in the Hunger, it actually a occurs a second time in the horrific climax. As I’ve said, this may bother some, but Deneuve carries herself really well throughout the entire film, and the script manages to keep things fresh by way of the Sarah Roberts character, played by Susan Sarandon.
The film is also highly stylized, marked by dark scenes and extreme lighting, close ups of just about everything you can think of, and many dynamic shots of the characters. The film is so stylized in fact, that it was criticized by many for being self conscious and self indulgent; style over substance, in short. I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Hunger is style over substance, just that the substance is held back from achieving its full potential. The important and interesting moments of the film are spaced a little far apart by stylized scenes of silence, and dialogue that develops the plot in a slow burn fashion. Nonetheless, it’s all good if you’re used to these types of films.
Besides the film’s scattered plot and a neat resolution, The Hunger’s one of the few films where style over substance is actually okay, and really helps the film stand its own ground. The film is what it is. David Bowie is always excellent, no matter what he’s in. His performance in the Hunger, though it’s not groundbreaking, is serviceable and holds your attention. As usual, he has a way of expressing himself, with his unique voice and particularly vampiric physique. And it’s interesting to see how he performs as he rapidly becomes an old man in the span of a few minutes. And the film explores a couple of interesting themes, like the idea of immortality, and how it can slowly erode the humanity of a person over the course of hundreds of years, turning you into a real monster. Miriam Blaylock is probably as true a vampire as we have gotten in the past thirty years; the others have been haircuts, suits, and muscle. Deneuve’s portrayal is icy, and strictly business. It gives you the impression that being a vampire is more than just a lifestyle.
Underneath all the hardened rhino douche you can find at your local zoo, there’s a diamond in the rough. The Hunger is an overlooked and highly underrated film. Far from perfect, but it has all the trappings of what could have been an A+ plus picture. If you’re a fan of vampires in general, or are looking to get a vampire fix this Halloween, I recommend you check out The Hunger. Oh, and do check out the trailer below.
Interested? Buy the DVD!: http://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Catherine-Deneuve/dp/B0002KQNKE/