Monsters & Mommis is a five-week miniseries celebrating queer horror. It’s Halloween month, so let’s plan our costumes, get slutty, and, of course, watch some scary movies. This week, Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983) starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie.
Men can be terrible. Dating men is a curse. They can be selfish and cruel and they just might ruin your life. I don’t know this from experience. I’ve never dated a man. I just know what friends have told me.
I wish I could stop there. I wish I could shout patriarchy and ride off into the sunset satisfied that my sexual orientation is the best of all the sexual orientations. But I have some unfortunate news to share: Women and non-binary people can be terrible. Dating them is a curse. They can be selfish and cruel and they just might ruin your life.
I regret to inform you, and myself, the fuckboi is gender neutral.
I’m pretty sure Tony Scott was not thinking about the queer dating scene when he chose to make The Hunger. Based on Whitley Striber’s novel of the same name, this tale of slick vampirism and sick love simply had all the sex, violence, and fantasy needed for Scott’s frenetic burgeoning style.
It’s a baffling movie. The plot is convoluted and the editing is relentless. Every moment is twelve moments as Scott jumps between locations and time periods, sounds and images. It’s lacking in any sort of clear thematic depth. Achieving “coolness” is its raison d’être.
But none of that is inherently negative. Especially in a movie starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie. Especially in a movie that features one of the best lesbian sex scenes of all time.
The movie begins at a techno punk concert. Everyone has eyeliner and spiked hair and most people are wearing sunglasses inside. Miriam and John stand out in the crowd. They’re also wearing sunglasses, but while the rest of the crowd is chaotic, they’re ethereal in their perfection. They are from another time. Literally.
They pick up a man and a woman and bring them back to their house. As they begin to make out with their respective partners (with lots of tongue flicking), we cut back to the singer at the club, and we cut to a rabid monkey hissing in a cage. They each rip off their pendants, reveal a small blade, and slice their never-lovers’ throats. The monkey eats its companion.
Then we meet Susan Sarandon’s Dr. Sarah Roberts. She works at the Park West Clinic, home of the monkeys, a research facility on the study of rapid aging. Compared to the otherworldly beauty of Deneuve and Bowie, Sarandon feels human. There’s certainly nothing attainable about her perfect face or short dykey haircut, but she has a natural warmth.
Miriam and John sensually fuck in the shower and renew their vow to be together forever and ever. But unfortunately for John this is their last moment of bliss. The next morning he wakes up, and after five hundred years of vampire-induced youth, he’s begun to age.
Despite this unsettling development, they keep their regular Tuesday/Thursday music date with neighbor kid Alice, the gayest pre-teen to ever live. She chomps on gum and takes polaroids of Miriam, before playing her violin. She’s infatuated with Miriam. How could any tomboy resist?
John tries to ask Sarah for help, but she doesn’t believe his rapid aging. He sits in her waiting room withering away. Desperate for blood he almost attacks multiple people before confronting Sarah with her mistake. Then he returns home and, sadly, eats Alice.
It doesn’t even work. He continues to age.
Miriam is distraught about John’s rapidly approaching death, but not that distraught. This has happened before. Despite her promise of forever she has had many, many lovers over the years. Her transfusion of vampire blood will sustain them for a while, but they all have an expiration date. Unwilling to part with any of them completely, she keeps them all in coffins in the attic where they remain conscious. She says she loves them all too much to let any of them fully die.
Sarah, now very concerned about John’s health, visits their mansion. Miriam tells her that John has left for Switzerland. She spies a police officer approaching and asks Sarah to come back some other time. She’s made a decision. She has found her next victim, her next love.
The spell has been cast. Sarah is consumed with thoughts of Miriam. She has visions of her, she dreams of her, and the next day she’s back at the mansion. Sarah is wearing a blue blazer over a white t-shirt. She’s flustered. She has no idea why she’s there. Miriam invites her in.
They drink sherry. Miriam plays piano and Sarah strips down to her shirt. Her sleeves are rolled up. She sits down in a chair incorrectly. She is already adjusting to her new gay lifestyle. Her nipples are very visible.
Miriam plays her a love song and makes a point to clarify it was written about two women. Sarah takes a deep breath, letting the sherry shoot to her brain. “Are you making a pass at me Mrs. Blaylock?” she asks.
“Not that I’m aware of, Sarah,” Miriam answers plainly.
Sarah spills sherry on her white shirt, a red splash right above her nipple.
Classical music begins. They’ve moved to another room. Sarah rubs a wet cloth on her shirt in slow motion. It becomes even more see-through. It clings to her skin. Miriam runs her hand across Sarah’s back. She sits in a chair and puts her feet up, eyes never leaving Sarah’s body.
Sarah turns her back and takes her shirt off. She looks in the mirror and smiles at Miriam through her reflection. Miriam goes to her. She delicately places a hand, first above her breast, then up to her neck. She kisses her. As their lips meet, Miriam’s hand drifts down Sarah’s chest. She pulls away and Sarah leans in for more. Miriam grants her wish.
Cut to Sarah lying in bed wearing only a pair of black panties. A mirror is propped up against the side of the bed. Miriam in elaborate black lingerie joins her and they kiss once again. Miriam remains slow and methodical. Sarah remains hungry. She reaches for her. She pulls her in. She arches her back in rapturous pleasure as Miriam’s lips circle her nipple.
The white curtains that surround the bed billow in an artificial wind. She lets Miriam bite her arm. She lets Miriam suck her blood. She enjoys it. She wants more. She wants all of it.
Miriam looks up, blood dripping down her mouth, her hair wavy to one side like Veronica Lake. Sarah follows her instinct, she follows her needs. She returns the favor and bites Miriam’s arm until it draws blood. She sucks and sucks.
Sarah grows ill. She tests her blood in the lab and discovers it’s half hers and half inhuman. She cannot eat and yet she has an incurable appetite. Her boyfriend is concerned. She returns to the mansion for answers.
Miriam was expecting Sarah. She’s done this before. She puts her in bed and tells her she’ll be okay. She tells her they are now one being. She tells her they’ll be together forever and ever.
Miriam brings home a man for dinner. But Sarah’s boyfriend crashes the party. Miriam lets him in, her jealousy crafting a new meal plan. She pushes him towards the starving Sarah and she goes downstairs to play piano.
Sarah emerges with blood on her mouth. It seems as if she’s done it. Miriam and Sarah kiss once again and Sarah undoes her pendant knife. She stabs it into her own throat.
This seems to break Miriam. When she brings Sarah up to the attic all of her past lovers emerge from their coffins. The house rumbles and they attack. Miriam yells, “I love you all!” But they don’t care. They move towards her, rotted corpses from dust to decay. She falls over the banister and to her final death.
The last scene finds Sarah, still alive, living in a home with a man and a woman. The woman approaches her and they kiss. As she looks out over the city she hears Miriam cry her name.
It’s a trope to have a queer female vampire seduce a previously straight woman who ultimately resists her pull and murders her. The idea is the protagonist is just queer enough to put on a show for the male director and audience member, but still straight enough to choose heterosexuality in the end.
The Hunger is not nearly cohesive enough to fit into this narrative.
The ambiguity gives room to play and there are just enough context clues to craft a much more enjoyable story. Miriam does not represent homosexuality. She spends the first half of the movie destroying her male lover. No, if Miriam is a metaphor for anything it’s the fuckboi of all our nightmares.
Miriam tells all her loves that they’re her forever, but they all fade. And yet she keeps them trapped, refusing to let go. She collects people. And when it’s time to move on she does so immediately. She brazenly flirts with everyone and then insists she doesn’t know what they’re talking about. She even seduces a pre-teen dyke, getting off on the attention, and leading to the girl’s demise.
Sarah does not choose heterosexuality. The film ends with her kissing another woman. No, she simply chooses to search for a healthier queer relationship. It’s not exactly uncommon for a cis woman to fall hard for the wrong person when they’re first coming out. And it’s not uncommon for them to still hear their ex-lover’s call long after they’ve moved on to smarter choices.
I would never be so bold to suggest this was the intended interpretation. But projection is a part of being a queer audience of 20th century cinema. We do it all the time with work that is merely subtext or not even. Why not do the same for a film that has a matter-of-fact lesbian romance and an extended scene of nipple play?
The pleasure of a director choosing style over substance is as an audience we get to create our own substance. The pleasure of ambiguity is filling it however we please.
Maybe your queer interpretation is different than mine. That’s part of the fun. But for me there’s no hunger quite like the one I feel for a vampire who sets out to ruin my life.