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Back to the ’80s: The Hunger

Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today. 

Would you choose to live forever if immortality meant you would become a junkie? One of the major themes from The Hunger is that the needs of a vampire are comparable to addiction. This 1983 feature also explores the reaction to a lover’s betrayal. At the same time, a general commentary is observed regarding how age catches up with us all in the end. Directed by the late Tony Scott, The Hunger is a seductive and stylish piece from the 1980s loaded with provocative substance. It then misfires near the end with a cheesy and confusing climax.

Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) has spent the last several hundred years with her companion, John (David Bowie). In addition to an appreciation of classical music, they share a taste for blood. She is an ancient vampire that tends to outlive her lovers. These lovers believe that, like Miriam, they will live forever. While Miriam remains frozen in time, John is beginning to age. Both are drawn to Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a gerontologist focusing on the reversal of aging in primates. As John’s aging rapidly increases, Miriam begins to set her sights on Sarah as a potential new companion. Sarah is compelled to help John as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to his vampire lover. Unfortunately for Sarah, Miriam’s companions are destined to discover that “forever” is not what they were led to believe.

The Hunger begins with an electrifying sequence that soon turns gruesome for a couple of club kids. The scene coveys an image of 1980’s club life and the inherent dangers of the time. The inevitable risks that accompany meeting strangers at a time when sexual diseases and drugs were reaching a new generation. The manifestation of a vampire becomes a metaphor for the consequence of engaging in these risky behaviors. The pulsating beats from the night before soon dissolve into a high-class setting accompanied by classical music and art. The primary action takes place in this serene environment that ultimately juxtapositions the violence to come.

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The film has a strong cast. The leading trio comes across as if performing a dance in which one partner switches to another. Deneuve showcases her ability to remain cool and in control. At the same time, she flits from heartbroken innocence before readying to pounce. Bowie presents a character of confidence that must face for the first time a situation of uncertainty. In his abbreviated performance, he conveys an assured demeanor that dissolves into desperation. As Sarah, Sarandon is a vibrant and intelligent woman. She fights her instincts in a situation that brings confused emotion. When faced with the consequence of her actions, she is willing to stay true to her beliefs.

The most interesting element of The Hunger is following the relationships of these characters. The title of the film goes deeper than just a hunger for blood. The true hunger is about what humans crave from each other to feed their desires. John has a terrifying exchange with a young student named Alice (Beth Ehlers). Prior to this sequence, he has attempted to reach Sarah for help. A clock ticks away as panic begins to set in. In desperation, he sets his sights on Alice. John learns that she cares for him. He uses her vulnerability for his own gain while denying himself the redemption she could provide.

The relationship between Miriam and Sarah further explores the need to satiate one’s craving with another. Miriam seeks to avoid solitude. Sarah finds in Miriam a world of glamour. This feature is notable for its time in history as portraying a relationship between two women as something more than tawdry. The notion presented suggests that we seek a relationship with another person so they could potentially elevate us to a better self.  One’s biological sex has little to do with attraction. The result does not guarantee a happily-ever-after, but this has nothing to do with the relationship being between two women. Instead, the fault lies in two fundamentally different beliefs.

With such a strong cast and interesting visuals, it is unfortunate that the final scenes make The Hunger a lesser film. The themes of betrayal and addiction make for a thought-provoking flick. The film is sophisticated in its exploration of sexual attraction. Then everything is thrown away for a nonsensical sequence that is hardly interesting to watch. The Hunger descends from quality horror to a B movie that is neither campy or scary. To work on some level, the feature needs to have one of those elements. The film Scott and the cast signed up for contained a different scripted ending changed by the studio at the last minute. One can argue that the studio was attempting to pander to a younger 1980’s audience.

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Slasher films were beginning to dominate the time-frame of when The Hunger was produced. This is a movie centered on aging and adult relationships. A slasher film is not incompatible with adult themes. The problem is that the setup of this feature is not based within a jump-scare format. The released ending attempts to manifest the jump-scare result and it does not fit with the rest of the feature. The horror of The Hunger is understanding and facing internal fears. The type of fear associated with forging relationships to the people around us. The desperation one faces in avoiding loneliness.

Despite the contrived ending, The Hunger is an earnest effort by Tony Scott. The visuals appeal to the MTV generation. The suspenseful moments work well within an interesting story. Knowing ahead of time of the clumsy ending should not deter fans of 1980s horror at giving The Hunger a look. This is a flick for those looking for something unique from this time period. Those that have an appreciation for well-done performances coupled with surreal images will enjoy this movie. The horror and suspense from The Hunger appeal to those able to relate to adult fears rather than a killer lurking in the bushes. It is unfortunate that the powers-that-be did not realize how close of a film they had to appealing to both younger and mature audiences. The forced climax is a little too ham-fisted and diminishes the grace contained by the rest of the feature.

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Written by Justin Steele
Justin Steele is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. His focus was the representation of women and minorities in contemporary media. In addition to writing, he hosts the 411popCulture channel on YouTube. He enjoys Rep Theatre and once performed on Broadway. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his 15-year-old cat. He is a die-hard horror fan with a particular affinity for slasher films.
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