The Classics of Horror #17 – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to be awarded for Best Picture by the Academy and third to be nominated in the category after The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975).

When I personally think about this masterpiece, I feel like this is the first modern entrance in the Classics of Horror list, which is probably due to the fact that I was born the year The Silence of the Lambs was released.

Silence of the Lambs 1The film is obviously centred around the infamous Hannibal Lecter (played masterfully by Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist with a bit of an obsession for murders and cannibalism. In prison for his crimes, Lecter is approached by young and inexpert FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who needs the serial killer’s help to put behind the bars another psychopath: Buffalo Bill, portrayed by Ted Levine.

This inventive set-up (based on the 1998 novel The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris) makes for an enthralling cat and mouse game, where it’s unsure who’s in control and two great villains (Lecter and Buffalo Bill) create nearly unsolvable puzzles.

In all honestly, I don’t know what to say about this movie that hasn’t been said tons of times before: after all, The Silence of the Lambs represents only the third case in cinema history in which a movie received all the “Big Five” Oscars – best picture, best actor, best actress, best direction and best screenplay!

Therefore, I decided to provide you with some ‘fun facts’ (curiosities, if you will), about the movie.

1)   Gene Siskel, one of the greatest movie reviewers ever (and a very inspirational figure to me) dismissed the movie as a “star-studded freak show” in a 1992 interview.

2)   Gene Hackmann was meant to be directing the movie and starring as Hannibal Lecter. Although I’m sure he  would have done a great job, this sliding door scenario would have deprived us of one of the most iconic performances in horror/thriller history, by Hopkins.

Silence of the Lambs 23)   The infamous scene in which Doctor Lecter creepily hisses to Clarice behind the glass of his cell was improvised by Hopkins, who meant it as a comic relief! Now, please tell me that Anthony Hopkins is not a creepy person in general…

4)   Daniel Day-Lewis (who I’m in love with as an actor) and Sean Connery were also considered for the part of Hannibal Lecter. We would either have had an eccentric, lunatic killer or an extremely polite and manipulative murderer: Hopkins mixes these two aspects perfectly.

5)   Hopkins used people’s common fear of doctors and dentists to ramp up the scares.

6)   Scott Glenn, one of the actors involved in the project, was taken to Quantico, Virginia to listen to tapes of serial killers raping, killing and torturing their victims, in order to have him more immersed in the character and story. As a result, he allegedly walked out in tears and, soon after, became a strong supporter of the death penalty. This anecdote should make rethink everybody who doesn’t consider The Silence of the Lambs a horror movie!

7)   Buffalo Bill’s character was shaped around three notorious serial killers: Ted Bundy, Gary H. Heidnik and Ed Gein.

8)   Bill’s dancing scene was not in the screenplay. But it’s terrifying nonetheless, unlike some scene we’ve seen recently in a M. Night’s movie, right?

Silence of the Lambs 39)   The skull of the moth in the movie poster is borrowed from a Salvador Dalí’s photo

10)                  The amazing title of both novel and film comes from a dialogue in the book (reused in the movie) in which Lecter compares the screaming of lambs to that of his victims.

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