1983. Directed by Tony Scott.
Scott's debut film, The Hunger, is a steamy neo-Gothic story that is more of a moody experience than a classic vampire tale. Stripping away gender politics and using cosmetic immortality as a delivery method, Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon deliver amazing performances as a blood-crossed menage a trois.
Miriam is an ancient Egyptian vampire that cruises through the eons with specially chosen partners, whom she gifts with a less powerful form of immortality. Her current partner is John, a talented musician. As John begins to age, he realizes Miriam's deceit and seeks help from a gerontologist named Sarah. Sarah initially disbelieves his wild claims, but she is soon irrevocably drawn into a complex web of erotic obsession and violence, forcing her to confront her newfound condition, and possible damning herself in the process.
Stephen Goldblatt's haunted cinematography is 80's baroque. featuring deep shots of the vampire's expansive townhouse, strobe pulsing night clubs, and impossibly wide scenes of a mist choked New York. Every frame has an ethereal quality around the edges that enhances the fable like quality of the story. Ann Mollo's set direction uses a muted approach to almost every location, creating an out of time feeling that is perfectly juxtaposed from the copious amount of blood letting that occurs.
Catherine Deneuve delivers an unusual performance. The legendary actress, known for controversial roles, abandons the subtle touchstones of her repertoire in favor of a sexually charged persona that takes what it wants and isn't afraid to get down on the blood soaked floorboards when required. She's supported by Bowie in one of his most vulnerable performances, playing the jilted lover who is desperate to hold onto a lie. Susan Sarandon rounds out the cast as Miriam's latest conquest, and while she does an adequate job with the material, it's her iconic sex scene with Deneuve that is the centerpiece. The thing about this scene, aside from its vivid imagery is that its hot without being cheap due to Scott's refusal to cut away and the delicate, yet dangerous performances of the leads. The idea of a woman taking what she wants, and in this case it being a female lover, in an 80's American film was a remarkably bold choice that pays off due to the emotional depth of the actresses.
Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas's script is sparse on substance, choosing to relay the fanged epic as a series of emotional travesties rather than a conventional horror film. The actual plot is extremely thin, but it does have interesting kernels of vampire lore. The creatures feed using ankh encrusted blades and Miriam's methods of "collecting" her exhausted lovers is terrifying in its pragmatism, setting up the film's predictable, but still enjoyable finale.
Available now for digital rental, The Hunger is pure cult classic material. Gathering a legion of devotees other the years, it holds up purely for the performances and the provocative atmosphere. A noble addition to a Halloween viewing list, if you're looking for a nonsensical interpretation of vampire mythology, give this one a try.