This was one of the films that I picked out of a hat, feeling like it was time for another vampire flick. I knew a tad about this one, something about immortality and the cost of eternal life, but I think the deciding factor was the year of it's production, 1983. I had grown tired of modern horror movies and was looking for something a little more classical. Let's bite into The Hunger.
Things open up with a tribal beat that grows into a song as Peter Murphy from Bauhaus vogues through a cage, singing Bela Lugosi's Dead. Cute. The club scene awkwardly interfaces with shots of two partygoers leading their respective dates out and into a limo, driving home. The two couples lounge about, staring at each other while they smoke and prance around, showing off how much leather they're wearing before they strut into separate rooms and start feeling each other up. Things get sexy for just a second, until both the man in the kitchen and the woman on the sofa pull out little ankh necklaces containing hidden blades and slash the throats of their conquests. Mood established.
These two neck slitters are our vampires for the evening, The imposing Miriam Blaylock, played by Catherine Deneuve, and oh damn, A very conservatively dressed Pierrot himself, David Bowie, seemingly delving deep into his Scary Monsters phase and playing Miriam's husband, the equally bloodthirsty John Blaylock. These two are vampires in everything but name, surviving by feasting on the blood of mortals and maintaining their eternal good looks in return. Hell, if you had to commit homicide on a weekly basis to look like Catherine Deneuve or David Bowie forever, I wonder how long your resolve would last.
While these two sex vampires bone in the shower, we cut to Susan Sarandon playing Doctor Sarah Roberts. She is testing and examining sleep deprivation on monkeys alongside her own husband and fellow lab techs with the same passive curiosity that Miriam and Bowie display as they dump the corpses of the previous nights feeding into their handy-dandy basement incinerator. These two separate stories are tied together with common themes, such as the suffering of others to further the subjects own goals. Dr. Roberts is trying to study and cure the phenomenon of premature aging, and is currently testing a hormonal compound that may or may not be the cause on a baboon. I think. It's a little unclear, but we just watch Susan Sarandon yelling at a monkey for a little while until cutting back to the palatial estate of the Blaylock's.
Back in VampireLand, Bowie has started to develop insomnia for the first time in centuries. He harkens back to the day he was turned by Miriam during the Restoration. The two looked at each other through the powdered shrubberies that they used for wigs back then and promised, “Forever and Ever”. He is snapped out of his reverie by a knock at the door. It's Alice, a spunky local teen with a camera who is actually part of their strings trio. The Blaylocks seem to like her and they do make lovely music together, with Miriam on piano, Bowie on cello and Alice on the violin, but Bowie still isn't feeling it. He wanders off to the mirror, and forbodingly starts to notice bags under his eyes, while Alice offers Miriam some queludes. Get 'em while you can Miriam, not everything lasts forever.
Bowie begins to fear that he has started to age again and does what any man feeling his youth slip away from him would: Watches some cartoons while pulling out strings of his hair. Worried about her husband, Miriam heads to the clinic/facility/hospital that Roberts is working at and talks one funky looking Hematologist about the nature of premature aging and what can be done about it. Getting nowhere, Miriam returns and informs Bowie that there is nothing she can do. Except it turns out Bowie knew that this was coming. He asks his wife how long her last companion took to age to death, and she tells him a week. He then starts to become irate, demanding to know who is next, which mortal she will next choose to sire and spend the next few centuries with. He wonders if that is exactly what Alice was being groomed for.
I have to say, if you knew that something like this was bound to happen, why the heck would you dawdle so much when it came to finding an answer? Bowie heads down to the aging clinic for some answers of his own the next day while dressed as Christopher Walken, but it's a little late by this point. I guess the hours really fall off the clock when you're immortal.
I should note at this point that visually, there is a lot of Bladerunner in his movie, from the long perspective shots, to the chiaroscuro lighting to even the layout of some of the sets. This movie was made one year after Bladerunner, by Ridley Scott's brother no less, Tony Scott, who would go on to direct action films such as Top Gun and The Last Boyscout. Hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best.
Bowie shows Dr. Roberts the liver spots on his hands, claiming to be thirty years old (Give or take a few hundred years). Roberts is intrigued, but she's got monkeys to look at dang it, and she asks him to wait for her in the lobby, figuring that eventually he'll grow bored and leave. The sequence of shots where Bowie rapidly ages into infirmity while waiting for Roberts, who is busy watching a monkey rot, is quite well done, at least from a make-up standpoint. His growing wrinkles and eventual full face prosthesis looks relatively convincing, enough for him to get Roberts's attention again and make her regret ignoring him as he angrily storms off. To be fair, we've all felt ourselves going through this in any given waiting room. On his way home, Bowie feels the hunger multiple times, checking out a man in the bathroom, ogling nurses cleavage in the elevator and generally just being a creepy old man until he attempts to ankh-stab an innocent roller dancer. He's so feeble that he can't actually manage it and the roller-dancer skates off, surviving his tussle with a pensioner.
That evening, Alice turns up for her daily lesson, and Bowie welcomes her inside, sticking to the shadows as he now looks like his own grandpa. It sounds funny, I know. But it really is so. He simply watches Alice from afar as she plays, until his own compulsions finally consume him. He wraps his arm over her mouth and kills Alice, drinking her blood. It's a shocking moment and intensely sad, a depressed old man preying on a young girl in an attempt to regain a spark of his former youth. By the time Miriam comes home, the mess is cleaned up and Bowie looks like the cryptkeeper by now. She attempts to comfort him, but clearly is too squicked out by his old person skin, bursting in to tears about how difficult her life is now that her husband is gross. She notices a discarded photograph that Alice's camera took when it hit the floor and puts two and two together, dashing downstairs to the incinerator. Bowie appears at the top of stairs and begs her to kill him before tumbling down and face planting hard, too weak to stand. A tearful Miriam carries hims upstairs, through doors and into side chambers of this frankly massive New York apartment....penthouse....mansion? She finally brings her old-man baby husband up to the attic, which is filled with birds, because birds symbolize...stuff. She lays him in a coffin as he implores her with his eyes, then just shuts it and bails on him.
Okay, so it seems that the rules of these vampires have finally come to light. Let's count them down:
The second half of the story kicks off when Dr. Roberts shows up at the Blaylock estate asking about John. Miriam simply ushers her out, explaining that John is in Switzerland, but even from their brief meeting, Roberts is clearly gobsmacked by Miriam. As she wanders off and gets the fear of death put in her by a near miss with a semi, Inspector Elliot Gould shows up at the Blaylock's and starts asking about Alice's disappearance. He doesn't seem very good at his job, passively stating that these “Missing kid” things rarely pan out and not grilling the person who owns the house she was last seen at too harshly. Thanks for the cameo, Elliot.
Meanwhile, Sarah Roberts feels haunted by Miriam. She has visions of her at home and returns to her place the next day, asking about her inquiries into the science of longevity. They discuss the various artifacts in her home, including a Grecian bust that bears a remarkable resemblance to Miriam herself (Albeit with a nose that looks like it belongs on a falcon. I suppose immortality doesn't prevent you from getting rhinoplasty) They continue to dance around what we all know is coming as Sarah starts to become more and more entranced by Miriam's charm and intelligence. She really starts sending out vibes when she starts to play “Flower Duet” by Mozart, which is a famous love duet, but almost always sung by two women...
Sarah spills a little sherry on her shirt and that just perks her nipples right up. Listen, when you head to some vampire queens house and don't even bother to wear a bra, things are going to go exactly the way you were expecting them to. The two finally touch-a touch-a touch each other and we get our big, sexy lesbian vampire sex scene, complete with the moment where Miriam bites and sucks her blood, then has her return the favour.
Reportedly, Susan Sarandon was a very vocal member of this production, often recommending or protesting ideas during filming. Initially, the plan was to have Miriam slip something into Dr. Roberts's drink, which Sarandon was against. She didn't like the “date rape” angle for starters and stated simply that no one, male or female, would need to be drugged to have sex with Catherine Deneuve. She also later admitted to having a brief affair with David Bowie on set, because of course she would. When you have that opportunity, you go for it.
Susan Sarandon is amazing.
That night, a slightly dazed Sarah is having dinner with her husband, defending the fact that she spent three and a half hours at a virtual stranger's house and received a familiar piece of jewellery from her.
“She's just one of those kinds of people.....European”
Her husband pushes the matter, but Sarah has clearly caught The Gayness from Miriam, distracted by fantasies of two nearby female swimmers. Does bisexuality just come part and parcel with vampirism? I can understand someone who has been alive for hundreds of years no longer getting the same thrill from just a single gender, but it seems as soon as the Bloode of Thy Vampyr touches your veins, you start to get mighty interested in that girl in yoga pants over there.
That night she's sick and agrees to a blood test, where Doc Funk finds a new strain of “Stronger” blood mixed with her own that is swiftly asserting dominance. She finally decides to show off her big vampire hickey, because I'm sure that will assuage her husband's paranoia.
After a brief confrontation with Miriam during which she gets tossed around after getting angry with vampire lady, Sarah tries to contact her husband, feeling chills racing through her as her body changes. She gets briefly startled by a wanders Willem DaFoe and flees back to Miriam's place, just as she leaves to go find a gentleman caller. Sarah finally gets a call through to her husband, who answers the phone in his apartment which is bathed in red neon light. Gosh, I wonder what that's trying to symbolize or foreshadow. Downstairs, Miriam toys with her food before quickly slashing up and eating him, which a terrified Sarah bears witness to, now fully aware of what she is becoming.
Sarah's husband shows up, and Miriam obviously cleans up good, having removed the fountains of blood from her floor and face in under an hour. How much furniture do you think such messy vampires go through? No wonder there aren't any carpets in this place. And she must be awfully handy with a mop by now. It's not as if you can call in the maid.
A sweating, tormented Sarah greets her husband with violent passion, quickly realizing that simple human indulgences are no longer going to cut it. She wants a lot more than his flesh. The steady switch from lust to inhuman thirst is quite well done here, as she finally crosses the line and lunges for her husband's neck.
Miriam hears the scuffle and seems to have a flashback to her first time in ancient Egypt, when she was just as Caucasian and blonde as she is now. I suppose she's from the same universe as that Gods of Egypt movie. She greets Sarah as she stumbles downstairs, bloodstained but refreshed, and gives her the pitch: She will live forever, be with her always and one day, learn to love her as deeply as she loves Sarah. Technically nothing she said was a lie, but it is clear that Miriam is simply planning to add Sarah to her endless cycle of lovers until the day she disposes of her like all the rest. Sarah nods, kisses her sire once, and then immediately stabs herself in the neck with Miriams ankh-knife. She bleeds out in Miriam's arms, stating that she just cannot live like that. She took the high road and would rather die than live with what she had done.
Oh, and I guess these vampires can die from wounds? Damn Miriam, maybe you could grow a pair and actually put some members of your ex- collection upstairs out of their misery. You really aren't doing them ANY favours at this point.
An inconsolable Miriam brings Sarah upstairs to the coffin room, but there's change in the air. I guess after seeing it happen to Bowie, all the other ex lovers decided that enough was enough and decide to finally get up, dragging their decaying bodies out of their caskets with new strength and harassing Miriam with centuries of neglect and rage at their state. Pursued by the world's grossest harem, Miriam flees the room and goes right over the banister, plummeting several stories to the unforgiving floor. It seems that this is enough to affect her as well. She thrashes and screams, starting to age as all her lovers did. I guess when you suffer some sort of fatal injury, all that immortality jazz goes out the window. Upstairs, the army of rotting lovers all crumble to dust as Miriam is reduced to a shrieking husk, the spell seemingly broken.
A week or so later, Detective Gould is back, greeted by a real estate agent who says that the whole matter has been wrapped up after the disappearance of the Blaylocks: The house is to be donated to a local foundation and all the possessions are packed up into storage. It seems as though their estate has vanished along with them. As Gould picks through the dust and debris left behind, he finds a photo of Miriam. A simple snapshot which is just that frozen moment in time. Never changing or adapting, just frozen as what it is, forever. Then he ponders again what happened to the Blaylock fortune...
Cut to some distant city. Sarah wanders into frame, greeted by a young lover of her very own. She vacantly kisses her and returns to staring out the balcony, solemnly pondering her future. Somewhere deep below her new home, the occasional scream can be heard from a well secured box in the basement...
The titular hunger in this movie is not the thirst for blood that the main characters exhibit, or the lust that they experience. The vampires in this movie are creatures of unquenchable desire, compelled to indulge in the face of reason of decency. Miriam's loneliness and boundless need for someone to share her life with causes her to take lovers throughout millenia and condemn them to the same horrific fate. She claims to love them, but love would not allow her to do what she does. Miriam goes through the motions of passion, saying all the words and playing the part, but has long ago forgotten what it means to be human and to share a life with another. The nature and cost of eternal life is a heavy theme in this movie, and repeatedly asks the question of whether or not such a thing is even worth it. Who wants to live forever?
About the ending, it certainly raises a few questions concerning how hardy the average vampire is and what exactly happened. Miriam seemed pretty convinced that Sarah had killed herself, but she shows up at the end of the movie alive and well, no worse for wear and seemingly having taken Miriam's place. What, after Miriam took a tumble and got all of her youth juice sucked out, did it just default to Sarah as the last vamp standing? Why did suffering a fatal injury cause that to happen? You're telling me that in several thousand years of life, she never got shot or stabbed or kicked by a horse? Damn. A whole bunch of this goes pretty unexplained.
I do kind of like the ambiguity of what is to happen next and the cyclical nature of Sarah inheriting Miriam's station. It hammers that whole “forever” thing right into the ground. The studio apparently pushed for this ending, hoping for possible sequels, but a middling box office put out that spark.
I quite liked this film, and could recommend it for anyone who'd like to delve into the concept of eternal life and it's cost.