Directed By: Jonathan Demme
Written By: Thomas Harris (novel) Ted Tally (screenplay)
I distinctly remember the first time I saw this movie. I was about 10 years old and staying at some relatives house who were cool enough to let me watch the grown up movie. Unfortunately the grown up movie was this one and for some reason I thought it was based on a true story. My Uncle may or may not have told me as much. I will never forget lying awake afterwards in straight up fear. Lying in the dark just staring at the ceiling, my ten year old mind unable to process anything beyond the horrible Hannibal Lecture being lose in the world. Where else could he possibly be on a late summer night besides right outside the door wanting to kill me???
In less than 25 minutes of screen time Anthony Hopkins not only earned the Academy Award for Best Actor but he scarred my prepubescent self to a new level. I would feel foolish about my youthful fear but in truth Hannibal Lecter still scares me. Nothing is quite as intimidating as superior intelligence and Lecter brings more to the table than just that. Lecter won’t just outsmart you, he’ll bite your face and then cut it off of you. If he has enough time he might even eat you! Add that to the fact that the man never blinks and I challenge anybody not to be scared of the guy. Imagine thinking he was a real person, loose in the world with the freedom to kill and eat anybody he wanted, and maybe you can relate to the 10 year old Ryan who laid awake in fear for an entire night some 20 something years ago.
For somebody who was born out west, Jodie Foster has always been able to pull off a hell of a southern accent. Though she won the Academy Award for this movie and is the hero I tend to think she is overshadowed by her co-stars. I have also always held it against her that she didn’t return to the sequel with everybody else ten years later with Hannibal. Even though I think she was overshadowed I still think this is one of her finest performances but that is coming from a specific non fan. She has had a long and distinguished career but few of her roles have ever really gotten to me on a fan level.
The obvious person who overshadowed her was Anthony Hopkins who gave the performance of a lifetime but I also think Ted Levine stands out more than she does too. As Buffalo Bill he is a combination of several real life serial killers and he is absolutely terrifying. He has a voice that will haunt you in your worst nightmares and his dress up scene will make your skin crawl. Even scarier is the persona that goes with that villainous voice. A man who captures women and drops them into a pit is something to fear and he makes my skin break out in goose flesh every time I see him. Unfortunately I have never been able to separate Levine from this role and no matter what else he is in I keep waiting for him to say, “It puts the lotion in the basket.”
As bad as my fear was that this movie was based on a real story I think I have been more terrified to know about the men the movie was actually based on. Buffalo Bill is a combination of a few serial killers who actually did most of the things we saw in the movie. The skinning of victims was actually done by a serial killer so fearsome he has become legend. Ed Gein is the basis for not only part of Buffalo Bill but also Leatherface and Norman Bates. He would dress up in his dead mothers clothing, dig up corpses to steal skin, and the women he actually did kill were hung up and gutted in the same fashion hunted animals are. Ted Bundy would use a cast on his arm to lure women into his van and then use it as a weapon to knock them out. The scariest thing though, if not Ed Gein, is the fact there was a serial killer who had a pit he kept women in. Gary Heidnick terrorized six women during the 70s and 80s doing many awful things, including keeping them in a pit. The things he did were so awful and unbelievable that when one of his victims escaped and told police they didn’t even believe her story until seeing physical evidence. Each one of these men are terrifying in their own rite but put together they created a haunting villain in Buffalo Bill.
This movie went through pains to be legitimate with all the actors doing their due diligence in research. Hopkins studied several serial killers and even attended some trials for violent crimes when trying to get into character. The not blinking thing was his own idea as he knew a person who never blinked and it freaked out everyone that talked to him. Ted Levine also did plenty of research into both serial killers and the transsexual community. There was also an actual FBI Agent on set in a consulting role to help make sure everything went right. I think all these efforts went a long way to making the movie so great and memorable.
There were few lasting effects from my fearsome evening with this movie for the first time but I will never forget it regardless. It was simply the product of my youth but I still have doubts that just any other movie could have elicited such a response out of me. This movie is awesome hands down and it’s one that hardly needs my stamp of approval. The efforts to bank on its success afterwards including both a sequel and a prequel could not match what was done with this film. There are memorable parts in both Hannibal and Red Dragon but some things simply can’t be replicated and the same type of magic wasn’t present in those films. This is a movie that nearly everyone has seen but if you somehow missed it then you need to go back and check it out. This one is definitely worth your time.
NEXT MOVIE: Silver Lining Playbook (2012)