The Hunger was Tony Scott’s directorial debut (not including an hour-long movie called Loving Memory and a short). He had gained his chops doing music videos and commercials, as did Ridley Scott and many others at that time. His brother had already gained fame as the director of Alien, Blade Runner and other films, and the two had formed a production company.
Oddly enough, it is one of the very few films that comments on the goth subculture. It’s a three-way love story between two vampires (played by David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve) and Susan Sarandon. It opens with Bauhaus on stage playing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead,’ and Gothed-up Bowie and Deneuve seducing some Goths to drink their blood. The sequence is shot very much like a music video, reflecting Scott’s background. Bauhaus were annoyed it focused their lead singer Peter Murphy instead of the band who you don’t see in the all too brief opening.
At one point of the film the vampires find out that Dr. Susan Roberts (Susan Sarandon) is looking into rapid aging and trying to reverse it. In this film the idea that vampires have eternal youth is not correct. They have to kill to stave off the onset of rapid aging and it is not working very well in the case of Bowie’s character, John Blaylock, whom Deneuve’s character, Miriam Blaylock, has tired of and plans to replace. Dr. Roberts goes to visit Deneuve and they begin a relationship.
The film is designed to within an inch of its life—the concept of style as substance is something Tony Scott had held to throughout most of his career. He is technically a flashier director than his brother, though there is a clear influence of Blade Runner (and film noir) in the lighting. Scott was also very influenced by Nicolas Roeg, who had directed Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the photographer Helmut Newton.
Tony Scott cited Roeg’s Performance as his most important influence on his filmmaking which The Hunger shares some similarities stylistically and thematically. Both films star rock stars, deal with bisexuality and is set mostly in a big mansion. Both films also pushed the boundaries of sexuality and violence on-screen. Performance also exhibited many of the editing techniques widely used in music videos a decade later.
It’s one of Bowie’s best performances, he seems to have been perfectly cast as a vampire. In Sarandon’s commentary, she admits she was somewhat nervous about the nudity, but Deneuve was less worried due to her background in French film. Sarandon was not a huge name at the time, but had made her mark in cult favourite The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the arthouse hit Atlantic City. The Hunger was an important point on her trajectory toward stardom in Thelma & Louise. She jokes in the commentary track after the lesbian sex scene she “had a whole new fan base she hadn’t before”.
It also includes some fine performances by supporting actors such as character actor Dan Hedaya, Willem Defoe (in his first film part), and then performance artist Ann Magnuson.
An odd backstory is that Scott had been offered Flashdance, while Adrian Lyne had been put forward for The Hunger, but they decided to effect a swap. Both directors were a part of a new wave of British filmmakers coming out of commercials and music videos in the early ’80s. Scott’s choice did not produce a theatrical or critical hit but it was a success on video. Only retrospectively did it gain some critical approval and the film has a certain poignancy with the passing of David Bowie last year
Although Bowie appears in a lead role, he did not contribute to the soundtrack (except for his part on Iggy Pop’s “Funtime,”) despite having been involved with performing the Goth tinged them for Cat People the year before. He disappears from the narrative around the midpoint, and was then busy with filming Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. It was also the year the song and album “Let’s Dance” which propelled him from big cult star to rock superstar in the US.
The disc includes a joint (but separately recorded) commentary from Sarandon and Scott. The release is currently only available at HMV in a handsome package with the film on both DVD and Blu-Ray along with art cards and a slipcover.