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…
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*