The Vampires of The Hunger Haunt Eternity in Endlessly Considered Glamour – Vulture

A little hydrogen peroxide will get that right out.

Photo: MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Tony Scotts The Hunger, his 1983 film adaptation of Whitley Striebers 1981 book of the same name, opens in the most perfect way a vampire movie can: Catherine Deneuves Miriam Blaylock and her husband, John (David Bowie), are cruising for snacks in a goth nightclub. Bauhaus is performing Bela Lugosis Dead, and everything is glowing blue and cloaked in shadows. Miriam smokes a cigarette in a pillbox hat and cats-eye frames; John wears a tailored black shirt with a standing collar and tea shades. Strobe lights shrink into the reflections of their sunglasses. The pair spots a couple dancing together, and all they have to do is wave. Soon, the womans leather jacket has been pried open to expose more neck and collarbone; the mans T-shirt collar has been cut off to reveal the same. They look a little less polished than before and a lot more vulnerable. After slashing their victims throats with blades hidden in matching golden ankh pendants, John and Miriam drink them up and immediately burn the remains in a basement incinerator. Clean eating.

The Hunger was Tony Scotts feature-film debut after 15 years of making commercials for his brother Ridley Scotts production outfit. Reviewers decried its slickness but never failed to make note of its incredible sense of style. Scott enlisted master costumer Milena Canonero (of A Clockwork Orange and The Shining), who imbued the Blaylocks with a relentless cool. The word vampire is never uttered in the film; every little thing hinges on knowing it when you see it. The Blaylocks check a multitude of boxes one would expect from immortals of a certain class position: They have an enormous Manhattan townhouse filled to the brim with antiquities once contemporary to them; they give private classical-music lessons; they spend their days mostly idle in head-to-toe couture. (Deneuve was outfitted by friend and collaborator Yves Saint Laurent.) They wear what looks good and do what feels good, and once a week, in order to sustain their lifestyles and life spans, they feed on human blood. Everything feels apparent in the films knowing, supernatural sense of chic.

At the beginning of the movie, John begins to find that, though Miriams promise of eternal life is true, the guarantee of eternal youth holds only for her. Catching a glimpse of himself in a Polaroid, he notices some new wrinkles not in his crisp beige suit but in his face. In one day, John ages 170 years courtesy of the excellent special-effects makeup by Dick Smith, who also did The Exorcist and The Godfather unknowingly doomed to the same fate as Miriams previous lovers: locked away in coffins in the attic, minds intact but bodies rotting. In a last-ditch effort to find something resembling a cure, he pursues Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a researcher studying rapid aging in chimpanzees.

Bowie does a lot with his limited screen time, and Johns decay is wonderfully grotesque. As his age catches up with him, his movements grow clumsier, everything that had once been instinctive becoming torturously labored. He hesitates to draw his blade in a mens restroom. He tries to kill a roller skater in Central Park but only manages to cut him. When he does claim one final victim one of the couples classical-music students (and Miriams intended replacement for him) he makes a big, sloppy mess of her. As his youth slips away, so does his power. And you can see it: The sleek, strong lines of his double-breasted jacket, which he wore as a young man just the day before, seem to rumple and collapse. He quickly becomes a withered old man in a withered old suit, pathetically begging his partner of 200 years for one last kiss.

Though Sarah initially dismisses John as an old crank, she takes him seriously after witnessing him age multiple decades in two hours. But its too late. After John is laid to eternal restlessness in the attic, Sarah shows up guiltily at the Blaylocks front door, where Miriam casts a glamour spell. The next time Sarah shows up on that doorstep, she doesnt really know why shes there, but Miriam invites her in anyway. Sarah peers around and lingers in front of a sculpture. This is real, isnt it? she asks, to which Miriam responds, yes, it is 2,000 years old. Youve got so many beautiful things, Sarah says, and Miriams response doesnt warrant any questioning: Most of it comes from my family. After living through centuries of trend cycles, its easy for ones tastes to become frighteningly refined.

The two women talk over glasses of sherry. Miriam wears a structured black dress with shoulder pads and a plunging neckline, her hair sculpted into a perfect chignon; Sarah is in a blazer and a plain white T-shirt. At some point, Sarah takes the blazer off. She seems a little overwhelmed, though not unnerved, by this beautiful woman and all her beautiful things, especially the ankh pendant resting between her breasts. Miriam sits at the piano and plays the Flower Duet from Lo Delibess Lakm. Diffuse bluish light comes through the sheer curtains and bounces off her jewelry. It gives her a cold, glimmering aura everything about Miriam and her surroundings is a reflection of 2,000 years of practice, an opulence attainable only with an excess of time.

Sarah asks Miriam what she does in her leisure time. When Miriam says, My time is my own, Sarah fantasizes out loud for a moment: Plenty of time for your friends, lots of lunches and dinners, cocktail parties at the Museum of Modern Art She lounges in a chair behind the piano and listens. The sleeves of her T-shirt are rolled up, she isnt wearing a bra, and you see the smallest glimpses of some nondescript post earrings and a smart-looking watch. Her look is emblematic of the increasingly casual 80s. Her fantasies are those of the proto-yuppie who is not quite there yet but definitely on her way.

Sarah asks if Miriam is lonely now that her husband is away, then spills sherry on herself. Miriam helps Sarah take her T-shirt off, and the two have sex, Miriam giving Sarah the gift-curse of everlasting life in the process. At dinner with her boyfriend, Tom Haver (Cliff De Young), Sarah is unfocused and shaky, barely able to look at him. She stares at women swimming in the adjacent buildings pool. She orders a rare steak but cant eat a single bite. And shes wearing an ankh pendant of her own. Tom is suspicious. You just met her, and she gives you a present? he asks, and Sarah is immediately defensive: Shes that kind of a woman. Shes European.

At night, Sarah is restlessly, ravenously hungry and vomits nonstop. Tom forces her to get a blood test, and they find two different strains of blood fighting for dominance in her veins one nonhuman and stronger than ours. When Sarah asks whos winning, she doesnt get a response. A furious Sarah storms over to Miriams building clammy-skinned and slightly delirious in a weakly billowing trench coat. Miriam is honest about her gift: The second strain of blood is hers. You belong to me. We belong to each other, Miriam says, as she has repeatedly for centuries. (I think a lot about an interview with the vampiric designer Rick Owens in the March 2002 issue of DM Magazine. When asked about the persistent allure of vampires, he responds: Well, we know its about sex. Most everything is. The idea of devouring, consuming, possessing someone we desire.)

Sarah flees, but experiencing a supernatural withdrawal, she soon returns, sweating through her clothing. Miriam initiates her into the ranks of the immortal aristocracy, her baptismal drink coming from Tom when he shows up at the townhouse looking for her. Sarah must get used to the role of Miriams lover. Soon you will forget what you were, Miriam says. As the two kiss, Sarah rejects Miriams gift, reaching for the ankh pendant and stabbing herself in the throat, her blood spurting into Miriams mouth. Miriam begins another mournful march to the attic, but as she lays Sarah down, wood creaks, doves fly, and a legion of undead lovers climbs out of their coffins to confront her. She screams in horror as they descend upon her in a flurry of rotting limbs and tattered fabric, tulle veils and lace skirts falling apart as they grab at her.

Fashion loves vampires, and vampires love fashion. Like Harry Kmels Daughters of Darkness and Jean Rollins Fascination before it, The Hunger depicts a designers ideal subjects and clients: inhumanly beautiful beings who possess endless time and money. (Alexander McQueens spring-summer 1996 collection, best known for featuring a clear bodice full of live worms, was named after the film.) The Hunger stands apart in how seductive its modern-day vampires are; the look and feel of the film influenced the aesthetic of Propaganda, Fred H. Bergers foundational goth zine. It is fun to imagine how these supernatural elites adapt to each era; if your body remains forever young and your mind contains an endless number of references, the distinction between contemporary, retro, vintage, and even antique ceases to matter when youre sustained by an infinite supply of new blood.

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The Vampires of The Hunger Haunt Eternity in Endlessly Considered Glamour - Vulture

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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
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