The Headless Horseman

Sleepy Hollow is another famous gothic tale that fit Tim Burton perfectly. Happy Halloween everyone! Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a major Halloween favorite that’s persisted since 1820. Burton was tapped to direct a more official adaptation that was neither silent nor one half of an animated Disney version. Sleepy Hollow was always sort of a mystery to me when it comes to movies Burton’s directed. I knew it existed, but I somehow managed to avoid seeing much of it growing up.

Sleepy Hollow is actually less of a direct adaptation and more of an ode to gory atmospheric horror movies of the 70’s. The story can just get a bit complicated to the point Sleepy Hollow nearly put me to sleep. Ichabod Crane is a 1799 New York constable instead of a new schoolmaster. Crane believes in science and is almost comically squeamish around blood. Crane is obviously played by Johnny Depp alongside an older Christina Ricci as his blonde love interest. The biggest star of Sleepy Hollow is Sleepy Hollow itself. The practically colorless spooky setting is so atmospheric that it won a rare Best Art Direction Oscar for a horror movie.

Although Sleepy Hollow can be very creepy, the blood is so over-the-top that only Tim Burton could have pulled it off. The infamous Headless Horseman chops off heads left and right. He has a classic look and black horse, but he’s also very agile. I can’t say I was expecting a growling sharp toothed Christopher Walken to be the head attached to the body. The supernatural stuff doesn’t stop at him since there’s also a witch. Sleepy Hollow has just the right amount of chills and decapitated heads to be a worthy adaptation.

sleepy hollow

The Headless Horseman strikes

The Man Behind the Mask

Hannibal Rising is the Hannibal Lecter origin story no one needed to see. Such an iconic character should be left a mystery. It’s part of Lecter’s appeal. Author Thomas Harris was practically forced to write the prequel novel and the movie’s screenplay. Under threat of losing the character. So Hannibal Rising follows a young Hannibal’s path towards becoming a ruthless serial killer and vicious cannibal. We’re left with a boring revenge thriller that feels more like a historical war drama than a horror movie.

Hannibal once lived in a castle in Lithuania before World War II left most of his family dead. Followed by his dear younger sister Mischa being eaten by sadistic Soviets. Hannibal grows up haunted and despondent until he flees to his deceased uncle’s Japanese wife. Lecter becomes a serial killer by hunting down each remaining Soviet, a doctor by attending medical school, a cannibal by tasting his victims, and his trademark muzzle is represented by a samurai mask.

Gaspard Ulliel comes close to capturing a young Hannibal Lecter, but you can’t really compare him to Anthony Hopkins. Of course the usual problem with having a villain as the lead, is making them too sympathetic. A bigger problem when war criminals are who he’s after. No matter how much they pushed it, Hannibal Rising is further proof that the franchise peaked with The Silence of the Lambs. Until I check out the TV series Hannibal, that’s how I choose to remember the infamous cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

6. Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Lecter holds his mask

Followed by: Red Dragon


Red Dragon is in the unique position of being a prequel that was meant as a first installment. Manhunter already adapted Thomas Harris’s novel before The Silence of the Lambs was adapted. When the latter became so acclaimed that Hannibal was adapted 10 years later, they decided to readapt Red Dragon. This time with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and a more faithful approach. The only problem was the book already being so similar to its more well known sequel. The only major difference being the serial killer that’s pursued.

Although released only a year after Hannibal, I hadn’t even heard of the Brett Ratner directed prequel. Despite it actually being better in comparison. Thanks to Oscar winning writer Ted Tally returning, this is the closet Hopkins gets to recapturing Lecter in his prime. An all star cast consisting of Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, and Philip Seymour Hoffman elevate the standard story a bit too. After FBI agent Will Graham catches the cannibalistic serial killer, he more frequently visits Lecter to gain insight into the mind of the new serial killer.

Lecter’s prison is a fine recreation and likely a way to show as much of him as possible. More focus is still put on Graham and his target the “Tooth Fairy.” Fiennes is naturally creepy, so his tattoos are shown more, while his mask is seen less. More of Francis Dolarhyde is shown too, including his tense relationship with a blind lady. The book’s violent ending is well executed and Clarice Starling is even teased for good measure. Red Dragon can’t compete like the rest, but at least it respects what came before.

5. Red Dragon

Hannibal Lecter imprisoned

Preceded by: Hannibal Rising & Followed by: The Silence of the Lambs

Hello, Clarice

Hannibal ain’t winning any awards. All the problems stem from Thomas Harris writing a follow up novel after the success of The Silence of the Lambs. The original cast & crew all ended up disliking it. So Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme, writer, and star Jodie Foster all turned it down. Not even recent Oscar winning replacement director Ridley Scott could save it. I found a way to watch the Best Picture winner when I was younger, but I avoided Hannibal because of how gruesome it is. Along with Frankie Faison who played Lecter’s orderly, Anthony Hopkins is the only major returning actor.

As you can tell by the title, there’s a lot more Hannibal Lecter running around. The problem is how much it hurts the brilliant cannibalistic serial killer. The refined mystery and creepy focus are what made him so terrifying. I don’t want to see him roaming Italy, doing mundane things for half of a 2 hour movie. 10 years later, top agent Clarice Starling struggles with the FBI and attempts to locate Dr. Lecter. Julianne Moore does her best, but she’s still distracting. Especially when her Clarice feels so out of character. Not as bad as the book, but still off.

Another distraction is an unrecognizable Gary Oldman’s over-the-top performance as revenge hungry facially disfigured wealthy surviving Lecter victim Mason Verger. When Lecter kills again in Italy, he returns to the states to stalk Clarice. When he winds up in Veger’s trap, he’s almost fed to equally ridiculous wild boars. The biggest turn off comes at the end when Lecter drugs Clarice and dines on Ray Liotta’s exposed brain. They didn’t go with the out of nowhere romantic ending, but seeing Hannibal & Clarice this close still misses the point. Although some ideas could’ve worked, Hannibal doesn’t understand how much better the less is more approach can be.

4. Hannibal

Hannibal Lecter carries Clarice Starling

Preceded by: The Silence of the Lambs

I Ate His Liver with Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to ever win Best Picture. A feat that makes it legendary within its often overlooked genre. Not only did it win Best Picture, but the very rare Big Five Academy Awards as well. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Something that only It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest have been able to do. So what exactly elevated The Silence of the Lambs to that level of acclaim? The key was performance and 1991 accepting more out of the box choices.

Although technically based on Thomas Harris’s second novel and Manhunter already based on his first, The Silence of the Lambs isn’t exactly a sequel. It’s just in a unique position of being a new interpretation of a later work. My fascination with horror made it a must watch, but I didn’t see it uncut right away. I saw it on TV with all the brutal stuff cut out. Now I’ve finally experienced the full psychological experience. The Silence of the Lambs continues the story of brilliant psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Turning him into a major horror icon and one of the greatest movie villains of all time…

2. The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lecter muzzled

The Silence of the Lambs assembles a truly brilliant cast who are really to thank for turning stock characters into three dimensional cinematic icons. Of course the focused direction of Jonathan Demme helps as well. Along with a creepy atmosphere, dialogue that leaves an impression, and scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. Jodie Foster stars as FBI agent in training Clarice Starling. It’s one thing to act convincingly insane, but it’s another to be level headed in intense situations. She’s more than just a final girl, Clarice is frightened sure, but determined at the same time. That’s why Foster deserved her second Oscar win. Clarice is a young attractive southerner who her superior Jack Crawford sends to speak to the mad doctor. Dr. Chilton runs through all the rules which Clarice slowly disobeys.

In the guise of answering a psychological profile, Clarice finds herself in the sight of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Realizing this was all about using a serial killer to catch a serial killer. It’s a fascinating set up with the iconic specially designed glass prison separating the two. Anthony Hopkins absolutely steals the show as Hannibal Lecter. Barely blinking, never raising his heart rate, and getting inside people’s heads. He’s a vicious cannibal, but a classy genius who does have some standards. Making him all the more unpredictable and scary. Especially when delivering a line as memorable as eating a man’s liver with fava beans and chianti. He never actually says “Hello Clarice,” despite the misconception. Lecter looks like any other englishman in prison attire, but it’s his trademark muzzle that people really remember. Despite a shockingly small 16 minutes of screentime, Hopkins could really only win for Best Actor.

This is just as much Lecter’s story as it is Starling’s. He taunts her, makes her relive her childhood, but respects her more than most. The title itself refers to a traumatic experience Clarice had with screaming lambs. Something she uses to track down the real threat. Buffalo Bill is just as sadistic in a completely different way. Ted Levine deserves just as much admiration for his unhinged performance. Buffalo Bill is a serial killer who skins overweight women to make a female body suit. In order to “transform” into a woman himself. Hence his use of death’s head moths as a calling card. The moths themselves are so important that they’re featured on the movie’s very iconic poster. Buffalo Bill kidnaps senator’s daughter Catherine Martin. Forcing her to starve in a pit with only his dog Precious by his side. The Silence of the Lambs doesn’t hold back with its R rated depictions of crime scenes, ickiness, gory murder, and Bill’s infamous dance.

Clarice seems to lose her best chance of finding Bill when Lecter makes a very intense and calculating escape, but she has exactly what she needs. Catherine stays alive by exploiting Bill’s love for his dog and Clarice ends up in the FBI’s position. Face to face with Buffalo Bill, Clarice follows him into a dark basement with Bill wearing night vision goggles. It’s intense, but even more impressive when you realize Foster performed the scene with the lights on. With Bill finally taken out, Starling receives high honors for her achievement. But it’s short lived when the freed Hannibal Lecter calls with plans to have an old friend for dinner. The Silence of the Lambs works as both a terror inducing horror movie and a deep character study. Nothing is more scary than an all too human serial killer. Making The Silence of the Lambs more realistic than any monster. *Satisfied slurp*

3. The Silence of the Lambs

Clarice Starling speaks to Hannibal Lecter

Preceded by: Red Dragon & Followed by: Hannibal

Hannibal the Cannibal

Manhunter isn’t a Martian Manhunter movie. It’s actually the very first movie appearance of infamous cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. People just forget about it, because it didn’t reach nearly the same level of admiration as its Best Picture winning successor. Despite having Michael Mann as a director. Manhunter is only ever brought up in comparison, but it does have its own merit. Manhunter is based on Thomas Harris’s first novel Red Dragon. Names like Lecter were changed to Lecktor and the title itself was changed too.

Brian Cox portrays this approach to Hannibal Lecktor as a different, more charismatic evil genius already behind bars. He makes an impression, but he’s barely in the movie. Manhunter refers to the true lead Will Graham. The retired FBI agent who caught Lecktor, but visits him to gain insight into the mind of a new serial killer. The “Tooth Fairy” is the one to catch since this is more of a game of cat and mouse. One with a lengthy amount of forensics, analysis, and investigation. Something that apparently influenced CSI shows.

I’m not a big fan, but it does give Manhunter a more unique identity. A specific color palette does the job too. He’s no Hannibal Lecktor, but the “Tooth Fairy” is a creepy threat. Hiding under a mask and sporting a Red Dragon tattoo. Until he’s revealed to be the more or less human Francis Dollarhyde. Probably the best takeaway is how Graham puts himself in the mind of a serial killer. Something most FBI agents do to find their target. Manhunter isn’t winning any awards, but it’s still interesting to see an early interpretation.

1. Manhunter

Hannibal Lecktor in jail

Rise of the Blood Queen

Hellboy (2019) is a major insult. Not just because it’s one of the worst superhero bombs in recent memory, but because it killed Hellboy III. Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman’s third installment that should’ve been made. Hellboy was already pretty niche as a Dark Horse Comics adaptation, so making a reboot was a baffling decision. Horror director Neil Marshall took over and the project became a gritty R rated reboot. Like Perlman, Stranger Things star David Harbour already had the Hellboy look. So I gave Hellboy (2019) a chance despite the overly comedic trailer looking kinda bad.

Hellboy (2019) is just as tryhard as it looks. With the Hellboy makeup trying too hard to be gritty and an entirely unwarranted R rating. It’s just characters dropping F bombs every few minutes and excessive gore that’s more disgusting than entertaining. The CGI blood squibs are pretty awful too. Harbour tries, but his unfunny agro Hellboy isn’t as charming. Other characters suffer for the sake of being different. Ian McShane’s Professor Broom is too rough, Liz is swapped for lesser known medium Alice, and Abe is swapped for unlikable werejaguar Ben Daimio. Ed Skrein dodged a bullet when Daniel Dae Kim was cast in his place.

The only Mike Mignola character done justice is Thomas Haden Church as vigilante Lobster Johnson. Unfortunately it’s in a seriously crappy recreation of Hellboy’s Nazi unleashed origin. The uninspired conflict follows the Arthurian legend with Milla Jovovich as the dismembered Blood Queen who seeks to rule. Hellboy works with a less interesting B.P.R.D. and confronts the disgusting Baba Yaga. Giants are fought, a nasty pig fairy rebuilds Nimue, demons wreak havoc, and Hellboy becomes Anung Un Rama. Too bad I nearly fell asleep in the theater several times. What’s really funny is an Abe Sapien cliffhanger that they seriously thought would spark a sequel. Hellboy (2019) should be sent below where it belongs.

3. Hellboy

Hellboy with B.R.P.D.


Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an awesome display of Guillermo del Toro’s creativity. Before del Toro was simply bringing the Dark Horse Comics character to life. Now he’s free to create any imaginative creature he wants. It helps that Pan’s Labyrinth made him an even more respected filmmaker. Much like Blade II, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a superhero sequel that improves on its predecessor in every way. Yet I still didn’t see the movie in theaters. Despite already being a fan of the first Hellboy. The Golden Army refers to an ancient mechanical army created for the elves. Although Mike Mignola characters are present, the dark fantasy angle is mostly del Toro. Only he could come up with stone elves, metal fisted trolls, an angel of death with eyes on its wings, and tooth hungry tooth fairies. Hellboy was always a hero who fought any magical creature thrown at him.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy at this point. With a lighter tone, he’s free to crack as many jokes as he wants. Even singing “Can’t Smile Without You” while drunk. Selma Blair is now even more confident as Liz Sherman. Her flames are red instead of blue, but she’s just as formidable. Liz & Hellboy’s relationship is shown in greater detail with the added revelation of her pregnancy. Abe Sapien is similarly given better development with Doug Jones actually providing the voice this time. Abe has more comradery with Hellboy, Liz, and the rest of the B.P.R.D. John Myers is ditched since he’s no longer required. The organization faces a major headache when Hellboy reveals himself to the world. Giving Jeffrey Tambor a lot more to do. The most prominent new Mignola character is Johann Krauss. A fascinating containment suit wearing medium made of ectoplasm and voiced by Seth MacFarlane.

All the villains are original. Prince Nuada is a formidable elf with the intent to control the Golden Army. The problem is his physical link to his sister Princess Nuala. Made more complicated by Abe falling for her. The action is even more entertaining with fights at a Troll Market, baby juggling, big gun toting confrontations with a giant Forrest god, and a final battle with the indestructible army. Nuada’s martial arts skills make him a vastly different enemy for the more brute strength Hellboy. Even with the fun tone, Hellboy still faces difficult questions like if he really belongs among the humans? Too bad we may never know the answer. Hellboy II: The Golden Army brings light into the dark.

2. Hellboy II The Golden Army

Hellboy and the rest of B.P.R.D.

Preceded by: Hellboy

The Right Hand of Doom

Hellboy is one of many lesser known comic book adaptations to become a big success. Although Dark Horse Comics mostly sticks to licensed properties, Hellboy is one of their few original superheroes. Created by unique artist Mike Mignola, Hellboy was about as different as they come. A half demon misfit raised with a strong catholic upbringing who files his horns and works for a secret paranormal government agency. He was perfect for Guillermo del Toro. Who only increased his mainstream recognition after Blade II. Admittedly, the title did throw me off, but I became an instant fan of Hellboy after seeing the movie on FX. Like all great del Toro projects, Hellboy brings humanity to a monster. The movie follows the Seed of Destruction storyline. Closely recreating Hellboy’s origin as a baby demon let in by a portal opened by Nazi forces including occultist Grigori Rasputin, his right hand woman Ilsa, and deadly undead mechanical swordsman Kroenen.

Hellboy is raised by government scientist Professor Broom who forms the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense). In secret, Hellboy becomes an urban legend with his own comic books. He’s ancient, but mentally a young adult with a love for candy and cats. Really there’s no one better to play him than Ron Perlman. He already has makeup experience and his wise cracking makes Hellboy all the more lovable. Hellboy leaps off the page with his red skin, tail, muscles, and trenchcoat, but his hooves aren’t really prominent. What is prominent is his trademark Right Hand of Doom. A giant stone hand used for smashing and something far worse. John Hurt brings a very caring relationship to his adopted son as Professor Broom. While Jeffrey Tambor’s frustration as government cover up agent Manning is mostly played for laughs.

Joining the outcast is psychic humanoid fish Abe Sabian. The first amphibious man played by creature expert Doug Jones. Selma Blair effectively plays misunderstood firestarter Liz Sherman as well. Although she’s just a friend in the comics, her romantic relationship with Hellboy is the heart of the story. Original character John Myers is newly recruited just to deliver exposition. Since Hellboy’s world is too complex for mainstream audiences. When Rasputin is revived, Hellboy locks & loads with a giant “Good Samaritan” gun to battle resurrecting Sammael hellhounds, face his world ending destiny as Anung Un Rama, and fight a giant Lovecraftian behemoth. Del Toro never disappoints with creature effects. While the action is even more fun with Hellboy’s sense of humor. Hellboy is how you tell an obscure superhero story right.

1. Hellboy

Hellboy breaks out the big gun

Followed by: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Follow that Spaceship

Flight of the Navigator plots a course to adventure. Despite never watching it when I was younger, I always knew about it as one of those lesser known “Kid and his robot” movies. I wasn’t even aware it was from Disney. Flight of the Navigator was one of the first Disney movies I watched on Disney+, but I had to rewatch it after falling asleep. Making it even more enjoyable now that I appreciate the bigger picture. Which can be separated in two distinct halves.

The first 45 minutes of Flight of the Navigator follows average 12 year old kid David. He’s just trying to enjoy 4th of July until he passes out in the middle of a forest. When he wakes up, a full 8 years have passed! It’s completely unexpected and could’ve made an interesting movie all by itself. Since a kid discovering his parents and younger brother are older would be pretty traumatizing. When NASA cross examines him, a young Sarah Jessica Parker gets him out.

Leading to the last 45 minutes which delivers on the lighthearted sci-fi adventure we were promised. The cool reflective pod shaped spaceship looks great with the early 80’s CGI. The inside is equally cool with a monotone robotic drone David calls Max. The only catch is David needing to navigate since all the maps were placed in his head. They form an unlikely bond and learn a lot from each other. Max even gains the laugh happy personality of Pee-Wee Herman. Flight of the Navigator is a surprisingly thought provoking personal journey with all the adorable aliens and flight sequences to keep it fun.


David (kid) navigates with Max (robot)