Judge William Lee gives you 30 minutes to spot the vampire. Bonus points if she's a lesbian.
"The search for passion, feeling, love…It'll get you every time."
The late night cable horror anthology, based on the title of a 1983 vampire movie, returns for more sexy bloodletting in The Hunger: The Complete Second Season. The series shares nothing in common with the movie The Hunger aside from the title and the marginal participation of two notable names from the original. There are a dozen directors and almost as many writers taking turns over the course of 22 half-hour episodes but the whole experience feels like one long slog through repetitive themes. Originally aired in 1999 and 2000, the season is spread across four discs on this DVD set.
Director Tony Scott (Crimson Tide) takes the reins for the first episode but his style here is less like the perfume ad dreaminess of his cult hit vampire movie and more like his hyperkinetic Domino. Edits are quick, flashbacks are heavily processed visually, sound effects are jarring and the plot is more impressionistic than cohesive. David Bowie (The Prestige), a key cast member from the original movie, joins the proceedings and his presence almost lends legitimacy to this series. He plays a controversial artist named Julian Priest who lives in an abandoned penitentiary while his celebrity status gradually fades. When a wounded young man arrives at his doorstep, Julian's suspicions are aroused along with his creative impulse. What sets "Sanctuary" apart from the subsequent episodes of the series is the lack of soft-core sex and nudity. The other consistent element of the show—the bloody violence—is served up in gory fashion.
Bowie acts as host for the rest of the series by introducing and closing each episode with sagely observations of the "be careful what you wish for" variety. There is at least one vampire story in the second season but there are also witches, ghosts, strippers and assorted women who like to receive or inflict pain. The supernatural element is a constant, as is the female nudity and the twist endings. Stylistically, there isn't a lot of difference from episode to episode so any visual tricks that annoy you will be repeated.
Anthology series are often a good showcase of talented up and comer actors and, looking back at older shows, it can be interesting to see the early work of recognizable stars. Unfortunately, the half-hour format of television's The Hunger hardly affords its cast any room to prove themselves. Basically, they're playing generic types and they have just enough time to establish that personality before their character is put through various plot turns. For example, Brooke Smith (Grey's Anatomy) plays a woman who goes through severe mood swings in "Week Woman." It feels like we're simply watching an acting exercise because there isn't a chance to empathize with her character. Similarly with the other episodes it feels like we're just observing a stock character who is enduring some script machinations. Some of the more prominent cast members are: Jennifer Beals (The L Word), Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room), Brad Dourif (Deadwood), Anthony Michael Hall (TV's The Dead Zone) and Lori Petty (Booker: Collector's Edition).
The only extra on this DVD set is a featurette on the fourth disc. "Mr. Skin's Top Ten Scenes" is exactly what it sounds like. In case the series was at risk of having too classy a reputation, the Internet's preeminent compiler of celebrity nudity hosts a half-hour collection of clips from Seasons One and Two. In many cases, these are full-length clips from their respective episodes. It sounds a bit tacky but at least it's not a dull look back at the series.
The technical presentation of the previous season was reportedly substandard. While the second season is far from reference quality, it is an improvement that serves its subject matter in adequate fashion. The picture is generally clean so that dust and other stray pops are barely noticeable. The image tends to be very grainy in moments but this looks like an intentional effect for bright scenes and flashbacks. In darker scenes the color bias is very warm and the shadows are murky to the point of hiding all details. The visual aspect of the show is nothing to write home about, but if I saw the show broadcast on television at this level of image quality I wouldn't be bothered by it at all. Likewise, there's nothing special about the sound mix but the dialogue is clearly heard and the music and sound effects have a strong presence.
There are a few stories in this anthology that could have been really interesting if explored at fuller length. However, the set format of The Hunger: The Complete Second Season puts them all on pretty much the same mediocre level. The requisite blood and sex keeps the actors and the ideas from shining. In small doses, the series can be an energetic, though ultimately forgettable, distraction. The more episodes I watched, however, the more it felt like the same thing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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