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THE HUNGER:  SOUL SNATCHER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  David Bowie, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brad Dourif, James Marshall, Kim Huffman
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  York/Maverick
Features:  Filmographies, Trailers
Length:  108 Minutes
Release Date:  December 19, 2000

Film ***

With Showtime’s series The Hunger, produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, the network sort of re-vamped The Twilight Zone for the 90’s:  gone are the subtle social commentaries, replaced instead by generous helpings of the gothic, the bizarre, and the downright disturbing.  Beginning with Terrence Stamp as host, this DVD release of Soul Snatcher features David Bowie, who stars in the first episode and hosts the last three. 

The episodes are all technically masterful, from the lighting and camerawork to the music and editing.  All are intriguing in premise…the only fault is, not all of them follow through with a finale as promising as its start.  But each boasts a good cast of actors, and a sense of horror that transcends what network television could have accomplished.  Fans of creepy good times will be mostly satisfied.

In the first episode, “Sanctuary”, Bowie introduces the character that will carry him through as host of the subsequent episodes.  He plays an eccentric artist obsessed with the horrible and the macabre.  He lives in a veritable fortress, high off the ground and surrounded by metal fencing and cameras, where he spends most of his time in the control room observing his world through the event horizon of his monitors. 

His solitary existence is compromised, however, when a wounded young man (Ribisi) shows up at his door begging for help.  The most fascinating part is the way the characters feel each other out before finally coming together.  The ending is a surprise, but not necessarily a good one:  more like something was tacked on out of left field just for the sake of being odd.

The second episode is a story about a grisly series of torture-murders, where the victims are all homosexual men.  This coincides with the arrival of Michael (an almost unrecognizable Anthony Michael Hall), a tall, stringy haired, sunken eyed stranger who carries books on evil with him.  Is he responsible?  Not everything is as it appears…

The third episode is by far the best.  In “Sin Seer”, Mano (Dourif) is a man who can see the darkest deeds in any person’s life when he looks into their eyes.  The constant barrage of horrifying images has left him abandoning his law practice and going to work in a morgue, where the dead don’t disturb him, and leading a life of avoiding eye contact with those around him.  A psychiatrist, who doesn’t believe him, tries to coax Mano into looking into his eyes, but might just end up wishing he hadn’t.  Of all the story endings on this disc, this one is the most potent.

The final episode pairs up a charity worker (Huffman) with her one-time college mate (Marshall), who was once a promising English student but is now one of the many homeless she tries to help out on a daily basis.  When some of those people begin turning up stabbed to death, is her old friend to blame?

Bowie, as the linking character in the stories, is effectively cool and chilling.  Before each one, he offers a moral question to the viewing audience, and the hope is, by the time each half-hour episode is over, you will have thought about that question in a new way.

This series, which I wasn’t privy to on Showtime, is a largely effective one.  Though I didn’t appreciate all of the attempts at twist endings, I still enjoyed the style and structure of each of the tales, and found myself genuinely drawn into these bizarre worlds and the misguided characters who occupy them.  Fans will appreciate the fact that there are six total Hunger discs available from York/Maverick, each with four episodes:  three discs with Terrance Stamp and three with David Bowie.

If you like your entertainment served with a chill, check out your favorite episodes and give in to your Hunger.

Video ***

The film stocks used within the stories are wildly varied, from normal 35 mm film to high contrast and grainy black and white.  However, the overall look is satisfying.  Colors render naturally and beautifully, even in the darker settings (of which there are many).  Such low light instances are mostly handled quite expertly, with expressive lighting and shadow used to accent key objects and individuals.  There are one or two instances of noticeable image softness, usually in medium level lighting, but these are hardly a distraction.  The transfer itself is quite clean, with no noticeable debris or compression artifacts, and no grain save for the aforementioned purposeful high-contrast shots.  Overall, a very worthy effort.

Audio ****

It gets better…the 5.1 soundtrack is remarkable, with more constant and discreet uses of the rear stage channels than most mainstream movie productions on DVD!  Whether just footsteps, thunderclaps, voices, or other effects, all channels get a good workout throughout the presentation, and make for a totally enveloping listening experience that adds to the eerie overall effect.  The .1 channel brings some of the more potent scenes to life, and the dynamic range is extremely strong.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear:  don’t even look for undue background noise here.  Outstanding!

Features *1/2

Not much in the extras department, save for a few York/Maverick video trailers and a small and very expurgated collection of filmographies for some of the lead stars.

Summary:

The Hunger plays out like a delicious collection of gothic short stories, brought to cinematic life with a great sense of style and atmosphere, and featuring David Bowie as both star and host.  Soul Snatcher is a collection of four viable and unnerving episodes from the Showtime series, guaranteed to suck you in even if you sometimes find yourself scratching your head afterwards.  With this quality DVD presentation, horror fans owe it to themselves to check out this unique and disturbing series.