A Love Letter From My Teenage Goth Heart To Tony Scott’s "The Hunger"
You know, the '80s vampire film starring David Bowie in a rubber old-man suit.
The Hunger lied to me.
The Hunger told me that goth clubs have Bauhaus singing "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in a cage on the regular, with noted cadaverous motherfucker Peter Murphy – flipping his jacket over his head to look like a cross between a bat and the Afghan Girl from the cover of National Geographic – backlit by blue light piercing through smoke from 400 cigarettes sucked down by hot pale people with cheekbones like razors.
That is how The Hunger opens. It is the first lie in this '80s Bonnie Tyler video of a vampire film, which might have got filed under HORROR or EROTIC DRAMA depending on which video store clerk was working that day.
The Hunger told me that people in goth clubs look like David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, and that when you go home with people who look like David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve they pour drinks from crystal decanters into crystal glasses that they keep in their lush museum apartments. The Hunger told me that even though they have a four-poster bed draped with cream chiffon, David Bowie will have sex with you on the kitchen bench instead, and Catherine Deneuve won't even stop to put her cigarette out before she kills you for food.
I was 15 when I saw The Hunger, 18 years after it came out, and it set me up for a disappointment few things have matched: actual goth clubs.
In Australia in the early 2000s, actual goth clubs were full of fat 40-year-olds with their chins drawn on, like Boy George before he got into yoga and kale juice. The clubs, usually basements, were full of puffy shirts from Seinfeld worn over leather trousers that squeaked as the wearer walked. They were crammed with boys who worked in budget hi-fi shops and called themselves Raven on Saturdays but Andrew on any other, people who Blu-Tacked Marilyn Manson posters to their ceilings and left their black wash in a pile for their mothers to deal with.
When you erroneously went home with them, there were no crystal glasses, but you might get homemade booze if you were unlucky – shit dyed-green vodka they called "chartreuse" because vampires in Poppy Z. Brite novels were into that and no one really knew what chartreuse was anyway. And as you had regrettable teenage sex with them, a copy of Hellbound: Hellraiser II on video, wedged between the sofa cushions in their parents' basement, would jab repeatedly into your own fat back.
This was not the world The Hunger promised me.
The Hunger came out in 1983, the theatrical debut of Tony Scott, Ridley's younger brother (Ridley had already done Alien and Blade Runner at this point — no pressure). Deneuve plays an immortal vampire called Miriam Blaylock who promises eternal life to all her human lovers, the current one being John (David Bowie, Let's Dance-era). But her promise of forever isn't wholly true: Her main lays get eternal life, but not eternal youth – as far as we can tell, their ageing process is concertina'd into a single week after 300 years of sex in the shower with Catherine Deneuve.
As they wither one by one into hideous old bald people, she slots them into coffins in her attic where they lie awake and moan her name forever. Deneuve is about 6,000 years old. Her attic is crowded and loud.
Susan Sarandon plays the doctor Bowie tracks down in the early stages of his decrepitude. She's been experimenting on monkeys, exploring the theory that ageing is a disease that can be cured, and here's Bowie: a vampire scared of getting old. While he waits in her surgery he ages months per minute; his hair falls out in the time it takes him to watch a Tom & Jerry cartoon. During filming, Bowie has said, to get his voice as hoarse as he needed it to so drastically become, he stood on the George Washington Bridge every night and screamed all the punk songs he knew.
Sarandon ends up sleeping with a sad, widowed Deneuve, becoming her new human/vampire hybrid companion while we, the audience, are still getting over seeing Bowie grow ancient and piss himself in a coffin. David fucking Bowie. Sarandon said that the script originally called for her to be drunk in the lead-up to her sex scene, but she wisely pointed out the obvious when she said she'd rather her character got into bed sober: "You wouldn't have to get drunk to bed Catherine Deneuve, I don't care what your sexual history to that point had been."
The Hunger is an overly stylised 97-minute perfume advert for cigarettes, which makes sense: Scott spent 15 years making commercials before he made this film. And after this bizarrely anti-blockbuster, super-soft lesbian porno, he made the hyper-commercial Top Gun with Tom Cruise. The Hunger is a weird anomaly in an otherwise Jerry Bruckheimer-y career.
And he didn't like it.
And after breaking my heart several times over, Tony Scott didn't even like it.
In the end, no one really liked it. Critics didn't like it. Roger Ebert called it "agonisingly bad" and said the Sarandon/Deneuve sex scene was "about the only time in the whole movie there aren't curtains blowing in the wind". (He's wrong though, there were totally curtains blowing in the wind – I know because they got in the way of some screenshots I was trying to take.) Sarandon thought it was ruined by a tacked-on ending that didn't follow the film's own set of rules (MGM bolted an ambiguous one on in the hopes of a sequel that didn't happen), Bowie told Rolling Stone he was worried it was "perversely bloody", and Tony Scott himself called it a disaster.
Objection, your honour: It's just another cult film in a long line of cult films whose makers find it embarrassing but whose fans love it unconditionally. I love that Deneuve mounts the stairs to her bedroom and casts a shadow like Nosferatu, because it's not a vampire movie until someone throws a shadow like Count Orlok. I love that Scott hired one of the most beautiful men who ever fell to earth to be his leading guy, then stuck him in a rubber old-man suit for pretty much everything but the poster. Baller move.
The Hunger didn't tell me the whole bleak truth, but neither did Deneuve to Bowie. It's a movie about broken promises and lies and old lovers and the coffins you make for them before you crawl into your own, and if you're in a certain mood and have a certain blood alcohol level, you could probably say it's a metaphor for something – for your own failed relationships and the people you've put in a mental box to forget.
I'll love it forever even if Tony Scott didn't: a knackered VHS under a sheet in the attic, with all my haggard belongings. Love and lies, life and death, ad nauseam.