John and Miriam Blaylock are a wealthy young New York vampire couple. Yes, I know that vampires are more traditionally associated with Eastern Europe, but this is the early eighties, the yuppie years of the Reagan-Thatcher era, when even the undead have abandoned their crumbling old Transylvanian castles and joined the beautiful people in their Manhattan penthouses. Here John and Miriam can enjoy all the benefits of the yuppie vampire lifestyle- a beautiful apartment, exquisite furniture, passionate lovemaking, performing classical music with their teenage friend Alice and the seeming ability to murder disco goers to drink their blood without ever arousing the suspicion of the police.
Did I say John and Miriam were young? I had better qualify that somewhat. John is actually over two hundred years old, and Miriam is even older- in fact, she is immortal and ageless. John, however, is not. He is not a vampire born and bred, but a human being converted to vampirism by Miriam. This causes one problem. Although such converted humans have a lifespan way beyond the normal threescore years and ten, they are not immortal, and after reaching a certain point start to age rapidly, whereupon they start to decompose into a sort of living corpse. (Miriam keeps all her previous lovers in their coffins in her flat). This starts happening to John in the course of the film, and he doesn't like it. He consults Sarah, a scientist specialising in research into the ageing process, in a vain search for a cure. He kills Alice after learning that Miriam is planning to take her as her next lover (the modern vampire chick swings both ways), although it is not clear why he does so. (Bloodlust? Jealousy? The thought that this is the only way he can save Alice from a fate worse than death? Or (given that the actress who plays Alice was only fifteen at the time) the thought that this is the only way he can save the film from the fate of being condemned as kiddie porn?
In the event, Sarah calls at the Blaylock apartment, thinking that John will make an interesting subject for her research, but ends up being seduced by Miriam, who is hoping to convert Sarah to both vampirism and lesbianism. Cue the famous love scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, followed by an ending that makes very little sense, even by comparison with what has gone before.
" 'The Hunger' is a mood, a look, an ambience created by Tony Scott. It is the lighting of Stephen Goldblatt, it is the production design of Brian Morris, it is the clothes created by Milena Canonero". This quote from the publicity material for the film- taken from `Halliwell's Film Guide'- makes interesting reading and indicates that, although the film may not have many intellectual pretensions, it seems to have aesthetic ones. Those who made it clearly had an ambition for it to become some sort of arthouse classic. The look of the film is certainly unusual. Whereas most vampire films (and horror films in general) have an atmosphere of darkness and gloom, `The Hunger' is frequently light and airy, accompanied by soaring classical music rather than the spooky chords normally associated with films of this type. The lesbian scene is a case in point. This is, in fact, surprisingly tender and erotic, with effective use of background music. Today Delibes's `Flower Duet' from `Lakme' is a familiar piece- possibly over-familiar from its repeated use in TV commercials. In 1983, however, it was still relatively unfamiliar (at least it was to me), and its ethereal, otherworldly quality seemed strangely appropriate in this context.
The reviewer who compared this film with `Flashdance', another film from the early eighties, may have had a point, despite the very different subject matter of the two films; both clearly bear the hallmarks of the pop videos of the period. `The Hunger', however, lacks completely the joie de vivre which is the main redeeming feature of the other film. Despite the look of the film, it revels in death and decay in a way that is more reminiscent of the Decadent movement of the 1890s than of anything else from the 1980s. A film can have elegant artistic touches and beautiful music on the soundtrack and still be deeply unpleasant and sadistic as well as deeply silly. `The Hunger' is such a film. It falls a long way short of its ambition to be an arthouse classic; at most, it is a cult movie for those with decadent tastes. 4/10.