I’ve been meaning to watch Tony Scott’s The Hunger for quite some time now (ever since his untimely death, at the very least), and as luck would have it, IFC Center was hosting a screening this morning.
This hauntingly poetic horror film has developed a cult status over the years, and it isn’t hard to see why (beyond the obvious allure of Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon engaging in a few steamy love scenes, anyway): it’s genre storytelling elevated to high art, blending a pulpy premise and music video aesthetics into an intoxicating cocktail. Writers Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas (adapting Whitley Strieber’s novel) use vampirism as an allegory for drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, and toxic relationships, which were all extremely relevant subjects back in 1983, and (unfortunately) remain so today. Deneuve portrays her undead temptress as a predator in every sense of the word, luring various accomplices into her web with seductive promises of eternal life—provided they regularly feast on blood. She neglects to mention, however, that only she will enjoy the benefits of everlasting youth; her erstwhile lovers, on the other hand, will gradually wither away until they’re reduced to barely-mobile husks, sealed away in coffins and swiftly replaced (but never entirely forgotten, or so their mistress repeatedly insists).
The real highlight, of course, is David Bowie, who succumbs to the sudden accelerated aging brought about by his condition in the movie’s opening act. While his character’s rapid physical deterioration has become significantly more difficult to witness considering the circumstances of his actual demise, he plays the role beautifully, milking it for all the pathos it’s worth. Every emotion—fear, anger, despair, desperation, resignation—is clearly and subtly reflected in the actor’s deep, expressive eyes, cutting through the heavy prosthetic makeup with surgical precision.
I wouldn’t call The Hunger my favorite work of vampire fiction—that honor still belongs to The Lost Boys, and probably always will— but it has landed somewhere on my Top Ten list, along with Nosferatu, Let the Right One In, and Cronos. So, y’know, it’s in good company.