The Hunger (1983)
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital Monaural
Warner Home Video, $19.97

Among a stunning collection of artwork from previous centuries, Miriam and John Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) pass the time by playing orchestral chamber pieces and relaxing in their opulent Manhattan townhouse. Strangers who enter the Blaylocks’ home are overwhelmed by the otherworldly atmosphere, and the unlucky ones are seduced and fed upon. This haute couture couple existing quietly among the living are, in fact, undead. A species of vampire long extinct, Miriam, a survivor from the era of the pharaohs, is the last of her kind. For centuries she has transfused her lovers with her brand of everlasting life, transforming them from mere mortals into vampires.

Unfortunately for John, Miriam’s lover of the last few centuries, Miriam has not been totally honest with him. It seems that although she is eternal, the companions she creates only live for a few hundred years. John has begun to age rapidly and is consumed with hunger for blood.  Terrified and heartbroken, he scrambles to find a solution to his degeneration by visiting a clinic run by Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon). After Sarah visits the Blaylocks’ home, she has difficulty shaking the powerful connection she feels to Miriam and starts to doubt her sense of reality.

The sensual cult favorite The Hunger, director Tony Scott’s first feature, recently made its debut on DVD. Released in 1983, the slick, haunting mood piece was maligned by Reagan-era critics and audiences who were perhaps looking for more traditional bloodsucker fare, but it has gained fans over the years through its incarnations on home video and cable television. Handsomely photographed by Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, BSC (Breaking Glass, The Cotton Club, Angels in America), the picture’s distinctive look remains a hallmark of style in 1980s cinema.

Scott, like his brother Ridley, had recently emerged from the U.K. as a director of commercials and music videos. Accustomed to fetishistic attention to detail and texture, he enlisted Goldblatt to create that type of “look” for The Hunger. The cinematographer’s striking anamorphic work is multi-layered with strong diffusion and a rich color palette to capture designers Clinton Cavers and Brian Morris’ lush set pieces and Milena Canonero and Yves Saint-Laurent’s chic costumes. 

Warner Home Video’s superb transfer of The Hunger expertly re-creates Goldblatt’s meticulous visuals and will please those who know the film well. After the disappointing laserdisc of the early 1990s and the cropped VHS versions, The Hunger has never looked as sumptuous on home screens. The soundtrack included here is a well-rounded monaural track that is vibrant and clear of any distortion. Curiously for a film with such an elaborate sound mix and wonderful score, The Hunger was not originally released in stereo.

The supplements consist of the original theatrical trailer, a collection of stills, and an audio commentary by Scott and Sarandon. Although the commentaries were recorded separately and do not always correspond with what is on screen, both conversations are engaging. Noting that the film’s original negative had faded, Scott says he personally supervised a digital intermediate to make this new DVD version and is thrilled with the results. He discusses his attention to art direction and lighting in the film, which was criticized for being too self-indulgent. The director also notes that the key stylistic influences on The Hunger were the works of Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanksi, photographer Helmut Newton, and Scott’s brother Ridley. Sarandon offers good-humored insight into the development of the narrative and characters, balancing anecdotes about the shoot with observations about Scott’s direction and her enthusiasm for the film.

From its flashy, violent, opening sequences to its melancholy finale, The Hunger is not for all tastes, but it is certainly a unique entry in the horror genre. Its detractors might liken it to a kinky exercise in style over substance, but it’s hard to imagine the narrative being mounted any other way. In hindsight, the filmmakers’ highly stylized, ethereal choices seem absolutely correct for the material. With this sumptuous DVD presentation, you might believe that the beauteous Deneuve will truly live forever. 

— Kenneth Sweeney

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.