Clarice Starling: Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims.
Hannibal Lecter: I didn’t.
Clarice Starling: No. No, you ate yours.
F: Once a long time ago.
R: Yes, a couple of times, but not for a very long time.
F: I think it’s safe to say this is the most tense film on the list so far! And there were genuinely moments I had to watch through my fingers.
R: I wasn’t sure how well this would hold up but you’re right, it really is gripping. And chock full of memorable scenes too. Was Hannibal Lecter the last great villain of the cinema?
F: The only one I can think of that has possibly stolen that mantle is Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. But Hannibal Lecter is a great character. Anthony Hopkins is so creepy! It’s certainly a career defining role for him.
R: The difference with the Joker is that he was already a pretty well known and popular villain before Heath Ledger’s performance, while Hopkins can take the majority of the credit for capturing the public’s imagination with Hannibal Lecter. But while he might be the iconic character, it’s Jodie Foster’s performance that’s at the heart of the film and probably why it’s so successful. She is totally believable as the FBI trainee, and it’s often the way she responds to Lecter that makes him so terrifying.
F: Absolutely. She’s the central character but it’s her interactions with Lecter that are the best scenes in this film. It’s a meeting of equals and I think we actually start to like Hannibal Lecter because of the way he is with Clarice. We’ve mentioned this film is tense but did you find it scary?
R: Certainly scarier than The Sixth Sense! It’s a tense kind of scary. There are no cheap jump scares, it’s all psychological. What struck me was how little you actually see of the gruesomeness. A lot of it is suggestion, and of course, your mind is generally capable of imagining worse things than they could ever show on screen.
F: It scared me a lot. Even though I had seen it before I was genuinely terrified in parts. Especially when characters (mainly Clarice) insist on going looking for things at night! Has she not watched any horror films? Because that’s when things normally go wrong. I’d also built up in my head over the years the scene where the police come out of the elevator and see the cage (hopefully you know which scene I’m referring to) but actually it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Still fairly disgusting though.
R: Those moments of anxious anticipation are what the film does so well, and the fact you remembered that reveal as being worse than it actually is says a lot about how well crafted that scene is. Is Hannibal Lecter’s escape – the details of which we definitely shouldn’t spoil! – the best sequence in the film? I’m thinking it might even be the best in the entire list so far…
F: Well as I said before, I think the scenes with Clarice and Hannibal are the best in this film but in terms of set pieces it’s certainly up there with the chariot race from Ben Hur and my favourite, the train robbery from The Wild Bunch. We haven’t spoken much about the actual plot of this movie. Clearly Hannibal Lector is the villain but did you think Buffalo Bill managed be a good enough bad guy to stand alongside him in this?
R: I’m not sure the two need to compete. Arguably Buffalo Bill is just a device to set events in motion and bring some necessary time pressure to the story. But he is certainly sufficiently creepy, and the confrontation between him and Clarice is another excellently directed scene, culminating in another of those memorable moments with Bill watching her fumble in the dark through his night-vision goggles. Do you think Clarice has successfully silenced the lambs at the end of the film?
[Very mild spoilers]
F: No I don’t think so. I think Hannibal becomes her main focus in the film (of course she wants to rescue the girl too!) and since that’s unresolved at the end I think the lambs will still be screaming in her dreams. It’s still a slightly odd title though…
R: I like the title. It’s immediately evocative and with several layers of meaning. And I think Agent Starling is going to sleep pretty soundly at the end of the film. There’s some justification for saying that more important to her than Lecter, or even saving the senator’s daughter, is her career. She’s haunted by her father’s death in the film (note that this we actually see, unlike the bleating of the lambs, which for all we know could be a ruse for Lecter’s benefit), and by the end she knows she’s done enough to make him proud. That said, I’ve not read the books, and only have a very hazy memory of the sequel Hannibal, so I’m sure my theorising can be very easily disproved!
F: Well you may have to watch Hannibal on your own. Too gruesome for me I imagine!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
R: I didn’t expect to say it before re-watching this, but it’s a better film than I remembered. It’s a yes from me.
F: Take note, The Sixth Sense – this is how a horror film should be done. It’s a yes from me too.