THE HUNGER (1983): Screening notes


  • Made in 1983 
  • Running time: 1hr 37min
  • Directed by Tony Scott
  • Full colour (& a lot of smoke…) 
  • In English with English captions


An erotic horror film loosely adapted from the 1981 novel by Whitley Strieber (which is a hard read…). THE HUNGER premiered at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival and has grown a cult following

French cinema legend Catherine Deneuve stars as ancient vampire Miriam, David Bowie is her longterm companion John, and Susan Sarandon is the new love interest, Sarah. You’ll also see an early career appearance by Willem Dafoe as “2nd Phone Booth Youth”.

Whilst David Bowie wasn’t entirely thrilled with the finished film (see below), he oddly went on to host the second season of spin-off TV anthology series also called THE HUNGER (1997-2000) featuring “steamy, erotic and often supernatural tales of power, sex, lust, and driving urges”.

Key things

We love the IMDb description of THE HUNGER: “A love triangle develops between a beautiful yet dangerous vampire, her cellist companion, and a gerontologist.” Because it is an almost random telling of the story based on people’s job descriptions. But there’s much more to THE HUNGER than people’s work…

It was Tony Scott’s first feature film, following his brother from the world of advertising to the world of filmmaking. The visuals occasionally try too hard to be atmospheric – or maybe it’s just because the restored Blu-Ray presents all the smoke they pumped into the sets to catch the light look hazardous to the cast and crew’s health. He also acknowledges the almost dream-like story-telling, as is we are watching an opera, THE HUNGER is told in swathes of mood rather than detailed plot and character development.*

And it’s sexy as all hell, with Catherine and Susan getting it on before letting the blood flow. Sarandon defines this as the “film that changed my demographic” and you will see why.*

But the obvious bisexuality of the plot and character isn’t the only queer interest in THE HUNGER. It was made and set in the early 1980s when the HIV/AIDS pandemic was starting to get its devastating grip on marginalised queer and minority communities. 

News of what we came to know as HIV/AIDS was first reported in 1981 in the gay newspaper The New York Native and first clinically reported in 1981. In 1982, the disease known as gay-related immune deficiency, GRID, was renamed AIDS, when it was realised the illness wasn’t isolated to the gay community. In 1983, the year of the film, the world was first learning that it was a novel retrovirus that was causing the destruction. In the same year, activists Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz published their booklet How to Have Sex in an Epidemic about how to avoid infection. It was one of the first sources to recommend using a condom to prevent disease transmission amongst men who have sex with men.

Does the film deal with any of this? Not at all, but it is a classic exploitation film trick to channel the zeitgeist to create a sense of unease. Whilst Sarandon’s scientist character is searching for the secret of longevity – with scenes of animal experimentation that you might want to cover your eyes for – the one character who has eternal life, Miriam, is plagued by the premature death of her partners from some mysterious disease. Bowie’s character starts to age prematurely, his youthful visage transformed into an old man by some of Dick Smith’s most startling makeup FX.

David Bowie wasn’t overly sure about his appearance in the film, having this to say: “I must say, there’s nothing that looks like it on the market. But I’m a bit worried that it’s just perversely bloody at some points.”

Similarly, critic Camille Paglia wrote in Sexual Personae (1990) that while THE HUNGER comes close to being a masterpiece of the “classy genre of vampire film”, it is “ruined by horrendous errors, as when the regal Catherine Deneuve is made to crawl around on all fours, slavering over cut throats”.

To my mind, that’s exactly why we’re here…

We present to you, THE HUNGER!

[*Quotes from Blu-Ray commentary] 

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