The Archivist XXVII: Halloween Round 1 — Charlton Heston Vs. David Bowie

by Ryan Lewellen

The Archivist

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand & Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

Here’s the deal, kids… I only have two “on” weeks for The Archivist in October, and seeing as how The Warner Archives contains many an intriguing fright flick, we here at the column had to start early. So, Halloween is upon us, and two non-standard takes on standard movie monsters are prowling in this week’s edition. Actors and filmmakers as legendary as the creatures which inspired the films are at work in The Hunger, and The Awakening. As is often the case, the movies in this week’s double-feature have produced mixed results. One comes highly recommended, and the other… is what we will discuss first.

This debut film directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Pushing Tin) is loosely based upon the Bram Stoker novel, The Jewel Of Seven Stars. Published in 1903, it explored common turn of the century themes like imperialism and the new woman. The screenplay for this 1980 adaptation, however, doesn’t seem to be exploring much of anything, except how not to hide dummies in death scenes.

Charlton Heston is Professor Matthew Corbeck, who has been so obsessed with his mission to find the lost Egyptian queen, Ka-ra, he has alienated his pregnant wife, who upon giving birth, absconds with their infant daughter. Eighteen year later, Corbeck is famous for his incredible discovery, and his daughter, Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist), is coming to meet him for the first time since her day of birth. The reunion is happy until Margaret is feeling a little possessed, and her father is suddenly interested in bringing Ka-ra back to life. Things get just a little incestuous, rather violent, and completely hammy and stupid from there. The occasional fine shot from cinematographer Jack Cardiff isn’t quite enough to keep one interested, and as I mentioned before, the death scenes might have been gut-wrenching if it weren’t for the too-obvious low-budget effects.

Fortunately, what our mummy movie lacks in suspense, our vampire picture more than makes up for in style and intrigue. Also based on a novel, this one by the same name from author Whitley Strieber (Wolfen, Communion) is also another debut. Tony Scott burst onto the scene with this audacious (at least for 1983), horror film, about an ancient vampire (Catherine Deneuve), who sires lover after lover with promises of eternal life. Current lover, John (David Bowie) discovers the promises are empty far too late, as he is enlisting the help of a biologist (Susan Sarandon) researching longevity. This leads to a new seduction, and Sarandon suffers the addictive hunger for human blood as she transforms against her will.

There must be something about these early works of Strieber that brings the visionary side out of directors. Like Wolfen, another Warner Archives Blu-ray, which had director Michael Wadleigh bringing the luster, Tony Scott rendered The Hunger in extraordinary visual elegance. It’s a shame this was a critical and commercial failure at the time, because this easily takes the cake as the most interesting film he ever directed. It’s striking images and sexy ideas weren’t enough for the critics of 1983, but watching it today, it plays more like a fresh take on the vampire legend, and I found it captivating throughout. The performances are excellent, and filmmaking is artful, and the climax is totally freaky.

I had to laugh when I read up on this one. Apparently MGM forced them to change the ending to leave it open for sequels, which of course proved pointless considering it was a non-starter at the box office, and it apparently depicts Sarandon’s character living on as a new kind of vampire queen bee.

I totally thought she died… and was in some kind of vampire sex heaven. When you see it, you will probably know what I mean.

…and you should see it. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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