Horror Film Review: The Hunger (dir by Tony Scott)


“Bela Lugosi’s dead….” Peter Murphy sings at the start of 1983’s The Hunger and, in the case of this film, it’s as much of a challenge as a tribute.

Bela Lugosi and Dracula are gone, the film announces, and so is the old-fashioned vampire movie.  Here’s a new look at an old favorite….

Of course, seen today, The Hunger doesn’t seem new.  Since The Hunger‘s release, there’s been  a countless number of films in which vampires have been decadent and chic aristocrats, hanging out in dark nightclubs and looking at the world with ennui-stricken eyes.  By today’s standards, the stylish decadence of The Hunger can seem almost quaint.  Much like Paul Schrader’s remake of Cat People, The Hunger is such a film of the 80s that you half-expect someone to offer you a line coke while you’re watching it.  Also, like Cat People, it’s such a glorious tribute to excess that there’s no way you can’t watch it once it starts.  It’s hypnotic in its excess.

In The Hunger, our vampires are Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) and her lover, John (David Bowie).  Miriam has been a vampire since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians.  Rather than sinking her fangs into the necks of her victims, Miriam uses an Ankh pendant to slit their throats.  John was once a cellist in 18th century France.  Now, they live in an expensive New York townhouse, where they teach classical music and occasionally murder anyone that they can convince to come up to see them.

When they first met, Miriam promised John that he would have eternal life but she didn’t promise him eternal youth.  Unfortunately, it takes 200 years for John to notice.  When he starts to rapidly age, he seeks out aging expert Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) for help.  Though Dr. Roberts is originally dismissive of his claims, she is shocked to see John age several years in just an hour.

When an angry and desperate John kills the music student (Beth Ehlers) that Miriam was hoping to transform into her next lover, Miriam is forced to search elsewhere.  When Sarah shows up, searching for the man who aged years in an hour, Miriam feels that her search may be over.

As one might expect from a film directed by Tony Scott, The Hunger is an extremely stylish film, to the extent that the film’s story is often secondary to the way that Scott chooses to tell it.  The set design is so ornate and every scene is so precisely lit and shot and that, at times, the movie feels a bit like a commercial for vampirism.  It’s easy to imagine Britney Spears singing “Work Bitch” in the background of some of the scenes.  (“You want a hot body?  You want a Bugatti?  You Want a Maserati?  You better work vamp.”)  Throughout the film, New York glows like a neon wonderland while John and Miriam coolly look out over the world like 18th century French aristocrats who have no idea that they have a future date with the guillotine.  At times, it’s a film that becomes almost ludicrous in its celebration of grandeur and style.  One could imagine Jean Rollin telling the same story just as effectively while spending a lot less money.

And yet, it’s that very embrace of the over-the-top ludicrousness of it all that makes The Hunger a memorable film.  The film’s a tribute to excess, with an ending that falters precisely because it attempts to reject precisely what it’s spent the past hour and a half celebrating.  The Hunger doesn’t add up too much but its hypnotically stylish and well-acted by a cast who does their best to keep up with Tony Scott’s camera.

 

Celebrate Easter With Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick!


To those who observe the holiday, happy Easter!

Above, we have a picture of Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol posing with two rabbits.  I’m not really sure whether or not this picture was actually taken for Easter but let’s pretend like it was.  Andy certainly doesn’t look very happy with his rabbit.

Fortunately, he appears to be in a better mood in the picture below, which also features both Edie and Catherine Deneuve.

And, finally, in this next picture, Andy is finally actually smiling.  How couldn’t you smile with that many rabbits around?  Seriously, rabbits are incredibly cute.

Finally, let’s end this with Andy Warhol’s 1982 painting, Eggs:

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #49: Hustle (dir by Robert Aldrich)


HustleContinuing our journey into the dark Hell of the 1970s, we now take a quick look at the 1975 cop film, Hustle.

Taking place in Los Angeles, Hustle tells the story of several different people who find their lives intertwined in the desperate dance of existence.  (Does that sound overdramatic?  Well, that’s the type of film that this is.)

There’s Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a lawyer with bright rosy cheeks and a friendly manner.  You look at Leo and you automatically assume that he must be a nice guy, the type of guy who puts on a fake beard and plays Santa Claus down at the local orphanage.  But actually, Leo is a lawyer for the mob.  He’s gotten rich through crime and his mansion hides all sorts of secrets.  He also has a weakness for violently abusing prostitutes.

Speaking of prostitutes, one of Leo’s favorite is Nicole (Catherine Deneuve), an icy French beauty who survives by holding the world at a distance.  Though Nicole doesn’t like Leo, she has to keep him happy because Leo could easily arrange for her to be deported back to France.

Nicole is also the girlfriend of Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds), a cynical homicide detective who, like her, tries to keep the world at a distance.  Phil is obsessed with old films and frequently speaks of how much he wishes the real world could be like a movie.  Throughout the film, he talks about eventually moving to Rome.

Phil’s partner is Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield), who is not quite as cynical as Phil but who is definitely getting there.  Whereas Phil is always talking about how much the world has disappointed him, Louis mostly accepts things without complaint.  He just wants to do his job and go home at the end of the day.

Phil and Louis’s boss is Santoro (Ernest Borgnine, giving a typical Ernest Borgnine performance).  Santoro is not a bad guy but, in order to hold onto his job, he has to keep powerful men like Leo Sellers happy.

Santoro also has to deal with the complaints of people like the Hollingers.  Marty Hollinger (Ben Johnson) is a veteran of the Korean War and handles the world in a gruff and suspicious manner.  Paula (Eileen Brennan) is Marty’s wife and, as a result of his emotional distance, has recently started having an affair.

And then there’s Gloria (Colleen Brennan), Marty and Paula’s daughter.  Gloria ran away from home a while ago and soon found herself working as a stripper, a porn actress, and eventually as a prostitute.  When Gloria is found dead, Phil and Louis get the case.  It’s obvious to them that Gloria committed suicide.  It’s not so obvious to Marty, who is convinced that his daughter was murdered and, disgusted by Phil’s cynical attitude, sets out to investigate the case on his own.

One of the more interesting things about Hustle is that really is no murder mystery.  Despite what Marty believes, Gloria really did commit suicide.  Marty’s insistence that she was murdered has more to do with his guilt over being a bad father than it does with any real evidence.  As Marty investigates his daughter’s life, he is exposed to a sordid world of strip clubs and prostitution.  He discovers that Gloria’s clients included many powerful men and he decides that the last client she saw must have murdered Gloria.

That client is Leo Sellers.  And while Leo may not have murdered Gloria, he is willing to kill Marty to keep his secret life from being exposed.  Phil and Louis are forced to choose between remaining detached or protecting Marty from himself.

And, since this film was made in the 70s, it all ends on a really dark note!

Hustle shows up on Encore occasionally.  It’s a strange film to watch, as it alternates between being a fairly predictable cop film and being a portrait of existential dread.  The movie doesn’t really work; it’s too long, it features some amazingly pretentious dialogue, and Reynolds, Winfield, and Deneuve all seem to be bored with their characters.  Probably the film’s best performance comes from Ben Johnson.  I imagine that has to do with the fact that Johnson is playing the only character who behaves in a fairly consistent way.

And yet, if you’re like me and you’re fascinated with the nonstop fatalism of 70s cinema, Hustle does have some historical value.  It’s one of those films that you watch and you wonder how anyone survived the 1970s!