Monday, June 24, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #68 - The Hunger (1983, dir. Tony Scott) Starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, David Bowie. 96 mins. Rated R

These days, 21st century America’s version of the fountain of youth spurts forth a steady stream of botox injections, facelifts, chemical peels and other torturous-sounding procedures promising a grasp at a newer, younger you. Although this trend has been many decades in the making, it really rose to public consciousness in the self-absorbed, consumerist 1980s. However, you wouldn’t necessarily include vampires in the target audience for discovering a youth serum - unless, of course, you’ve seen The Hunger.

Based on a book by Whitley Strieber (author of Communion), The Hunger tells the story of a centuries-old female vampire named Miriam Blaylock (played by the exquisite Catherine Deneuve), as she deals with the sudden accelerated demise of her taken lover John (David Bowie), who up until recently had been living alongside her, un-aged, through several hundred years old. The bloodlust that has satiated John’s needs and kept him pristine for centuries no longer has an affect on him, and his weakened state becomes compromising to his necessarily violent lifestyle -- as well as inconvenient for Miriam, who has already experienced this phenomenon with other lovers throughout the ages.

As she searches for ways to turn back the clock for her rapidly deteriorating lover, Miriam comes across a doctor named Sarah (Susan Sarandon) specializing in Hodgkins-Progeria, a medical condition with very similar qualities to the ones John is experiencing. As time quickly runs out, John is put out to pasture with her other, former lovers (in the attic coffin storage, naturally) and Miriam must make the decision to take on a new partner, whom she finds in Sarah during an erotically charged vampire seduction. But nothing is what it seems, especially in New York in the 1980’s, and Sarah has her own plans in store for the future.

 From the opening scenes featuring the heavily shadowed, skeletal face of gaunt goth-rocker Peter Murphy as he sings “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” while spasmodically dancing behind a steel grate, to the stylized music-video-esque editing, the film has visual elements that are stunning and, at the same time somewhat pretentious. With a decidedly 1980’s aura and a visibly (and self-described by director Tony Scott) “operatic” feel, the whole film might very well suffer from a case of overly tortured hip-ness if not for the superb acting and artistic license taken with the characters and their settings.

Yes, there are eye-rolling eighties elements that might amuse some more sophisticated and modern movie-goers, like the constantly billowing curtains, strobe lights, and thick, smoky atmospheres (there is a cigarette in almost every shot, after all), but the scenes are still filmed with a photographer’s eye -- Scott admitting that he was heavily influenced by the works of Helmut Newton and fellow directors like Nicolas Roeg and Stanley Kubrick. Asymmetrically balanced shots, moody lighting and sharp angles lend a harder edge to the visuals while subduing the more gory aspects, which are still actively present in the flowing rivulets of bright red blood streaks throughout. Detailed but sleek wardrobes by Italian costume designer Milena Canonero bring an air of couture-laden fashion that aptly represents New York at that period, and the fitting soundtrack features works by classical composers like Bach, Delibes, Schubert and other haunting classical pieces.

The DVD special features include an informative commentary track from director Tony Scott and lead actress Susan Sarandon, who look back with both fond and strained memories of the making of the film as well as the critical reaction to it following its release.

--Shove M., Used Buyer, DVD Witch and Grab Bag Wrangler

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