#268 -- The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Rating: 4 / 5
Director: Jonathan Demme

There are quite a few famous horror movies that I have never seen. It's always made me feel like a bad horror fan, and I'm honestly not sure why I've never seen them. Silence of the Lambs was one of those movies. Years ago, my best friend let me borrow the DVD, because she thought that I absolutely needed to watch it. It sat on my shelf for a long time, until she finally gave up and wanted it back. I had a chance so long ago, but I missed it. I didn't want to watch it, though I'm not sure why. I know now that it's really not much of a horror movie. There are some disturbing scenes yes, but nothing genuinely terrifying (other than the fact that these things are very plausible and actually do happen). That being said, I still thought it was a wonderful movie.

Clarice Starling, a student at an FBI academy, got the chance to interview notorious serial killer, Hannibal Lecter. This was an attempt to gain his trust in order to get his help in catching a more recent serial killer they called Buffalo Bill. They promised him that he would be re-located to a facility with a view--which is all he wanted--so he agreed to cooperate. It was a lie, however, and he was transferred to a different facility, with no view. He escaped from that facility by killing a couple of officers and wearing a human mask to get past the guards. While Hannibal is certainly the most interesting character in the movie, he is hardly the main one.

It focuses a lot of Clarice and Hannibal's relationship at the beginning of the movie, but once he escaped there was no relationship to focus on. It turned its focus instead on Buffalo Bill. For the longest time, I thought that Hannibal was based on Ed Gein, but it was actually Buffalo Bill that was based on him. Certain aspects of his personality, and some of his methods, were based on Ted Bundy as well. Buffalo Bill liked to skin his victims, so that he could create a woman suit for himself. He had a terrible childhood, hated himself, and he wanted to change who he was. He had been rejected for sexual reassignment surgery, and so he decided to take matters into his own hands. All of these things were discovered by Lecter as he read the reports on Bill. He was a very intelligent and charming man, played absolutely brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. That is what makes Lecter such a terrifying character. He seems so nice and charming, and he's definitely educated (he was a psychiatrist); but underneath all of that, you know, is a lunatic who will eat your face if he gets the chance. Bill was quite a terrifying character as well, since he is steeped in reality. People like him (and Hannibal) have actually existed, and probably still exist. It is the fact that these things are possible and highly likely that make them scary.

Hannibal's insights did eventually lead Clarice to Buffalo Bill. He was captured before he could murder the senator's daughter, who was trapped in a hole in Bill's basement. But at that point, Hannibal was on the loose, so it was obvious that things were not fine and dandy yet. The world was still in danger, Clarice possibly the most of all.

I think this movie could more accurately be classified as psychological thriller. Yes, people are being murdered in terrible ways, and these killers are frightening. But they're only frightening once you stop to think about it. There is nothing happening on screen to scare you; the scenes are not nightmare inducing. Once you stop and think, "Hey, this could actually happen," and realize that things like that have happened...that's when it starts to scare you. There are certain moments in the movie that are genuinely creepy (like Clarice's first meeting with Hannibal, when we realize just what type of person he is, and how damn creepy Anthony Hopkins is), but overall there's nothing extremely frightening about what you see. Another disturbing scene is when Clarice is in the house of Buffalo Bill. He turns out all the lights so she cannot see. He has night vision goggles, and he stays very close to her. Several times he reaches out to her, nearly an inch from her face, but he never touches her--and she doesn't know that he's that close. To think about a monster being so close to you without your knowledge...That truly is frightening.

It puts the lotion on its skin...
With only two somewhat scary scenes, this can hardly be called a horror movie. As I said, it's more of a psychological thriller because it fucks with your mind. But I don't think it's a bad movie at all. It was wonderful. Every aspect of it was intriguing. The investigations, the FBI, and the serial killers. And the actors and crew worked with real life investigators and FBI personnel while shooting, so it's about as accurate as you can get. Much more so than CSI. The characters work well together, and the actors were phenomenal. I haven't seen Anthony Hopkins in very much, but I can tell you honestly that he's a damn good actor. His scenes were my favorites because they were the most disturbing. Jodie Foster was also wonderful as Clarice. The character had been through some rough things in her life, and that is plain for the viewer to see. Throughout most of the movie, she seems kind of distant from everything; like she's numb. We get the feeling that something terrible happened even before she exposes it. There wasn't a whole lot of gore; but since the movie relied mostly on messing with my mind, I'm okay with that.

Thanks to wonderful actors, and film crew who really cared about their product, Silence of the Lambs is one great movie. It is the only horror movie to have won the Academy Award for best picture. Now usually I could give a rat's ass about what awards a movie has won. But, come on, that's got to mean something, right?

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