Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ex and death have a long, rich history of being cinematically intertwined. Sometimes, such as in Tony Scott’s 1983 movie “The Hunger,” it’s presented in a deep, artistic manner. Other times, such as in any given “Friday the 13th” movie, it’s as simple as “you get laid and you die.” This anthology series, produced by Tony and his brother Ridley, has nothing to do with the film from ’83, which is infinitely superior to anything presented here. It’s probably not fair to compare half-hour TV episodes to a feature film – and yet, before sitting down to write this review, I had my umpteenth viewing of “Hellraiser,” a movie that should have its own chapter in the book of sex and death. After watching the Clive Barker masterpiece, I realized how lackluster this series really was, having spent the last week slowly wading through it and making mental apologies for the material along the way.
People often refer to sex and violence in movies and TV as gratuitous, but when both subjects are entirely central to the material, can it ever really be considered gratuitous? There are two things that you can pretty much expect from nearly every episode of “The Hunger”: There will be at least one sex scene (and on the few occasions there isn’t, there’s nudity to make up for it), and at least one person will die. Whether or not this was a mandate sent down from on high (i.e. the brothers Scott), I can’t say, but once you realize that room must always be made for these moments, it begins to limit your expectations for a 24-minute episode of TV. Unless, of course, what you’re looking for is some blood and T & A – and if so, then this show most certainly delivers the goods. “The Hunger” is actually sometimes rather sexy, although it’s rarely shocking or scary. A case of blue balls, rather than the cold shivers, is most likely to keep you awake late at night after watching it (although no guarantees are made in either department).
Outside of sex and death, the series does have actual stories to deliver. A few are bad, most are watchable, a couple of them are good, but there probably isn’t even a single entry that falls under the heading of great. That’s unfortunate, too, because the reason we watch anthology series – wading through the dreck week in and out – is because we’re searching for that Holy Grail installment that makes it all worthwhile. One of the better episodes, “The Secret of Shih-Tan,” comes early on. Jason Scott Lee plays a master chef. He’s given the opportunity to peek inside a forbidden cookbook, the Shih-Tan, on the condition that he must prepare one of the recipes inside. Turns out that the book is full of guidelines on how to prepare human flesh. There’s a decent twist that shouldn’t be ruined, of course. “The Sloan Men,” which seems to be more sci-fi than horror, features Margot Kidder as the long suffering wife of a man whom she’s quite simply unable to leave. When his son brings home his fiancée, she believes she’s finally found someone who can finally help her get out of the marriage once and for all. “But at My Back I Can Always Hear Her” stars Michael Gross (“Family Ties”) as a college professor with a very persistent stalker. “The Face of Helene Bournouw” is written by Harlan Ellison under a pseudonym and stars Stephen McHattie (“Watchmen”) as a reporter hot on the trail of a faceless woman who leaves her lethal mark on every person she meets. This is an episode that’s indicative of some of the problems with many episodes of “The Hunger”: you can see the resolution coming a mile away. It’s a frequent occurrence in this series. Oftentimes there are twist endings that leave you thinking, “That’s it?” In other cases, you’re left wondering where the ending went.
Mention must be made of Terence Stamp, who is the host introducing each piece, as well as giving each an outro. He shows up and delivers loads of nebulous dialogue that may or may not have anything to do with the episode in question. Further, his various costumes and hats become increasingly silly as the series progresses, as do the banal activities he’s engaged in while rambling at the viewer. Regardless, I couldn’t help but think, “What a great gig for an actor to nab!” There are no other actors to contend with. You’re likely getting little or no direction whatsoever, outside of, “Just be Terence Stamp! You know how to do that, don’t you?” Sure: you sit in a room and be weird. On the other hand, he was replaced in Season Two by David Bowie, the star of the film version of “The Hunger,” so perhaps it wasn’t such a good gig after all. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Stamp’s first name is misspelled on the DVD slipcover. They’ve added an extra “r”!
Special Features: There’s but one mere featurette on the fourth disc, called “The Hunger Inside,” which is, oddly enough, a behind the scenes look at Season Two. I guess they want to whet your appetite for the next release, since it’s full of clips from material not present on this box set. Believe it or not, I’d probably give it a chance, for Bowie’s presence if nothing else. There are worse ways to waste time than sifting through a weak anthology series.