It’s a tradition that every October I review a category of different themed horror movies, and this year I’ll be reviewing the biggest horror movies of the 1990’s. This was a time of transition, when horror was starting to become self aware, and a subject of parody. However, this was also the age in which a different kind of monster began dominating the theaters. Let me put it this way, the 1930’s and 40’s were the age of classic horror mascots like Dracula and The Wolf Man. The 1970’s and 80’s were the age of monstrous slasher villains like Freddy Krueger and Leather Face. The 90’s by contrast was the age of human monsters, the ones that were less conventional, and more realistic. Thus the perfect movie to kick off my 90’s horror marathon, and arguably the biggest film of the decade is the 1991 picture “The Silence of the Lambs”. This was the very first and to date only true horror movie to win the Academy Award for best picture. Other classic horror movies like “Jaws”, “The Exorcist” and “The Sixth Sense” have all been nominated for best picture, but “The Silence of the Lambs” is the one that brought home the gold, and is often considered a film legend. I personally think the film is a little overrated, and certainly not best picture material. I thought “The Sixth Sense” was best picture worthy for sure, but that’s for another review. With “The Silence of the Lambs”, while I personally think the praise goes too far, it’s definitely a good movie still ... but just how good is it really?
When the FBI fails to develop any leads to the identity of a brutal serial killer named Buffalo Bill, trainee agent Clarice Starling is assigned to interview convicted psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The FBI chief hopes to wrong-foot the dangerous cannibal by sending in this unworthy trainee. Now Starling must attempt to gain profiling information on the killer from Lector without revealing too much of herself in the process. The man hunt for Buffalo Bill gets even more serious once he abducts a senators doubter, and aims to where her skin as a new suit. Thus with time running out, the confrontations between Starling and Lector become more heated, and our unprepared agent takes it upon herself to rescue the missing girl. Lector is aware of her goals and soon the interrogations transform into a two way interview of sorts, as we learn more of agent Starling’s troubled past.
Obviously the main attraction to this movie is Anthony Hopkins as the vile Hannibal Lecter. Personally, I never found this portrayal of Hannibal Lecter to be that scary, especially when compared to Buffalo Bill who was truly terrifying, and more like a real life serial killer. Hannibal Lecter is more classy, almost like a James Bond villain, and I always found him at odds with the grimly realistic tone of the picture. Having said that, Anthony Hopkins undeniably steals the show and is the best part of the whole film. Weather Anthony Hopkins scares you or not, he is still very intriguing and holds your attention every time he’s one screen. Those glaring eyes of his almost seem to peer right into your soul. Most of the time, he’s only seen behind prison bars or in his cell, yet he still feels larger than life. Even though Buffalo Bill is more frightening and the main focus of the film, I was always more interested in Hannibal Lecter and his story. One thing that I have mixed feelings about is Lecters interest in Agent Starling. The movie makes it very clear that she’s never in any danger around him, and that he’d never harm her, which I feel spoils some of the tension. However, it’s also makes for a very threatening situation to have an evil person love you as opposed to hate you. It also makes the interactions between the two more unique and still tense to experience.
Jodie Forster is also excellent in the lead role of Clarice Starling. It’s her leading performance along with Hannibal Lecter that makes the film worth watching. I really like that she’s a strong female lead, who still has a noticeably fragile side. Most stereotypes of a strong leading female have a tendency to show off, and lose their femininity, but Jodie Forster knocks it out of the park by staying strong without burying the emotions and terror one would naturally go through in a situation like this. Her back story is also one of my favorite marks of the film. It’s revealed that she was orphaned at a young age and forced to stay at her uncle’s ranch, where many lambs were slaughtered. The screaming of the lambs kept her awake at night, and because her first attempt to rescue one failed, she still continues to hear the screaming of the lambs even as an adult. This is her motivation for rescuing the missing girl, because it will give her some form of “penance” and silence the screaming for good. This is what gets us to cheer for her as she goes on this mission, we want her to save this girl so she can in a sense rescue herself.
This is also very unique kind of horror movie that doesn’t aim for conventional scares or overly exploitive content. It is a disturbing movie, but it mostly comes from the concepts of what the two main killers can do, as opposed to what we actually see them do. The whole film just has this grim atmosphere which feels genuinely unsettling and realistic. Of course the film has its share of standout grotesque moments. Buffalo Bill’s basement prison is the stuff of nightmares, and Lecters eventual escape from prison features some horrendous bloodshed and violence. The film builds at a steady pace to tense climax in which agent Starling plays a deadly game of cat and mouse in Buffalo Bill’s basement of horrors. Beyond being a rare horror movie to win the best picture Oscar, it also swept the stage by winning all five coveted Academy Awards including best director, best adapted screen play, Jodie Foster won the best actress award, and of course Anthony Hopkins won the best actor award. The film also got nominations for best sound and best editing.
This is also a rare case in which a horror movie sequel wins more admiration and Oscars then its predecessor, and I’ll bet you never even knew that “The Silence of the Lambs” was in fact a follow-up to an earlier horror film. Firstly, the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” is based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same title, which was a sequel to an earlier book titled “Red Dragon”. The book “Red Dragon” was adapted into the 1986 motion picture titled “Manhunter”, which is another classic horror film in its own right. Thus “The Silence of the Lambs” works as a sequel, and surprisingly it isn’t even the first movie to feature a note worthy actor performing Hannibal Lecter. Other actors would take on the role in films like “Hannibal Rising”, and “Hannibal: The TV Series”, but none would reach the same iconic highlights of Hopkins. Anthony did reprise his role in a sequel simply titled “Hannibal”, which I haven’t seen but from its reputation, it’s probably best skipped. Hopkins reprised the role a third time in the 2002 movie “Red Dragon”, which was a remake of the 1986 film “Manhunter”. Honestly, I thought this film was not only better than the original, but in many ways I found it to be superior to “The Silence of the Lambs”, but that’s just my opinion.
In the end, it all comes down to personal opinion, and while I think “The Silence of the Lambs” is a really good film that mostly disserves it’s honors, I’m by no means a fan and I think there are far stronger horror films of this sort out there. “The Silence of the Lambs” is clearly a smartly crafted film, stunningly photographed and tense till the end, but it never left an impression on me, nor is it a film that I’d care to re-watch. The only things I really love in the film are the performances from the two leads, but aside from that, the film doesn’t give me much to care for. Later this mother I’ll be reviewing both “Misery” and “The Sixth Sense”, and those movies are more than just well crafted, they’re both very special to me, and left an impact. I’ll go into more detail as to why those films work when I actually review them. As for “The Silence of the Lambs”, while I’m still not the biggest fan, it is undeniably a superior thriller that walks on the edge of psychological study and all-out horror. It’s a classic film from the 90’s, and a staple of the horror genera.
I give “The Silence of the Lambs” 3 ½ stars out of 5.