It’s tempting to read Tony Scott’s ludicrous 1983 film The Hunger, like Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky the year before, as a metaphor for the then-bourgeoning AIDS crisis in New York City. Before Whitley Strieber started writing books about his alleged abduction by aliens, he was known primarily for writing popular trash fiction like The Wolfen, The Night Church, and The Hunger, the story of an international vampire priestess who sinks her teeth into a nubile research scientist after her latest companion bites the dust. Though Strieber had no conscious awareness of his communion with aliens when he wrote the novel, the bloodsuckers from The Hunger are not unlike an ancient race of aliens hell bent on human abduction. Both Liquid Sky and The Hunger envision a post-punk New York City on the brink of collapse, but while Tsukerman’s 1982 cult classic (about aliens who come to a gender-bending Manhattan for a heroin fix) is truly grounded in the dirt and grime of the era, Scott’s film scarcely has its pulse on the encroaching conservatism of the nation. In the end, it’s just a shallow lesbian fantasy so aggressively spit and polished as to suggest a 96-minute White Diamonds commercial. Of course, that’s not to say that it isn’t fun. Truly a product of its time, The Hunger happily signals the death of the city’s gothic past with a stunning opener featuring Bauhaus singing their famous “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” But the mantra of Scott’s aesthetic goes: Out with the punk, in with the pop. Inside the multi-million dollar house owned by Bonnie Tyler, err, Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), white doves and curtains fly on cue. Dreamily photographed by Stephen Goldblatt and cryptically edited together by Pamela Power, nothing in The Hunger makes sense: After Miriam’s lover (David Bowie) of many centuries goes kaput, the older woman seduces Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), an expert in sleep disorders currently investigating the rapid aging process that similarly kills a monkey. The rest is all neo-gothic smoke and mirrors, with scenes of Miriam’s seduction of Sarah ludicrously intercut with visions of ancient Egyptian vampire rituals (Ken Russell did this much better in The Lair of the White Worm). Deneuve is hysterical, but it’s young Beth Ehlers who steals the show. As the androgynous neighbor from across the street, you may not even notice that the tomboyish Ehlers is a girl until she returns to Miriam’s house for a second time wearing a skirt. In the real world, sex leads to pleasure and/or disease, but in The Hunger, like in that ludicrous advertisement for Britney Spears’s Curious perfume, sexual desire simply provokes postmodern psychotropic episodes.
I've never seen a Tony Scott film that didn't look as if it had been shellacked to within an inch of its life. The Hunger looks fantastic on this DVD edition, which preserves the film's original aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen. Colors appear over-saturated at times (mostly, though, it's the red on Deneuve's lips) and blacks are not as deep as they could be, but the transfer is still a winner. Indeed, the scene where Deneuve plays the piano for Sarandon is ridiculously gorgeous. The mono track, on the other hand, is somewhat of a disappointment, and surely Warner Home Video could have done better than this. The music sounds great but dialogue is almost impossible to make out at times, which means the volume on your remote control will be your best friend for 96 minutes.
Included here is a theatrical trailer and a composite commentary track by Tony Scott and Susan Sarandon. Neither shed any light on the film's opaque narrative, and though the track has its lengthy dead spots, it also has a few good moments. Highlights include Scott admitting that he's self-indulgent and Sarandon alluding to the rise of her gay icon status after the public got a look at the film's infamous lesbian sex scene.
Strictly for perverts, dumb blondes, and camp enthusiasts.