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Monday, 30 May 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE HUNGER

Welcome, One And All.

After the sad death of David Bowie earlier this year, it was great to be able to revisit one of the few films he made, over his life - the superb 1983 horror drama THE HUNGER, directed by Tony Scott.

An artistic vampire film, it stars Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as John and Miriam Blaylock: two vampires, who feed off of the young in New York and London, to retain their eternal youthfulness. Scouring nightclubs, and back-alleys, the couple soon hear of a potential scientific breakthrough, that could slow-down the ageing process in animals. The scientist, Dr Sarah Roberts, played by Susan Sarandon in one of her earlier roles, is initially contacted by John, but when he is rebuffed, she searches him out and meets Miriam, who then proceeds to seduce and draw-in the doctor, into their sinister and provocative lifestyle!

For starters, readers should be aware that this is not a conventional vampire film. The vampires aren't the "baddies" per se, like in many horror stories or films. In fact, they are portrayed as being no more outside of conventional society, than any other "outsider". The portrayal is actually highly sympathetic, though it does show the problems the Blaylocks' have to endure. Living aside humans, but being very well-off, the Blaylocks' prey on anyone, irrespective of their perceived status. Young or old, black or white, rich or poor, it matters not. What matters, is that their pretty are young, healthy, and sexually promiscuous. The opening scene of the film, sees John and Miriam target a young couple at a hip, New York nightclub, whilst Bauhaus's punk anthem "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is performed. Both are taken back to the couple's apartment, and just prior to sex, both are attacked and killed, in a highly erotically-charged scene - one of many throughout this film's short running time. The corpses are then disposed of, in the furnace in the basement of the Blaylock's apartment.

The reason for their desire to feed, is to keep both John and Miriam youthful. Without fresh blood, the couple age dramatically, in the space of hours. So it is imperative that they feed regularly and often to retain their "front" to everyone else that they meet. When Dr Roberts enters their life, things soon start going sideways in more ways than one, and the future of the Blaylocks, and everyone who knows them, is immediately put in peril.

Loosely based on a Whitley Strieber novel, the film is very much concerned with style more than substance. The story is very good, but this is very much about aesthetics first. Under the direction of Tony Scott, and his Cinematographer, Stephen Goldblatt, the film is given an incredible visual presence unlike any I've seen for many a time. The opening 8-minute scene, is phenomenal, and really sets a tone, that draws you in. It's extremely 80's, which is expected bearing in mind when the film was made, but it's very glossy, and not afraid to show gore or sex, when needed. This is a very adult film, and all the more impressive for it. Here, the myth of what vampires are, is treated with immense respect and maturity that most vampire films - even some of the most classic titles - ever refused to do.

Accompanying the three main leads, you'll see turns from Dan Hedaya, Willem Dafoe, Beth Ehlers, Cliff DeYoung and Shane Rimmer. All are excellent, and it's nice to see a vampire film that treats the subject matter with such respect, by an equally well-respected cast!

Over the film's 97 minute runtime, we see what happens when people try and chase an impossible dream, to the detriment of everyone around them, and even to the detriment of one's own life! Upon its initial release, the film received very mixed reviews, but over the past 30 years, the film has been reassessed, and is now seen as a classic of the genre. The bisexuality of the lead protagonists, has also been commented upon. Such gender issues, makes the film appear way ahead of the game. Moreso, when you have the likes of Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon as your leads, and there's a lengthy scene featuring the two ladies, enjoying an afternoon of sex and violence together. As I said earlier, this is a highly erotically-charged film, where the nudity is never gratuitous or sleazy, unlike so many films of the era! Showing vampires to be the sexual magnets that they are perceived to be, in folklore, in literature, and making that one of the film's key themes, is definitely something to showcase. Vampires are sexy, but demonstrating that sexiness has usually never been done in such an incredible fashion. The only other scene, that comes to mind, is Chris Sarandon (Susan Sarandon's ex-husband) as Jerry Dandridge, in FRIGHT NIGHT (1985, Tom Holland), when he seduces Amy in the discotheque, and then takes her to his boudoir, and proceeds to both deflower her and consume her blood. There's no nudity, but the sexual energy and chemistry is writ-large, and really raises the film's quality way above many others! THE HUNGER is similar. It focuses on the body beautiful, but in a unique way, not usually seen in genre movies like this.

One final thought: much has been commented on about the film's ending. I won't spoil it, but the film's ending was forcibly added by the studio, to give it a "happier" resolution. This is a shame, because the ending the film has, doesn't need anything extra tacked-on to it. If you pay attention, the ending completes the film, and having the additional 20-seconds or so tacked on, ruins what was already a great finale. It also completely ignores the original ending, and you are left with a feeling of contradiction. Once you see it, you'll know what I mean. The "happier" resolution, was intended so that the film could have a sequel. Thankfully, none ever materialised, and in my view, none is needed. However, the film was due to be remade in 2009, with Strieber undertaking the script. As far as I know, that script has never seen the light of day, and the remake has also been nipped in the bud too - thank goodness!

The Blu-Ray is a US release, but thankfully, Warner Bros have made it Region Free, as part of its Warner Archive Collection, and so this will play in any Blu-Ray player, no matter where you live in the world. It's available from both and, for about £15, and is definitely worth a purchase. The disc comes with the film, in a better-than-average looking print, for a film of this age, with a healthy 30-33mb per second bit-rate, and in HD, this film look stunning, albeit with an occasional (and deliberate) soft-focus edge to it! You also get English Subtitles for the deaf and Hard Of Hearing, should you need them, which are almost fault-free. (I did note a couple of missed lines of dialogue, but nothing major that should cause any issues, for those who need the Subtitles.)

Sadly, in terms of extras, all you get is an audio-commentary. It's nice to listen to, but I'd really have liked to have seen interviews (new or old) from the cast or crew; a documentary about the making-of the film, and/or even the original trailer. Sadly, with Bowie no longer around, and director Tony Scott also sadly deceased, I know that such extras would be hard to come by. But it's such a lovely film, that you really do want to know more about it, and it's criminal we can't learn more. That said, the film more than makes up for it, and as the film is so damn good, you can just about forgive the lack of extras.

If you enjoy vampire films, and want to see something very unique, this is definitely a worthy purchase. Highly Recommended, and an ideal film for couples who fancy something sexy too! You will not believe how genuinely erotic this film gets!