David Bowie as a vampire! That’s one of the attractions of the cult classic The Hunger, released in 1983. The movie is famed for Bowie’s part and also for several other aspects, including its impressive opening sequence, featuring Bauhaus.
Bowie and Catherine Deneuve play an elegant, glamorous vampire couple who live in luxury in New York. The title, The Hunger, refers to the way Bowie and Deneuve survive, by feeding on the blood of victims.
It is beautifully filmed, every frame is stylish. The Hunger was the movie debut of director Tony Scott who went on to direct many hit movies such as Top Gun in 1986, and more recently The Taking of Pelham 123 in 2009.
The Hunger’s Opening Sequence
The movie has one of the most dramatic opening sequences I have ever seen, appropriately ominous and exciting. The opening credits are intercut with scenes of the great British goth band Bauhaus performing in a club.
The band are suspended in a cage, with only singer Peter Murphy clearly visible, singing the stark and hypnotic track, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ .
Bauhaus’ performance continues, intercut into the first scene, which shows Bowie and Deneuve as an elegantly dressed couple looking for sex partners in the club and taking them to their New York mansion-like home. You can see what becomes of them in the video clip at the bottom of the article!
In the clip, watch out for Bowie with black hair, shown in the scene to be a wig.
David acts well and his charisma is evident, as well as his dedication. The director remarked on his discipline. Also, in the movie he is a cellist, who earns his living teaching classical music. All of the movie’s music subsequent to the opening by Bauhaus is classical music, such as Bach and Schubert.
“Most actors would have faked it, using a professional musician for the close-ups. Not David.”
Instead, David learned how to play the cello in order to be more convincing in the film scenes.
“He worked like a bahstahd (sic) until he could play a decent Bach cantata!”
Note that Bowie is not present throughout the movie. Catherine Deneuve is instead the key person in the movie. She is known as a cool elegant beauty, a legendary French actress and a veteran of over 100 films. The Hunger is one of only seven English-language films in which she has starred.
For the movie she was dressed by designer Yves Saint Laurent. In fact, she is considered Saint Laurent’s muse.
Deneuve plays Miriam, an immortal and eternally youthful vampire who has been alive for thousands of years.
John (David Bowie) begins to age and seeks help from a doctor (Susan Sarandon) who specializes in the study of aging.
Fantastic Make Up Effects
There is a wonderful scene where Bowie’s character is left in the doctor’s waiting room for some hours and, in that time, he ages many decades. The aging is not created by computer-generated effects. This is 1983, remember!
Instead, Bowie’s appearance is the result of five hours a day of incredible make-up designed by Dick Smith.
Smith also created the look of Marlon Brando in The Godfather and of Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
The year after The Hunger, he won an Oscar for his efforts on Amadeus (1984).
Love Scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon
Sarandon, who had dismissed Bowie as a crank, sees the incredible aging he has experienced and, intrigued, tries to find him. She meets instead Catherine Deneuve, who seduces her, which must have looked really hot back in the day and still is very worth seeing.
The love scene is sensual and tasteful, set to the sound of a female duet from an opera.
It is an arty film, about our fear of aging and about the ugliness that may be the reality beneath superficial beauty.
But it is also an enjoyable movie with memorable scenes and images.
It inspired a TV series of the same name in the late Nineties, but it is the eerie and haunting original movie that has become a cult over the years since its release, especially in the gay community.
For a brief time, the term was originally ‘Gothic punk’, but that is a story that deserves its own retrospective.
Bauhaus were very influenced by David Bowie and repaid the debt by covering his ‘Ziggy Stardust’. The single became their biggest hit, reaching #15 in Britain.
Their performance for The Hunger was filmed at Heaven, a club in London, not New York. Bowie was present while they performed.
Peter Murphy said,
“It took four takes, and there was a moment where I just … felt something. And sure enough, behind the lights, he was up there on his own in the balcony, watching us.”
Peter said it was “a major epiphany” when the director told him that Bowie had approved the use of Bauhaus.
Outside Britain, they are probably best known for their scene in The Hunger, but just months after the movie was released, they broke up. Bauhaus never became big on the scale they deserved.
Peter Murphy went on to subsequent success in the Eighties with college radio and MTV hits like ‘Cuts You Up’ and ‘All Night Long’, while the rest of Bauhaus became Love and Rockets and also enjoyed success, particularly with ‘So Alive’ which made it to #3 in the States in 1989.
In a completion of the circle, Murphy recently had the second movie role of his career, directly following on from the first.
Murphy played a brief cameo role as The Cold One, the father of a tribe of vampires, in megahit Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Murphy said that:
“(This) confirmed that ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ is the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the ’80s and beyond”
Here is the definitive Bauhaus performance of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, over the opening sequence of The Hunger.