If you asked me what was an (if not the) integral moment in goth’s history, I would without question say the first six minutes of The Hunger. The cult vampire movie starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve from 1983 was directed by Tony Scott (the brother of Ridley, who directed another important movie Blade Runner) and became integral to what the subculture has evolved into today.
Even though the word “vampire” is never mentioned once within the film, its insinuations with Deneuve’s 2,000 year old character, Miriam Blaylock and her lover of the past two centuries, John, The Hunger tells the heartbreaking story of vampiric romance, heartbreak and animalistic, primal passion.
The Hunger begins inside a fog-filled dark nightclub in New York City with flashing, harsh strobe lights in shades of cold blue to set the tone. Miriam and John are sleek, stylish predators in black, stalking the club goers with sunglasses on as they wind through the crowd to find their prey.
Once they lock eyes with an unlucky couple, the vampires take their captives outside of the city where they seduce them and then slash their throats with bladed ankh necklaces. Within this six minute scene there is lust, fright, allure and an overarching a sense of dread—all important concepts of the goth subculture found within one solitary movie scene.
I’m sure we would all willingly follow Bowie and Deneuve into the shadowy night while Bauhaus chants our funeral march: undead, undead, undead. It’s in The Hunger that goth history is made, where Tony Scott—albeit knowingly or otherwise—pulled from the past (vampires, Bowie) and merged it with the present (Bauhaus, underground club scene).
And here’s why it was so relevant to goth’s formation:
Bauhaus’ Performance of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”
The opening shot of The Hunger is of Bauhaus’ frontman, Peter Murphy, performing behind a cage. It begins with the subtle drum tapping intro of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” then builds into the screeching guitar as Murphy appears out of the shadows.
Murphy, looking much like a vampire himself, writhes and twitches to the music, maniacally moving in and out of the harsh lighting. He is the archetypal goth of the early 1980s with his dramaticisms, deathly pallor and frail frame.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, an atmospheric and eerie 9-minute long goth anthem released in 1979, is about the iconic horror actor who most famously played Dracula. This performance by Bauhaus in particular is moody, dark, suspenseful and would end up being one of their last—they broke up soon after. It’s an iconic moment in vampire film history as Miriam and John stalk their prey to the soundtrack of goth royalty.
With the song’s distinct lyrics, it hints as to what happens next in the movie: The bats have left the bell tower / The victims have been bled.
David Bowie as a Vampire
The fact David Bowie is cast as a vampire in The Hunger is essential to the movie's impact on the subculture. Bowie’s musical career was the determining factor in many of goth’s pioneering bands—Siouxsie Sioux, Daniel Ash of Bauhaus, and Robert Smith of the Cure all cited Bowie’s Top of the Pops performance of “Starman” in 1972 as a turning point in their life.
Bowie gave permission to all the weirdos out there to just be themselves, to be as strange as they wanted to be.
Bowie’s influence on Bauhaus alone is apparent in their cover of “Ziggy Stardust”, their only top 20 hit in the UK charts. Oh, and the fact that Murphy is basically the reincarnation of Bowie—only in goth form.
The Hunger’s opening scene is a time capsule into underground dance culture of the early 1980s. Black everything: leather, fishnet, jewelry, lingerie… it all represents the fashions of the time through a sea of teased hair.
The female victim of Bowie’s character, John Blaylock, is dressed to the nines with her punky spiked hair and drenched in black leather, fingerless gloves and cat eye makeup.
The bladed ankh necklace is the weapon that slices the victims’ necks—a symbol meaning “life” in Ancient Egyptian culture. Coincidentally (or not), the ankh is a common symbol throughout goth iconography—as is the makeup and clothing of the Ancient Egyptians.
The scene ends with the cleansing of the ankh necklaces, as the Blaylocks wash away the blood and evidence of the rabid, instinctual act.
Bonus: In The Hunger, there is a scene where a roller skater is listening to his boom box. The song playing is “Funtime” by Iggy Pop from the album The Idiot which was co-written and produced by David Bowie in 1977.
It contains the lyrics: Last night I was down in the lab / Fun / Talkin’ to Dracula and his crew / All aboard for funtime. To even further connect the dots, Ian Curtis of Joy Division committed suicide to The Idiot on May 18, 1980.
What moments in film or music history do you think define the Goth subculture? Comment below!
All images and videos used courtesy: The Hunger ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer )