It must have been nearly twenty years since I watched 1983's The Hunger. I sort of meant to watch it again after director Tony Scott died a few years ago, now Bowie's dead and I finally got to it last night. As a vampire film it would inevitably be about death to some extent but I think only Werner Herzog's version of Nostferatu is the vampire film more fixated on the nature of death. There's a quote from Susan Sarandon on the Wikipedia page where she says the film's about addiction, and maybe that's true for her character. But for Bowie's character it is most certainly about ageing and death.
And yes, that's David Bowie under all that rather impressive though, we know now, not prophetic makeup. I wonder if the ageing and dying aspect drew him to the script. It occurred to me that as fitting as ★, and the track "Lazarus" in particular, is as a final album before his death, really most of Bowie's albums sound like they may have come from a man about to die who really doesn't want to, while at the same time portraying a compulsive grasping at life beyond the point of pleasure as unhealthy. The Man Who Sold the World, "The Supermen", "Quicksand" and "Oh! You Pretty Things" from Hunky Dory, "DJ" from Lodger, "Thursday's Child" from Hours--and I haven't even scratched the surface, I could go on and on. The tone isn't always the same but the conclusion is. Many of the songs are, like The Hunger, also arguably about addiction but I'd argue saying anything is about "addiction" is kind of a closed loop. Addiction just isn't a subject by itself if you're treating it properly, addiction is a method, a path. Saying "Ashes to Ashes" is about addiction would be like saying Psycho is about murder. It's true but it's inadequate in a way that does a bit of a disservice to the work.
My one memory about my first reaction to The Hunger was the feeling that it would've been a better film if it'd had more Bowie. I'd say the same now but for probably different reasons. His story is far more interesting than the one focused on Susan Surandon's character though both she and Catherine Deneuve give fine performances. Deneuve in particular is wonderfully subtle, a manipulator who is expert in that she knows how to let people lead themselves into her traps. Though her story with Bowie is more interesting for portraying the conflict in the woman who must condemn her lovers to eternal torment in order for her to be with them. In the second half, it's little more than a standard Hammer horror plot about a vampire seducing an innocent woman into thralldom. The ending of the film, which abandons so many of the crucial rules set forth early on, feels like it derails for the sake of formula.
It's certainly a beautiful film and it seems like at this stage of his career Tony Scott had more than a few stylistic mannerisms in common with his brother Ridley, particularly in his habit of layering dialogue quietly from one scene over another and then cutting back to the first scene. Though where Ridley was so into sequins, beads, and droplets, Tony seems to have been really into billowing drapes.