A dream of vampires is always a nightmare. The Hunger, made in 1983 is the story of a vampire’s love, the curse of immortality and the liberation of sex and violence.
The alluring vampire Miriam, played by Catherine Deneuve has survived for millennia. Originally an Egyptian princess, she now hides as a wealthy urbanite with her lover John, played by David Bowie, a cellist whom she gifted with her vampiric immortality hundreds of years ago. At night they venture out together, visiting the clubs and discos and seducing the young and hedonistic whom they murder and feed upon mid-coitus. John however has developed a problem. Blood no longer sustains him as it used to and he begins aging rapidly. Apparently after 300 years Miriam’s gifts of immortality begin to fade and John will soon end up a living husk as his body wastes away. John, trying to find a way to prolong his life reaches out to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) a specialist in accelerated decrepitude, who at first ignores his story until she witnesses his sudden aging for herself. She follows him and discovers Miriam who, having just locked away John’s remains is eager to find a new companion to replace him. Half through romance and half through a mental domination she seduces Dr. Roberts. Roberts attempts to resist her new life but finds that she needs blood to survive and Miriam uses her overwhelming thirst to turn her on Tom, her boyfriend. Roberts’ guilt over the murder turns her against Miriam and as they kiss she slits her own throat. This treason empowers the remains of Miriam’s former lovers and they rise as shambling monsters and destroy her. Roberts, as the lone survivor inherits Miriam’s life and the powers of her death.
The classic vampire tale Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu can be credited as the beginning of the fascination of lesbian relationships played out through vampiric desire. These sexual undertones to the Gothic Victorian story rose to the surface and became the subject and audience draw of several Hammer Horror flicks of the 60’s and 70’s. Hammer continued to mine that story, trying to find as many anagram spellings of Carmilla as they could to keep bringing her back. As the times and the treatment of explicit sexuality in film changed, these predatory lesbian relationships began to evolve. Losing some of the lurid qualities of those older films but still capitalizing on the titillation, Miriam and Dr. Roberts’ affair is powerful and erotic but also seen through a haze of gauze and wandering camera focus, emphasizing the dreamlike state of both Roberts’ mesmerized perceptions and Miriam’s abandon into ecstasy. The lesbian relationship is not evil so much as it is tragic; a bond forged by the opportunistic needs of the vampire and the human fascination with the forbidden.
Bowie was already a sex symbol and so his character falling out of Miriam’s life and into decrepitude has an odd parallel to the lives of most star musicians. In an almost vampiric defiance to this path Bowie has continuously reworked his image to defy being pigeon-holed into the music of a past age. He also still looks much younger than he should. Seriously, if anyone is looking for proof of the existence of real vampires, they should stalk Bowie for a few months.
Tony Scott, in his first feature film outing brought an artistic, methodical, and imagery rich style to life in a film that differs from the fast-paced style of the spy thriller and action dramas of his later work. Elements of his brother Ridley’s visuals in Blade Runner the year before show their influence, particularly the intimate scenes in Deckard’s apartment and the cut dream sequence, but then Legend, released in ’85, may owe some of its fairy tale otherworldly qualities to what Ridley Scott saw in his brother’s work. Sequences such as Roberts’ seduction and the rise of the undead hordes of Miriam’s lovers are more artistic in depiction than they are lurid or violent. This is a film about the art of horror, depicting the fascination of people with the unknown rather than terror.
The romantic movement in goth subculture, Ann Rice’s vampire novels and indeed an entire sub-genre of literature featuring the sympathetic vampire and the dozens of films that followed owe much of their attitude, visual flair, and enduring tropes to this film. A seminal work in the modern recreation of the vampire as less a beast of perverted desire and more a symbol of liberated, yet still dangerous human sexuality.