Tony Scott foregrounds the aesthetic context for his vampire-movie debut The Hunger before the first images roll. Over introductory credits comes the sound of goth outfit Bauhaus striking up their biggest hit, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as the frame fades up on frontman Peter Murphy grimly shuffling around a stage boxed in by a mesh screen. Before any bloodsucking is shown, Scott instantly recalibrates vampire lore around 1980s values, commodifying it and styling it into something nakedly sexy yet caged, at once uninhibited and repressed.
That the film cast David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as its central vampire couple only compounds the lurid coldness of its lustful bloodsport. The early scenes have a gauzy, quasi-European style to them: daylight puncturing gossamer curtains in an obsolete manor, muted color, moments of teasing sensuality that climax with blood. In short order, however, Bowie’s John begins to develop frightening symptoms, aging years every hour, and the erotic tenor of the film shifts rapidly to an extended metaphor for disease, with Deneuve’s Miriam presiding over a host of immortal but aged lovers trapped as withered husks in coffins, testament to an addiction that consumed them.
The concept is stronger than the execution: the green Scott rushes too quickly into the debilitating effects of vampirism, leading to a lethargic middle act in which the deliberate listlessness becomes too detached. Nonetheless, Scott’s thorough stylization of every blue-white frame, every piece of sheer fabric over clearly visible flesh, makes for a landmark entry in the ever-shifting genre. The lighting alone is resplendent, continuing the unorthodox application of Wellesian noir lighting that Scott’s brother used to great effect in Blade Runner. Aided by Bowie, Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon (as Miriam’s latest paramour) at the respective peaks of their attractiveness, The Hunger overcomes a sagging second half on the strength of its director’s untamed skill, and the film remains arguably ground zero for just about every sultry vampire movie that followed.
Warner’s Blu-ray offers a noticeable improvement over previous DVD releases, retaining grain texture and as much detail as the innately slick cinematography has to offer. Much of the film is shot with that cloudy light that seems so much brighter than direct sunlight, yet the image never looks washed out. The audio track aggressively mixes the eerie soundtrack, which makes use of classical pieces to as elegantly unsettling an effect as the original music, but dialogue remains clear and well separated from the score and Foley effects.
The disc comes with an old commentary track featuring Scott and Sarandon, recorded separately. Each reminisces about their experiences and frustrations with the film, Scott admitting to being starstruck by his actors while Sarandon laments that the more uncompromising original vision for the project was softened by the studio to set up potential sequels. The two are engaging, candid speakers, and it’s a shame they couldn’t have done the track together and bounced off of each other’s perspective. The Blu-ray also comes with a theatrical trailer.
Tony Scott’s flawed but captivating debut is one of the most influential vampire films of all time, and to have more of the late director’s work in high-definition is always welcome.