Within the next half-hour, Judge Clark Douglas will either get naked or turn into a vampire. Probably both.
Indulge your obsessions.
In 1983, director Tony Scott made his directorial debut with The Hunger, an intriguing erotic horror film of sorts starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon. The film was certainly a slow-moving and sometimes exasperating viewing experience, but overall it was a reasonably strong start for a director who would later become known as a reliable go-to guy for hyperactive action. Fast-forward some 14 years or so, and suddenly a guy named Jeff Fazio gets the idea to use the minor cult popularity of the film's title to create a pay-cable television anthology series of the same name. Though this television version of The Hunger has pretty much nothing to do with the feature film in terms of plot, the superficial elements are similar: a blend of atmospheric horror and kinky softcore erotica. The 22 first-season episodes are spread across four discs.
At a first glance, The Hunger may look like thinly veiled softcore smut attempting to pass as credible horror. However, the credentials suggest otherwise. Tony and Ridley Scott are credited as executive producers on the program (Tony also directs the first episode), Terence Stamp (Superman II) serves as host, noted actors like Daniel Craig and Timothy Spall turn up, and credited writers include the likes of Graham Masterson and Harlan Ellison. Surely this series would offer the same sort of reasonably intelligent horror that defined the feature film? Alas, the answer is a disappointing, "not really."
The Hunger falls somewhere between the 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone and a Cinemax After Dark Original Series. It's a disappointingly bland program that relies far too much on style and sensationalism and far too little on substance. The half-hour anthology format doesn't do the program any favors, forcing the show to introduce and dispense with characters in a very brief period of time. There are very few characters here that actually manage to seem like more than their obvious plot function. The show doesn't suffer for lack of talent, as most episodes manage to produce some gifted familiar faces in key roles, but the vast majority of these tales just fail to leave a big impression. The ones that actually do manage to be memorable are typically memorable for the wrong reasons (such as "The Secret Shih-Tan," a disgusting little story about a guy who is asked to kill a woman while making love to her, cook her, and feed her to her former lover).
The subject matter may sound juicy (hey, everybody loves a little sex and bloodshed, right?), but the limited array of story elements actually make the program a bit predictable. That particularly applies to the sexual content in the program. Due to the nature of the show, we know that sexual activity must occur at least once or twice within each 25-minute story. In many cases, our knowledge of this allows us to connect the dots of certain things much too early. If the sex isn't a part of "the big secret," the supernatural horror element also allows viewers to draw easy conclusions. "Yeah, that guy is definitely going to turn out to be a vampire." Both aspects of the program lead to scenes of sex and violence that more often than not feel like gratuitous fan service rather than organic extensions of the plot. This program is a very good example of how the freedom of pay-cable can sometimes turn into its own sort of restriction.
The program is hosted by Terence Stamp, by which I mean that Terence Stamp appears at the opening and close of each program to spew vague philosophical ramblings that seem only very loosely connected to the episodes being featured. He is usually wearing some sort of funny hat. Why? Because everything sounds creepier when said by a man in a funny hat. Also, I am not exaggerating when I say that The Hunger has the most obnoxious main title sequence I have ever witnessed. It's a series of blurry images accompanied by the letters of the word "hunger" appearing one-by-one as a variety of grating screeching sounds attempting to break your speakers. Even more obnoxiously, every sentence or two of Stamp's dialogue is broken up by one these aforementioned screeching sounds. Basically, the program does everything it can to start things off on the wrong foot and leave you with a bad taste in your mouth at the end.
The show looks crummy on DVD, with bleeding colors and no depth whatsoever. You're treated to lots of grain, scratches, flecks, hairs, dirt and a lot of soft focus. Though the visual palate varies from director to director, more often than not the program is an eyesore. Audio is also disappointing, as much of the dialogue sounds distant and poorly recorded. The words are occasionally drowned out by the cheap synth scoring. The only bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on…season two? Huh, that's weird. It's a mildly interesting piece hosted by David Bowie (who took over for Stamp as master of ceremonies during the second season).
Those seeking out a vampire show with lots of violence and sex are probably better off checking out HBO's True Blood. This one is an unsavory blend of lame plotting, completely gratuitous softcore sex, and gross-out violence. I've just about had my fill of The Hunger, thanks.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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