The Hunger may nominally be a vampire movie, but for me, it is a film about beauty, narcissism, youth and the fear of aging. It is also almost the definition of chic, with such androgynous stars as David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve so perfectly turned out that it is almost funny. I’m admittedly prone to such a metaphorical reading because I was complacently young when it was new, unable to sympathize much with the characters’ fears and only now staring them in the face with middle age.
Intentionally or not, The Hunger concisely evokes the ’80s generation’s image, if not its values. Or rather, it correctly expresses that image as a value. Made at the threshold of the Reagan boom, when cold materialism was the mark of sophistication and cocaine cool indifference the preferred attitude, The Hunger’s fragmented, arty excess, its treatment of the human form as something to be posed, bought, possessed, undressed and discarded, neatly captures the ’80s Zeitgeist.
This was director Tony Scott’s first feature, made after his brother Ridley had already established himself as the preeminent visual stylist of his generation, and it’s tempting to see The Hunger’s elaborate, rock video influenced surface as a very public and very loud expression of sibling rivalry. Regardless, aside from the compulsive cutting, Scott seems most interested in investing the tiniest of details with a fetishistic aura. Nothing in this movie is casual or cheap. It’s not all beautiful, but it is all smart and trim, as if Vogue and Architectural Digest collaborated on a vampire themed issue to visit the Blaylocks at home. “So tell us, Miriam, where did you get these lovely sherry glasses?”
Even when it was new, the movie seemed to invite such smugly cute snipes, but if it never quite slips over the line into Camp, it’s probably because it’s not easy to laugh at a movie this expensive looking. (It certainly was not easy in the style conscious, money-worshiping ’80s.) Moments when people should laugh, like the lengthy make-out scene between Deneuve and Sarandon cut to Delibes’s Lakmé, are likelier to inspire imitation thanks to their piquant combination of high culture and low purpose.
It’s also not easy to laugh at a movie this violent. Between the slow motion shots of doves taking flight and Deneuve agonizing over the pains of immortality, the razors cut, the blood flows, and while the results may be pretty, they certainly aren’t funny. It is as if Scott and company want to remind us that vampires are not just an emblem of fashionable detachment. They are nasty, horrific creatures of legend at which you laugh at your own peril. By taking such a stylized approach, The Hunger manages to bring the legend back to life one more time to make all those hipsters shiver a bit in their designer ensembles.