HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Five – 10/05/18

10/05 – 1991: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  Or “When Starling Met Lecter.” Oh, yes.  The horror film that famously – or infamously – swept the Oscars. And no, I don’t give two shits in a high wind how people have tried to re-classify it: “psychological drama”, “police procedural”, “intense crime thriller.” Bullshit. When people like Larry Cohen, William Lustig and Abel Ferrara have made similarly-themed films, critics looked so far down their noses at those guys and their work, their condescending eyeballs nearly rolled out of their skulls. But because the film had a high-toned pedigree both in front of and behind the camera, they nearly broke their spines bending over backwards to call it anything else but what it is. And what it will always be to me: a very well-made horror film.

Unless you started cave-dwelling at the top of 1991 and hadn’t emerged until now, you know all about this masterpiece from late, great, extraordinary director JONATHAN DEMME: rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (a peerless performance by JODIE FOSTER) is given a dog’s dinner of a task. An elusive serial killer by the name of Buffalo Bill, a.k.a. Jame Gumb – who got his nickname from the score of women he’s kidnapped, tortured, killed and then skinned (in that very order, if they were lucky) -is on the loose, and to help try and catch him, Clarice has to consult the one brilliant doctor who might know exactly how to find and stop this madman.

But that’s the catch.  That ‘doctor’ is one Hannibal Lecter (SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS in the role that won him the Oscar), and though his IQ is through the roof, he’s even more insane than Bill. Buffalo Bill skins people. Dr. Lecter eats them.  (Your best, snarky “Jack Sprat” comment goes here.)

And did I mention that this film gives you a “two-fer”? Actually, so much more than that. On one level, you have the battle of wills between Hannibal and Clarice, which also has the underpinnings of a creepy yet fascinating kind of ‘love’ story: Lecter’s keen intellect and spooky proclivity for reading and dissecting people and their minds with a single glance, versus Starling’s quiet, almost unflappable reserve and steely resolve. Then on yet another level, you have the whole woman-trying-to-break-the-glass-ceiling, as she has to endure the usual indignities of surviving and trying to thrive in what is essentially an old boys’ club.

And yet still on a third level, you have the harrowing Buffalo Bill story, as Clarice and the Feds race against time to save his latest victim from becoming part of the ‘skin suit’ he is meticulously sewing together, to…transform? Possess women’s bodies in the most extreme way possible? With someone this crazy, who knows?

Adapted by TED TALLY, from the insanely popular bestseller written by THOMAS HARRIS, to serve as the second part of his “Lecter Trilogy” (beginning with RED DRAGON and ending with the controversial HANNIBAL), this one had it all: legendary cinematographer TAK FUJIMOTO on camera; HOWARD SHORE taking care of the tense and unsettling score, and a supporting cast of aces that included Demme’s old mentor ROGER CORMAN, DIANE BAKER, SCOTT GLENN, CHARLES NAPIER, KASI LEMMONS, FRANKIE FAISON, BROOKE SMITH in a career-defining role as a stubborn victim; ANTHONY HEALD as Hannibal’s doctor, who manages to out-sneer even WILLIAM ATHERTON for the “Completely, Insufferably Smarmy” Award.

And most importantly of all, the “shoulda-been-nominated”-worthy turn by TED LEVINE as Jame/Bill, who gave us the chillingly phenomenal and iconic scene with the killer that was composed almost on the spot by him and Demme, (if you’ve seen the movie even once, you know the scene I’m talking about: “Goodbye Horses.”)

And once you’ve glimpsed this top-notch tale of tension, terror and one of the most nail-biting climactic confrontations ever commended to film, director Michael Mann’s version of ‘Red Dragon,” MANHUNTER – the one that really started it all – is more than worth your time to check out, as well as the lesser but still stunning remake, RED DRAGON; the third movie in the trilogy, HANNIBAL, with JULIANNE MOORE subbing for Foster and genre maven RIDLEY SCOTT directing, and even HANNIBAL RISING, the prequel that attempted to tell Lecter’s back story, with a mixed amount of success.

 


Posted by Samuel Glass

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