Tony Scott's flashy eighties vampire cult film debut THE HUNGER hits Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Archive.
Manhattanites Miriam (Catherine Deneuve, BELLE DE JOUR) and John (David Bowie, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH) Blaylock live quite extravagantly teaching classical music in their New York Brownstone teaming with Victorian antiques and Egyptian artifacts; yet, they manage to keep their vampirism discreet, feeding off of swinging disco couples, cleaning up the aftermath with a forensic eye for detail, and disposing of the corpses in their own furnace. While Miriam has existed for seeming eons, John has only been with her since the eighteenth century, and it seems that his time is running out. Miriam has gifted her lovers with immortality yet they tend to start aging rapidly after two hundred years, fated to continue their process of eternal decay in the sarcophagi she keeps in the attic since she cannot bring herself to destroy their physical bodies. Feeling angered that Miriam so resignedly accepts this, and betrayed because Miriam seems to have already picked out his replacement in teenage violin student (GUIDING LIGHT's Beth Ehlers), seeks help from Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon, WHITE PALACE) who has been experimenting with chimps to find a way to stop or reverse accelerated aging syndromes and has just published a book on her work. Sarah dismisses John as a kook only to be confronted by him later in the day significantly aged. When Sarah shows up at their home, Miriam – who has entombed John with her other lovers – tells her that John has gone to a clinic in Switzerland and decides that Sarah would make a suitable replacement.
While THE HUNGER is yet another one of the strain of vampire films that purposefully do not use the term, the adaptation of Whitley Streiber's novel by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas (LADYHAWKE) is even more ambiguous about Miriam's back-story and seems more like an outline on which Scott could pull some exposition in between visual set-pieces (Scott came to filmmaking from television commercials like his brother Ridley and fellow Brit Adrian Lyne who was also making his debut around this period). The film drops a lot of the background with only "flashes" of flashbacks revealing her presence in ancient Egypt and meeting John in the eighteenth century. Other aspects of the book have been pruned down to the point that one questions their inclusion at all in the film adaptation like Lieutenant Allegrezza's (Dan Hedaya, ALIEN: RESURRECTION) investigation into Alice's disappearance as well as Sarah's relationship with colleague Tom Haver (SHOCK TREATMENT's Cliff De Young). The ending was changed from the book in a manner that completely contradicts what little vampire lore there was established here. THE HUNGER, however, is not fondly remembered for its plotting as for Scott's gorgeous visual style – including the contributions of cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (BATMAN FOREVER) and the film's art direction and costume design (as well as Deneuve's Yves St. Laurent wardrobe) – and its use of music including the synth work of Danny Jaeger and Michael Rubini (Michael Mann's MANHUNTER), Schubert's "Trio in E Flat" (used previously by Stanley Kubrick in BARRY LYNDON), Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" for the opening scene, and Iggy Pop's "Funtime" in the film's most MTV-esque sequence. Of course, the most memorable piece in the film is Delibes' "Lakme" (conducted by Howard Blake who supervised the music for the film) underscoring the film's lesbian scene which is prettily-photographed but tame stuff for fans of Jess Franco or Jean Rollin but prettily-photographed and dynamite for American viewers of the time (and adolescents who first saw this on videotape). The special effects were created by Roger Dicken (ALIEN) with puppeteer/stop motion artist David Allen (PUPPET MASTER) – with whom Dicken had worked on Larry Cohen's Q the previous year – was responsible for the monkey effects. The supporting cast includes brief appearances by then-unknowns singer Ann Magnuson (TANK GIRL), Willem Dafoe (THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST), John Pankow (MONKEY SHINES), James Aubrey (LORD OF THE FLIES), and Sophie Ward (YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES).
Released on video and laserdisc in a grainy panned-and-scanned transfer, THE HUNGER was one of the many Panavision films that would first get semi-respectable treatment on laserdisc in Japan before MGM released their own widescreen disc in the early nineties (while repackaging the panned-and-scanned version for sell-through VHS). Warner purchased the Turner Entertainment holdings in 1996 including the pre-1986 MGM library and would release THE HUNGER on DVD in 2004 in an anamorphic widescreen transfer with commentary from Tony Scott and Susan Sarandon. After Warner Archive's strong showing with WOLFEN – barebones but with an absolutely stunning transfer and a revelatory 5.1 track from the rarely heard 70mm 6-track elements – hopes were high when they made their surprise announcement for THE HUNGER although the vaulted negative had faded and had to be digitally restored when Warner released the film on DVD in 2004. A BD50 with a high bitrate, THE HUNGER is indeed a stunner with every fleck of grain in place, vivid reds, blacks which are sometimes bottomless and sometimes grainy, and fine detail even in the BARRY LYNDON-esque available light shots. The image is as razor sharp as it can be when one takes into account the visual style being fostered by Scott, his brother Ridley, and Adrian Lyne as British commercial directors making their incredibly stylized feature debuts in the MTV age with backlighting, smoke, fog, diffuse occlusions in front of the lenses (veils, billowing curtains) and light sources (Venetian blinds, spinning fans). The original mono audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and makes one wish for a surround remix. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. (Eric Cotenas)
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