Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Hunger (1997-2000)

Created by Jeff Fazio and produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, this Canadian-British series ran for two seasons and offered viewers short (about 26 minutes) episodes based on stories by some well-known writers. Indeed, the first episode is 'The Swords', based on Robert Aickman's story, of which more later...

The central conceit of the show is that each story concerns an overwhelming hunger for something, whether it be money, power, life, sex... Sex crops up a lot, in fact. The format is lifted from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Terence Stamp plays the Host, an eccentric who delivers a (supposedly) profound or witty introduction to the drama, then rounds things off with an afterword. This eats into the already short run time. A strong idea sometimes deserves to be developed for longer than twenty minutes. Thus Lisa Tuttle's 'The Replacement' ends so abruptly it falls flat on its face, spoiling a clever alien invasion scenario.

Given those caveats, let's consider the episodes with supernatural themes. Sadly for us Aickmanites, 'The Swords' is a shambles. Instead of the shocking climax and menacing coda of the original, this version has the callow youth falling in love with the much-punctured sideshow performer. Not even the lovely Amanda Ryan plus a Timothy Spall cameo can save it.

'Ménage a Trois', from a story by F. Paul Wilson - The Keep - is far better. A live-in nurse is hired by an elderly woman and begins a torrid relationship with a young handyman. But it soon transpires that the old lady is exploiting the young people in a more than voyeuristic way.

'Necros', by Brian Lumley, is an interesting one, not least because of a final twist that is genuinely bizarre. While the story of a vampire-like entity draining the life from people may be sci-fi, the overall feel is Gothic, complete with stage foreigners and a sultry mystery woman.

'The Bridal Suite' is another hit, more or less. This Graham Masterton story is a clever variation on the theme of the haunted bed. I remember reading it when it first appeared, and this adaptation does the story justice, in part thanks to the atmospheric depiction of a B&D in the wilds of Canada and some mercifully good acting.

Perhaps I like grotty settings and ambiguity too much, but most of the first season stories that stuck in my mind are urban, contemporary and lack simplistic pay-offs. 'Hidebound', from a tale by Gemma Files, has a female security guard encounter a female demon in a derelict factory. Less successful is 'Clarimonde', a surprising attempt to adapt a story by Theophile Gautier that sinks slowly into the snowdrifts of Victorian Quebec. It looks good, though.

Two episodes of the first season were based on stories by Harlan Ellison, but his name doesn't appear on the credits. He chose to use his alter-ego, Cordwainer Bird - because nothing is more pointless than making shoes for birds. I can see why he disassociated himself from the show.

The second season shows signs of a rethink at the top. David Bowie takes over as Host, and also stars in the first episode. Of several effective supernatural tales, one of the best is 'The Dream Sentinel' (a Poppy Z. Brite story). The ghost of a gangster poses as the guardian of a lonely dancer. When she decides to get on with her life the bad guy shows his true colours - only to find that his powers of manipulation are limited.

Tales of 'straight' sorcery abound. In 'The Diarist' a witch seeks revenge against the man who dumped her, but her magic misfires and she's forced to resort to drastic measures to work her will. Witchcraft also occurs in 'The Seductress', taken from the Ramsey Campbell collection Scared Stiff. This is a creditable attempt to create that Campbellian sense of queasy disorientation amid the commonplace. Magical objects inherited by typically unwary folk crop up in 'Brass' - another tale of a dodgy bed - and 'Bottle of Smoke', with its erotic djinn.

'Nunc Dimmitis', based on a Tanith Lee Story, is a notable high point. A vampire princess sends her ageing retainer (played by David Warner - oh, how I cheered his appearance) to recruit a replacement. Another cheer went up from the excellent Brad Dourif in 'Sin Seer'. What if you could look into someone's eyes and see their darkest secrets? Not good, on balance. And there's worse to come.

All in all, The Hunger has enough going for it to be worth a watch, but it's never going to be rediscovered and hailed as a neglected classic. It's too flawed, too uneven, too obviously of the Nineties. One for the rental list.

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