The Hunger and the Art of Horror

It’s six minutes of stunning visuals, dizzying lighting and frantic editing set to an ominous goth rock anthem and one of the most incredible opening sequences ever filmed. Two figures dressed in black and camouflaged behind sunglasses (Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) move into the smoky shadows to discover a young couple in a crowded dance club floor. A visual seduction of the couple begins as the camera snaps back and forth to the lead singer of the punk band Bauhaus Peter Murphy, who looks like a bat behind a wire cage and sings “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in a deep, throaty bass. The action shifts to the young couple’s home as the seduction continues, culminating in a shocking moment of gory violence when Deneuve and Bowie suddenly slit the couple’s throats. From the moment of the 1983 horror masterpiece The hunger begins, Director Tony Scottcamera operator Stephen Goldblattand music composers Denny Hunter and Michael Rubini Don’t waste time letting the audience know you’re about to experience a piece of masterful art.


Almost 40 years since its original release, The hunger remains the best example of how a horror film about modern Manhattan vampires can also be a magnum opus of sensational, sensual grandeur.

Deneuve, Bowie, Sarandon – a perfect cast

Scott wanted to make a film that was as great as it was scary, starting with the casting of the main actors. As the matriarchal vampire Miriam Blaylock, Deneuve, with her stunning beauty and flawless porcelain skin, is the perfect subject for artists. Her aloof, icy facial expression makes her alluring yet intimidating. She’s hiding something behind her immaculate facade, but it’s something you might not want to know.

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Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero (Barry Lyndon, Marie Antoinette) emphasizes mystery by dressing Miriam in lace veils that obscure her face, hats that lend a shadowy silhouette, and classically tailored suits that emphasize Miriam’s literal timelessness. As Miriam’s partner John, David Bowie has just the right amount of androgynous loveliness and vampiric danger. With one eye of steel blue and one deep brown, John is an otherworldly character, a man existing in his own unique dimension. Unlike Miriam and John, Suzanne Sarandon, as Sarah Roberts, is the pro in the lab coat with the playful semi-punk hair. A dedicated doctor studying the aging process, she’s a pro by day, but with a touch of naughtiness by night. As Sarah becomes enmeshed in the lives of Miriam and John, Scott crafts her narrative like a ballet of temptation and tension.

The juxtaposition of beauty and violence

Cameraman Goldblatt frames practically every shot The hunger brought to life like an elegant oil painting. The camera pans across the interior of Miriam and John’s expansive brownstone like the tip of an artist’s brush, white lace curtains ruffled by the breeze from the open windows, the sweeping marble staircase bathed in bluish hues, and a faint background fog that will house accentuates hallways arches and columns that hint at ancient riches and modern sophistication.

At the same time, Miriam and John have a boring, gray concrete basement with an incinerator where they dump the bodies of the victims, which they feast on to preserve their eternal youth. This irritating juxtaposition of the beautiful and the terrible is a recurring theme The hunger. As the spectators are seduced by the exquisite and serene, they are suddenly hurled into terror and darkness. As John begins to age rapidly within hours, his striking beauty being replaced by sagging skin and sunken eyes, the landscape around him changes as well. John moves from the grandeur of the brownstone to the cold stone walls of Sarah’s clinic, then to the steel gray sky and the gritty, rain-soaked streets of New York City.

Jaeger and Rubini’s musical score also accentuates these surprising tonal shifts, moving from the classical sounds of violins and cellos to the modern sounds of electronic synthesizers. This contrast is underscored in a particularly gruesome and heartbreaking scene involving Miriam and John’s 15-year-old violin student, Alice (Beth Ehlers). While Alice is performing a classic play by Édouard Lalo, John slits her throat in a desperate attempt to keep himself alive. A splatter of deep red blood lands on one side of Alice’s white sheet music. It’s as if director Scott is reminding viewers of the fine line between stillness and brutality, pleasure and pain. Scott and Goldblatt also meld religious symbolism with Luciferian themes in the film, particularly in the scene where David meets his ultimate destiny. As Miriam carries David, now a century old, to his eternal resting place in the attic in a single day, Goldblatt creates a vivid rendition of Michelangelo’s La Pietà. Holding the almost lifeless David in her arms as a veil of white light falls from above, Miriam resembles the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. But instead of ascending to heaven like Christ, David remains in a state of eternal purgatory, unable to die and escape endless torture.

film and music art

The hungerThe union of cinematic and musical artistry reaches its climax in the pivotal seduction scene between Miriam and Sarah. Miriam serves Sarah a special sherry in a delicate crystal glass, then sits down at the piano and plays Léo Delibe’s “Lakmé Flower Duet” while Sarah is entranced by the sounds and sensations they convey. Soon the two women are in bed together, and Scott re-enacts the moment like a painting, with Miriam and Sarah entwining on pristine white sheets as mesh curtains trail around them as the “Flower Duet” continues to play in the background. Incidentally, in a 2009 interview about this seduction scene, Sarandon talked about how she and Deneuve worked with director Scott to bring a sense of artistry and eroticism to the scene. Sarandon also humorously noted what she said to Scott: “You know, I’m sorry but do you really have to be drunk to go to bed with Catherine Deneuve? Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if I went to bed with her because I chose to? And because she’s hot and I want it?”

In the midst of this highly charged eroticism, Miriam bites Sarah’s arm and blood spurts out of Sarah as the classical music fades to ominous electronics. The audience is once again roused from its halcyon haze and realizes that Miriam has instilled something alien, something insecure in Sarah. Even though The hunger was filmed in 1983, several years before AIDS was widely recognized as a global health emergency, observing the scene today it could almost serve as a metaphor – a person whose blood becomes infected with a pollutant that will change their lives forever.

The broken chain of eternal life

Scott and Goldblatt create a stunning mise-en-scène of aesthetic beauty and gruesome violence at the film’s climax when Sarah, struggling against Miriam’s control, cuts her throat with the blade of Miriam’s Egyptian ankh necklace and all the cursed undead lovers of Miriam unleashes those hidden in the attic. As a bloodied Sarah lies dying, Miriam’s eternal beauty begins to die too, her face and body rapidly deteriorating as the hideous undead surround her. A flock of white doves, symbols of peace and renewal, gather around the gruesome scene as Miriam fades. Miriam’s final slow-motion leap from the top of a staircase is beautiful in its own terrifying way – a being that was once so angelic in appearance is slowly falling into a hideous eternal hell of her own making. Sarah’s later rebirth as Miriam’s successor gives meaning to the doves that previously circled her bloodied body.

In the early 1980s, the horror genre was dominated by low-budget slasher films like the Friday the 13th and Halloween Franchise. The hunger was this rare entry that pushed the boundaries and dared to give audiences a more refined movie experience while still delivering those “peek between the fingers” scares. Its influence can be seen in recent horror films such as Ari Asters midsummer and Luca Guadagninos 2018 re-release of suspiracy. Even Ryan Murphy appreciated The hunger in the 2016 television season American Horror Story: HotelWith Lady Gaga as a Miriam Blaylock-like character. The hunger has earned its place as a classic and 39 years later is still a stunning example that a horror film can also be a work of art. The Hunger and the Art of Horror

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