This week on TCM Underground: The Hunger (1983)

hunger

Vampires smoke cigarettes in New York City.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Miriam Blaylock), David Bowie (John Blaylock), Susan Sarandon (Dr. Sarah Roberts), Cliff DeYoung (Tom Haver), Beth Ehlers (Alice Cavender), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Allegrezza), Suzanne Bertish (Phyllis), James Aubrey (Ron), Rufus Collins (Charlie Humphries), Ann Magnuson (Club Girl), John Stephen Hill (Club Boy), Shane Rimmer (Arthur Jelinek), Bessie Love (Lillybelle), John Pankow (First Youth at Phone Booth), Willem Dafoe (Second Youth at Phone Booth), Sophie Ward (Girl in London House). Director: Tony Scott. Producer: Richard Shepherd. Screenplay: Ivan Davis, Michael Thomas. Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt. Music: Denyy Yaeger, Michel Rubini. Make-up Illusions: Dick Smith.

Color – 97 min.

Showtime: Saturday April 4th 11:15pm PST/2:15pm EST 

Hunger01

John Badham’s DRACULA (1979), starring Frank Langella, capped a wildly innovative decade for movie vampires. Though Hammer’s Dracula franchise, launched in 1958 with DRACULA (US: HORROR OF DRACULA) starring Christopher Lee, had guttered with the chop-socky crossover LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), contributions from all points of the compass kept the Undying Count and his batty besties busy in such diverse offerings as Dan Curtis’ HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), Bob Kelljan’s COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1972), Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971), and TWINS OF EVIL (1971), Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA (1970) — which returned with middling fidelity to the Bram Stoker source novel — John Hancock’s LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971); Stephanie Rothman’s THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971); Michio Yamamoto’s LAKE OF DRACULA (1971) and EVIL OF DRACULA (1972), Bill Crain’s BLACULA (1972) and Bill Kelljan’s SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1973), Vicente Aranda’s THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE (1972), Harry Kumel’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971), COUNT DRACULA’S GREATEST LOVE (1973) starring Paul Naschy, Bill Gunn’s GANJA AND HESS (1973), ANDY WARHOL’S DRACULA (1974), Richard Blackburn’s LEMORA, A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL(1975), George Romero’s MARTIN (1976), Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU (1979) remake, and various small screen offerings (from THE NIGHT STALKER in 1972 to ‘SALEM’S LOT  in 1979), plus such gonzo offshoots as DOCTOR DRACULA (1978), DRACULA’S DOG (1978), LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979), and the German porno DRACULA BLOWS HIS COOL (1979). And yet, for all his ubiquity throughout  the decade, the movie vampire could not, by 1980, get arrested. Not for nothing did the fledgling Goth rock band Bauhaus make its bones with the 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s dead.”

Hunger02

The success of Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976), John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978), and Sean S. Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) lowered the average age of the American moviegoer and ushered in the era of the slasher film, body count programmers made for and starring teens and young adults where once had trod mad scientists, vampires, vampire slayers, grave robbers, hunchbacks, and sundry Gothic constructs. With a few exceptions (the 1980 indie LAST RITES, which transplanted Dracula to New Jersey in the guise of a Garden State mortician), vampires became persona non grata in films worldwide while werewolves (THE HOWLING, WOLFEN, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), ghosts (THE SHINING, THE CHANGELING, GHOST STORY, POLTERGEIST), and red letter day UnSubs (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, NEW YEAR’S EVIL) stomped the terra. It took the aptly-named independent producer Richard Shepherd (THE FUGITIVE KIND, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S) to guide bloodsuckers back to the genre fold, with his purchase of the film rights to Whitley Strieber’s ambitious 1981 vampire narrative The Hunger. Before the book had met its street date, Shepherd hired screenwriters to adapting the tale of Miriam Blaylock, an immortal being subsisting on the blood of others while offering something like (but not quite) immortality to a string of lovers.

Hunger03

Shepherd had wanted to place THE HUNGER (1983) in the capable hands of British director Alan Parker (whose gritty prison survival story MIDNIGHT EXPRESS was an international hit in 1978) but settled instead for affordable first-timer Tony Scott. The kid brother of BLADE RUNNER (1982) director Ridley Scott, Tony Scott came to features from a background in TV commercials, where he had learned to employ an economy of visuals to communicate the maximum mood. (In his lifetime, Tony Scott often alleged that he and countryman Adrian Lynne had swapped projects, that Lynne had been assigned THE HUNGER while he had been stuck with FLASHDANCE.) To bring to un-life the deathless Miriam Blaylock, Shepherd and Scott chose French actress Catherine Deneuve; then in her late forties but looking ten years younger, the star of Roman Polanski’s REPULSION (1965) and Luis Bunuel’s BELLE DU JOUR (1967) was the ideal candidate to sell the concept of elegant eternity. To play Miriam’s 300 year-old lover John, the filmmakers tapped reptilian rocker David Bowie (who had in his youth appeared in a 1969 TV spot for Luv ice cream pops directed by Ridley Scott) while Susan Sarandon (having turned down the Geneviève Bujold role in Clint Eastwood’s TIGHTROPE [1984]) rounded out the cast as the sultry gerontologist who becomes the object of Miriam’s boundless but far from bloodless affection.

Hunger05

Though set in New York City, THE HUNGER was shot on the other side of the pond in London, where Mayfair’s stately Chesterfield Gardens stood in for Miriam and John Blaylock’s uptown Manhattan pied-a-terreur. (One week was reserved for location shooting in The Big Apple, where among the local talent rounded up to inject a measure of street level vérité a young Willem Dafoe turns up as a bellicose corner boy.) Strieber’s source novel had skated a fine line between the coarse and the cultured, with the tale’s first victims being a pair of lumpen no-hopers from Long Island (John attacks the girl while going native in a black track suit worthy of Tony Soprano) and the second an acid-scarred teen prostitute picked up at a pancake house. Adapted for the big screen by Ian Davis and Michael Thomas, THE HUNGER divests itself of these provincial curlicues, piping in beams of neon and bee smoke to lend to the proceedings a sense of oneiric displacement informed by MTV-style flash. Standout setpieces include a seduction/slaying by Deneuve and Bowie of club kids Ann Magnuson and John Stephen Hill (backed by “Bela Lugosi is Dead”) laid under the opening titles, Bowie’s remorseful leeching of a young music student (Beth Ehlers, later a regular on the daytime drama THE GUIDING LIGHT) and  his subsequent withering to a desiccated husk (courtesy of Dick Smith’s “make up illusions”) while benched in Sarandon’s waiting room, and Deneuve and Sarandon’s highly-touted love scene, shot in gauzy montage underscored with “The Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes 1882 opera Lakmé.

Hunger04

While even the film’s detractors admitted THE HUNGER had style to burn, critics were universally unkind. Writing in The Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert branded the film “agonizingly bad” while Kim Newman (in his landmark 1988 genre overview Nightmare Movies) declared it “artificially preserved, superfluous and unapproachable.” Though THE HUNGER tanked at the box office, the film’s fans stayed true, fed on repeat viewings via cable television, VHS tape, and laser disc. Forward-looking from a genre perspective, THE HUNGER enjoyed a degree of vindication when vampire movies bounced back with a vengeance mid-decade. Films such as FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), VAMP (1986), THE LOST BOYS (1987), NEAR DARK (1987), VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988), and DEF BY TEMPTATION (1990) co-opted THE HUNGER‘s visual gloss but laced their individual narratives with lashings of broad humor. Whitley Strieber penned two sequels to his source novel (MGM had tinkered with the ending of THE HUNGER to maximize the potential for a follow-up) but no franchise materialized. Borrowing only the title, the British-Canadian syndicated horror anthology series THE HUNGER (1997-2000) stayed well away from the 1983 film though Tony Scott directed the premiere episode and David Bowie was brought on board in the final season as a vaguely macabre master of ceremonies. Rights holders Warner Brothers have announced a remake of THE HUNGER but the project has languished in Development Hell, it seems, forever.

The Vampire Bat

Following THE HUNGER in the overnight slot is Frank Strayer’s creaky pre-Code spooker THE VAMPIRE BAT (1932), starring that DOCTOR X/MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM team of Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill, DRACULA‘s Dwight Frye, WHITE ZOMBIE‘s Robert Frazer, and the village set from FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and some lout named Melvyn Douglas, who was fresh from THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and who would not appear again in a horror movie for almost 50 years.

 

3 Responses This week on TCM Underground: The Hunger (1983)
Posted By al : April 1, 2015 10:23 pm

THE HUNGER is unique. It’s one of the Best. A mystery: always overlooked/dismissed: DRACULA : DEAD AND LOVING IT…

Posted By swac44 : April 1, 2015 10:31 pm

Saw The Hunger in high school shortly after its release, with some 1st-gen goth friends, needless to say it hit my hormones in just the right way.

Posted By Murphy’s Law : April 2, 2015 2:34 pm

Originally saw it in high school on cable, lured in by the presence of David Bowie. I didn’t exactly like it (the narrative flaws, mainly) but the visual style and the great actors stuck with me for a long time.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.