Sometimes it is hard to put Silence of the Lambs into the Horror film category. It’s more of s suspenseful psychological mystery/thriller, but deep down there are some classic elements of horror. You will get some delicious blood and gore, but it’s classy and magnificent. Most horror movies are too flashy. All about the blood and screams. But in this film, everything is calmer. The killers are methodical. The psychopaths are professionals. And for those just in training, that is truly terrifying.
Young Clarise Starling (Jodie Foster) is still in training at the FBI, but her superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), asks her to help him work on the Buffalo Bill case. Bill is a serial killer, where his victims are large women that he starves for a while and then he removes pieces of their flesh. Cunning, but captured killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), known as Hannibal the Cannibal for eating his victims, may be able to give some crucial information about Bill, so Starling is sent to talk to him. Lecter is brilliantly manipulative and may know who and where Bill is, perhaps he was an old patient of his. But when a congresswoman’s daughter, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), is kidnapped by Bill, and time to save her is running out, Lecter uses his cunning and his valuable information to barter and move himself closer to freedom.
Now, there are many theories on the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. The performance between Hopkins and Foster is so amazing that they both won Oscars in their lead actor categories. They have been studied by every film nut and they’ve been ranked as the sixth top hero and number one villain in AFI’s Heroes and Villains. There are so many takes on their relationship (father-daughter, patient-client, lovers) it seems too much to give another text book look at them. What seems to be going on the most between Lecter and Starling is a power struggle. Being free and on the outside should give Starling more control, but Lecter knows just where to strike to make her become the vulnerable one and she is in need of what he knows. Yet he does not despise her, he could have kept quiet and gave her nothing to help the case. We get the sense that he wants to help her on this case, which will be a big boost in her career, but she has to earn it, share some juicy information and figure out all his riddles.
Hannibal Lecter is the perfect monster. The Blob and Godzilla are goofy and dismissive. Freddy Cruger and Jason are trying too hard. Lecter simply stands upright, greets you like a gentleman to bring you a bit closer and tears out every weakness you thought you had finally hidden away for good. It’s amazing really, I have seen this movie dozens times and I get chills knowing how easily I’m still enthralled by every word between Lecter and Starling. I don’t know how he does it, maybe it’s an old psychologist trick, but Lecter has some power over people to make them volunteer very private information. Can you even imagine what you might reveal if you met Hannibal Lecter?
The greatest thing about this movie is how realistic serial killers are portrayed. In other horror movies, the killer just goes running around with a knife or chainsaw like a raving lunatic while teenagers flee in their underwear. Like anyone over fourteen can believe that. But Buffalo Bill looks like someone we might run into at Wal-Mart. He might stare at the cheese for a while and mumble to himself. It’s not too much to imagine him just across the street, concealing a cellar where he raises moths, erotically films himself and keeps his next victim at the bottom of a pit.
When we watch how easily Buffalo Bill kidnaps Catherine Martin, just outside her apartment, it is realistically chilling. In my teens, my dad and I would watch this movie, and as Catherine was so trustingly climbing into the van, he’d find it the perfect time to reinforce that whole ‘don’t talk to strangers or get in their car’ rule. Thanks for the advice, but I think the movie was a lot more convincing to me. Seeing the pit, the bloody scratches and bloated washed up corpses scares a kid more than just a wag of the finger. Truth is, we’re still more likely to be kidnapped by the creepy guy at Wal-Mart than to ever be chased in our underwear by someone with a chainsaw.
The greatest circumstances I can imagine watching Silence of the Lambs under is in the dark, after local news breaks of an escaped psychopath, with people who become paranoid easily for maximum entertainment. Or sit your older kids down for family trauma night to keep them away from that creepy guy down the street.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” That slurping sound is legendary.