The Hunger (1983) Blu-ray Review: The Longest Anti-Smoking PSA Ever

Bowie. Babes. Blood. Bauhaus. Carcinogens. That is all.
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For the most part, the world's most famous forms of monsters - epitomized by Universal's Classic Horror films as the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf-Man, Dracula, and The Mummy - represent different stages of human development. We start out as awkward man-made creatures, only to transform into hairy beasts with a ravenous appetite as we mature. Soon comes the vampire stage - where our very innocence is lost in a (sometimes) bloody act of penetration, only to become a dreaded creature of the night (or, "experienced," if you will). Finally - and there is much ground left uncovered here - we reach that stage where we are old and withered; determined to recapture that long lost feeling of love again before we call it quits once and for all.

But of course they could never get away with that back in the '30s and '40s. All they could show us then was people kissing each other dispassionately. Oh, and smoking. Lots and lots of smoking - especially as the '50s reared its head and the act of cigarette consuming was seconded only by the fine art of boozing it up like Lon Chaney, Jr. (probably the only actor to play Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf-Man, Dracula, and The Mummy - and whose liver and lungs were preserved in jars following his death to use as examples of what excessive drinking and smoking can do to you) on New Year's Eve at a party sponsored by the characters of Mad Men at Dean Martin's house.

OK, confession time: I was originally going to segway that into an introduction to Tony Scott's 1983 adaptation of Whitley Streiber's The Hunger and how that film encapsulated both the sexed-up vampire aspect - along with that whole aging lovelorn mummy bit added in there, too - but it all just sorta kinda got out of hand. Instead, I unintentionally poked fun at Lon Chaney, Jr. for no reason. My most sincere of apologies are in order - and I can only cite my distraction on this abundance of cigarette smoke currently circulating throughout the room after viewing Tony Scott's The Hunger - which, in this age of anti-enlightenment, could very well be viewed as the longest Public Service Announcement against tobacco usage ever.

Why? Because everyone smokes and dies in this movie. From a 6,500-year-old Egyptian vampire named Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), to the mortal men and women she seduces, subdues, and subsequently phlebotomizes along with her 200-year-old partner in time, John (David Bowie). But even a party that has been going on for this long has to end - and John's bout with immortality is on the verge of reaching its expiration date when he suddenly stops being able to sleep. It seems sleep is the one true thing enabling these day-walking, outwardly normal nosferatu to stay in the long-running. Once the insomnia kicks in, however, they begin to age rapidly - something Miriam knows but does not disclose until all the contracts have been signed.

Miriam herself, on the other hand, is the Queen Vee of the equation; thus immune to this unwritten bummer of a rule. As Miriam begins to ponder who her next lover will be - a young tomboy high schooler named Alice (Beth Ehlers), whom the blood drinkers teach violin to, shows potential in more than just her musical skills - John decides to seek out the assistance of NYC gerontologist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) who is all over the news to promote her recent research (and book deal) on the subject of aging. Or at least trying to prevent it. Alas, Mr. Bowie's character is quite literally shelved by the time Tony Scott reveals the true meaning of The Hunger: a sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon (and the much-needed cigarette that follows for all parties).

Cliff De Young plays Susan Sarandon's love interest (a few years earlier, Mr. De Young played Brad Majors in Shock Treatment, the lackluster sequel to Mr. Sarandon's most famous cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The great Dan Hedaya (sporting more hair than we usually see him with) has a small role as a detective searching for a missing person. Canadian-born actor Shane Rimmer (aka "That Guy") has an even smaller part as a realtor, and whose very appearance in the film indicates that the interiors of the film were shot in England. An unknown Willem Dafoe has a cameo as a young street urchin. Music's first official Goth group, Bauhaus, who perform "Bela Lugosi's Dead" over the film's MTV-esque opening.

Keeping up with its recent trend of releasing Whitley Streiber adaptations to Blu-ray, the Warner Archive Collection gives fans of The Hunger a chance to be satisfied with a beautiful transfer of this, one of the late Tony Scott's better films. Alas, audiences didn't care for the copious bloodletting, and a confusing, tacked-on ending from the studio doomed The Hunger to be locked in an attic coffin next to other prematurely-aged features of the night. Nevertheless, the title has earned a sizeable cult audience over the years, and while I have never been a Tony Scott fan, it's nice to see this one in High-Definition. A lossless DTS-HD MA mono 2.0 soundtrack accompanies the digitally-restored film, which is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Special features for The Hunger start out with an audio commentary by actress Susan Sarandon and director Tony Scott. No, he isn't speaking to us from the great beyond: this is actually a track that was originally recorded in 2004 for the movie's DVD release. This was one of those edited commentaries where both participants were recorded separately, which tends to remove any comradery and make things sound dry. It's a good listen for fans, just the same. The second and last bonus item to grace this WAC release is that of a theatrical trailer, which is presented in Standard-Definition and is cropped to 1.78:1. Sadly, a free pack of cigarettes is not included with this release, so you'll just have to break out the smoke machine to enjoy this one to the fullest.

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