Tony Scott’s “The Hunger: The Swords” Episode (1997)

In the mid-90’s, for reasons completely unknown, Showtime created a television anthology series loosely adapted from Tony Scott’s debut feature, THE HUNGER (1983).  It lasted for two seasons, and as far as I’m aware, didn’t make much of a splash in pop culture.  While undoubtedly serving as one of the guiding hands behind the whole production, Scott himself only directed two episodes.  “THE SWORDS” (1997) was the pilot episode, and effectively captures the tone and spirit of Scott’s feature, while introducing an entirely new setting and cast of characters.

After the heavily experimental, slightly schizo opening credits (most likely influenced by the opening titles for David Fincher’s SE7EN (1995)), Terence Stamp appears as a sort of Master of Ceremonies.  Wearing Scott’s famed pink baseball cap and strutting around a baroque mansion, he briefly sets up the story and bows out.  It’s not unlike the opening segments to similar horror anthologies like TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

The story of “THE SWORDS” concerns a young American man who comes to London to study acting.  Along the way, he becomes involved with the denizens of an underground punk club, who introduce him to a supernatural stage show called “The Swords”.  During the show, a beautiful young woman has her abdomen impaled by a sword, only for her to be completely unharmed when it’s withdrawn.  The young man becomes obsessed with the show, and with the girl.  They begin a passionate affair, whereby the woman is impaled by a decidedly different kind of sword.  It all ends tragically when the trance of love trumps the trance that allows her to survive her nightly impalement.

I have to applaud the producers and Scott for creating a show based off a vampire movie, and having the gall to not make the pilot episode about vampires.  It sets up the notion that the grounded mysticism in the original feature will remain intact, but a multitude of other supernatural stories will be explored.  Scott recreates the tone of THE HUNGER with the same kind mix of baroque London settings, classical music, and underground punk clubs.

Director of Photography John Mathieson frames the action in a television-ready 4:3 aspect ratio.  The image is classical Scott: high contrast, deep saturation, blinding light through curtains and venetian blinds, and moments of extreme color manipulation (mostly in the hosting segments with Terence Stamp).  Colors veer towards the warm side of the spectrum, only to switch to a cold, almost inhospitable blue in exterior scenes.  The camera stays locked-off, and mostly limits its movement to pans and zooms.  Scott also shows draws on some experimental, playful techniques, seen here in the form of canted angles and spinning the camera in a corkscrew fashion.

Besides the inclusion of his trademark pink baseball cap, Scott throws in a couple of other nods to his career.  For instance, Hans Zimmer’s theme for TRUE ROMANCE (1993) shows up when the young man and the showgirl first begin their affair.

On a completely unrelated note, there’s also just a lot of general weird British-ness on full display.  Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

THE SWORDS” finds Scott returning to the medium of television, as well as to his roots as a director.  It’s a small-scale story that he tells effectively within it’s half-hour running time.  He doesn’t let the boundaries of a smaller screen constrain his imagination, and as a result, he undergoes a creative refreshing that will propel him onward as the millennium comes to a close.

“THE HUNGER: THE SWORDS” is currently available via Netflix streaming.