As of 2019, it is the only horror film to win an Oscar for Best Picture among the five previous challengers for this prestigious award were The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975) and most recently Black Swan (2010). However, it was not the only award of the prestigious event, it also had a memorable place in the opening ceremonies, when the host Billy Crystal in restraints, was wheeled out in his impression of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, all to honor a film that won four other Oscars that night. This marked only the third film in the history of the Academy to win, in the categories of Best Director, Best Screenplay (adapted), Best Actress and Best Actor. Since then, the Library of Congress for preservation in the Nation Film Registry, noted the importance of this movie and inducted it in 2011, solidifying it into the memory of horror fans that they finally had a movie garnish the long-sought honor of lasting immortality. This movie sets a wonderful dark tone throughout the film, making a great horror film, and a psychological thriller, to capture both intrigue and create many iconic moments and quotes, similar to another famous film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). In addition, to all the accolades, the movie was released on Valentine’s Day, February 14, and became a box office smash, earning $272.7 million (which adjusted for 2019 equals $511 million), and created four sequels, one spin off TV-series and remake in 1999 called Sangharsh (an India version). This flick also, challenges the concept that sequels suck (which they normally do) but not in this situation, as director Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) preceded this movie. Yes, it’s a horror film, but to win awards, namely Oscars it needed to identified as a Thriller, due the Academy’s sad black-lash against our beloved genre, after all it has a cannibal and to serial killers that wear dead individuals’ skin.
Director Jonathan Demme (RIP 2017), created the movie from bestselling author Thomas Harris (a former crime and police reporter) and screenwriter Ted Tally, focus of finding a killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill, skinning portions of women, but the Lecter character consumes the memories of viewers, even though on screen for less than 25 minutes in total. Buffalo Bill, character is actually a combination of few real life killers, which Harris used, such as Ted Bundy (which one of Bill’s kills used a method employed by Ted) and Ed Gein (used often in horror films, namely Psycho (1960)), and Gary Heidnick, but resound the story with assistance from criminologist and profile Robert Keppel.
The main character the audience meets is the FBI trainee and psychology degree Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who’s enlisted to track down serial killer Buffalo Bill. She shortly afterwards has the great and legendary meeting with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, M.D. (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist and a serious cannibal serving countless life sentences, the exchanges between the characters is a course worth studying for both actors and writers, and many moments of it sheer improvisation. The entire exchange features the mention of the trophies, which all horror fans and most others know about and herein Lecter states he never kept any trophies, Starling corrects “No, you ate yours.” However, Lecter technically correct in his statement, referencing the word ‘keeping’ the possession on having it, yes consumption, but one feeds they eventually pass it through the body, hence no in possession. The movie uses the conceptual designs from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), with regard to the “final girl” scenario, of the character, a young woman battling the monster, the killer. In this situation, Clarice not a girl, rather a smart woman, and she’s playing a chess match in the dark with Bill, but a mind filled with knowledge from Lecter. At this climatic finish, she proves her capability of not a victim, of circumstances, not requiring rescuing, but rather independence of standing alone, than crumpling on the floor. This all comes from a wonderfully layered screenplay with indeed a reason to constantly revisit the moment to learn elements about it, hidden gems to uncover. Anthony Hopkins (Bram Stoker’s Dracula ) truly steals the scenes, and why not, he brings both elegance and sinister measure to the words, the lines and other fun traits to his character. Starling learns more details about the intended target they seek, and Lecter begins his own chess match with everyone in play, with moments of disgust, mocking and mimicking emotions. Lastly, the escape of Lecter, priceless horror to enjoy, every moment of it becomes more horrific and shows the deeply committed efforts to make it all very memorable.
Hopkins and Foster, both earned the roles, Jodie, beating out 300 others most turning the role down because of the nature of the topic, and horror film tones, while other actors rejected the role for similar reason, Hopkins earned it from his role in The Elephant Man. They together shared only four scenes in the entire film, these two individuals truly sold their roles to the scenes and the audience with Hopkins, giving inquisitive looks and knowing all appearance, and Foster, as a woman seeking approval from a father figure, while it was Glenn or Hopkins characters. One must note, the legendary producer and director Roger Corman has a minor role in the film as FBI Director Hayden Burke, it was the opportunity for Demme to thank Roger for his assistance in the early portion of his career. The cast had the time to become comfortable with their characters, and therefore used many of the available resources to create a believable reality in the actual film, such as spending time at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in regard to Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling) and Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Demme attending too. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), studied serial killer profile files, attended trials of killers, and visited prisons, while Ted Levine (Jame Gumb ‘Buffalo Bill’) visited transvestite bars, all to wear the characters as a second skin. Speaking of skin, which is exactly Bill’s target from his women victims, reminds one clearly of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A pure trivia, note, George A. Romero, the same director and creator the numerous Living Dead films has a cameo role, though uncredited, in the last scene of Starling escorted away from Hannibal.
The audience point of view never becomes secondary in the movie, which often is overlooked in the horror cinema, while caring about the shock and scare factors, it often leaves no lasting impression upon the viewers, that is not the case herein, each person leaves with suspicions of anyone driving a van or even their own doctors eating habits. The film The Strangers (2008), delivers it, why them, because they answer the door, in Lambs, Lecter appears more evil, than any fictional monster such as Jason or Michael, he could exist anywhere, and yet be in plain sight or actually your doctor. That is the grittiness of the film, the pure unsaturated horror existing for everyone, Hopkins portrays a older man, sophisticated, and very believable, trusting, and yet hiding behind those eyes a terror of unbridled raging force to unleash hungry lusts. Therefore, reality is always much more scary than any fantasy driven creature, the human nature has nothing to worry about from CGI, rather evil the mind possess brings its own frights. As this reviewer always says, “The extreme has a lasting impression,” if your film can achieve a lasting effect with the audience one should win every time, hence Demme does that with his film, the terror never loses out countless years later.
The movie didn’t come without a controversy which still lingers to this day, many gay rights protesters complained about the character Buffalo Bill as transsexual, and considered insensitive the constant identity of killers to sexual orientation. Now for the younger audience in age, that perhaps are unaware of this, it was 1991, no true internet existed, the words homosexuality and transgender very uncommon in households, likely replaced with the word “funny” to describe a family member.
Although, the film might be too violent for some audiences, the core of horror fans finds the movie very tame, but containing explosive moments, to satisfy those with morbid fascinations and yet the entire flick contains a lesson in psychology, found in the lines and actions on the screen. Demme even captures a moment on Hopkins eyes wide open and not blinking, and darkened around them, a hypnotizing peculiarity similar to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), it adds to the complexity of the story and characters’ depth, working to break the fourth wall of acting. Regardless, horror fans often quote “I ate his liver with some fava beans and nice Chianti,” even mentioned in Wes Craven’s Scream (1996).
A movie filled with two crazed maniacs, overabundance of suspenseful scenes, and powerful psychological mesmerizing presentation to enthrall viewers, with all strong controversial moments, namely the “tuck-away dance” proving chilling results all for one’s entertainment. The honors keep piling onto this movie, fans, critics, and students of film reference this movie, learning the craft and echoing back to Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock’s techniques that Demme brilliantly deploys throughout his magnificent film.
A copy of the full review was originally on a short-lived horror website that no longer exists.
- Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant. Cunning. Psychotic. In his mind lies the clue to a ruthless killer. – Clarice Starling, FBI. Brilliant. Vulnerable. Alone. She must trust him to stop the killer.
- Prepare yourself for the most exciting, mesmerizing and terrifying two hours of your life!
- To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman.
- May The Silence Be Broken!!
- From the terrifying best seller
IMDb Rating: 8.6/10
Baron’s Rating: 9.0/10