When I was doing my Arts degree at the University of New England in the late 80s I, as a shy and wretched country bumpkin, was in thrall to my best friend of the time. Izabella seemed to be sophisticated and exotic – she was Polish, dressed beautifully and came from the big city. With all the naïve arrogance of a confident sophisticate who had assumed the role of moulding her gawky friend, Izabella very much dictated what we would listen to, how we should do our hair, what we should drink and what movies we should watch. She has long gone out of my life, but one thing that she did do for me in our undergraduate days was make me watch the 1980s vampire film The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon and directed by Tony Scott. It made a hell of an impact on me; so much so that over 20 years later when I saw it sitting on a shelf at my local DVD rental I just had to give it a rewatch (despite not being much of a horror movie fan).
It didn’t disappoint. It was just as stylish, glamorous, sinister, decadent, moving and beautiful as I had remembered it to be. A special mention must be made of the soundtrack – in between stalking their prey in New York’s nightclubs the vampires enjoy playing the piano and cello. The soundtrack veers wonderfully from Bauhaus to Schubert and Bach, and music plays an important part in setting the tone of the film. Rock music sets a tone of dread, whereas the joy of love and sex is communicated through a Bach cello solo. The slow disintegration of one vampire is accompanied by the aching beauty of a tender Schubert trio, which wins our sympathy for a corrupt monster that we have just seen kill.
I haven’t seen the Twilight films. I haven’t wanted to as I suspect that they are really just teen romances masquerading as something else – the modern version of a bodice ripper for young gels. My nephew, who loves vampire films, disdains the Twilight films and made the telling remark that they aren’t vampire films so much as teen romance films who happen to have a vampire as a character. I bet none of the characters play Schubert.
The Hunger is a vampire film to its roots, not just because of the blood its vampires hunger for but also for the way it incorporates broader and deeper themes such as sex, immortality and the fear of death and aging, and the dividing line between the humane and the monstrous (intriguingly and subtly thinly drawn in gradations in the characters in this film).
Would this film get made today? There is the requisite violence and gore, but I am sure that plenty of movies today feature much more. I feel that our more conservative society today may have problems with the explicit lesbian sex scenes and (the genuinely distressing albeit brief) scenes of animal cruelty. This film functions superbly as entertainment – it is a taught, well-acted, lushly produced supernatural thriller on one level. But at the same time it is a nuanced, reflective, and satisfyingly adult film.