- Vancouver, British Columbia - Horror films have become among the most profitable films for studios to produce in large part because the special effects can be made rather cheaply and many of the gore porn films can be predominantly filmed in one location. Also, the lack of a recognizable star is not a problem for many horror films, as moviegoers traditionally don't feel the need to know who the actor is before they get slashed up on the screen. In truth, we probably prefer that the people dying horrible deaths on screen are people we don't recognize, thus they are easier to forget. The Silence of the Lambs is a horror/thriller film that shows everything that is wrong with horror films today, not because it is bad, but because it is amazing. While most horror films are almost immediately disposable, The Silence of the Lambs is anything but, which is why it still haunts many people today.
The Silence of the Lambs tells the story of a manhunt for a serial killer (Ted Levine) nicknamed, "Buffalo Bill," who skins the corpses of female victims. FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is specially requested by her former instructor, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to help with interviewing former serial killer/psychiatrist Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), known for having eaten his victims after murdering them. Lector, while incarcerated, is still a brilliant psychological profiler, thus Crawford thinks Starling may be able to get Lector to help them out on this case, despite the repulsive nature of Lector's crimes.
I had often avoided seeing this film primarily because I had heard so much about the grotesque and obscene gore that was involved. Violent horror films are not really something I'm drawn to, but after having viewed this film, it is interesting to note how much gore in film has developed in 21 years since the initial release of The Silence of the Lambs. Compared to the gore porn that is prevalent in useless franchises like Saw or Hostel, The Silence of the Lambs is relatively tame visually. What sets it apart though is the psychological aspect. While Saw and Hostel are visually disturbing, they lack the deeply unsettling mental toll that it takes to watch a film like The Silence of the Lambs. The latter is the type of film that makes you acknowledge, or at the very least suspect, that people such as Hannibal Lector or "Buffalo Bill" exist in real life. Saw and Hostel are quite easy to dismiss, because they simply aren't believable, in fact, they are films that I know many people can simply laugh off and forget about. Not so with The Silence of the Lambs.
What makes The Silence of the Lambs so effective as a psychological horror/thriller is found almost entirely in the performance of Anthony Hopkins. Regardless of Hopkins strong work on the stage, almost everyone remembers him primarily for his performance in The Silence of the Lambs, and as they should, because he is terribly disturbing, yet in the mold of a perfect villain, he makes us impatient for his character to show up again in the film. I've written in previous reviews that this is, in my opinion, part what makes a villain so powerful on the screen. When an audience fears the villain, but is fascinated by him or her, then there is no telling what the character is capable of doing with our emotions. And strangely enough, when Lector is lied to, we almost want him to be able to get back at those who took advantage of him, even if he is a cannibalistic serial killer who shows no remorse for the indecency that he committed to the bodies of his victims. The Silence of the Lambs is indeed a twisted film for how it so effectively manipulates the audiences' emotions in the face of such a horrific and disgusting character.
The film has aged well in the two decades that have passed since its original release, and I have no doubt that it will continue to work as an effective film over the next two decades to come. Jonathan Demme exercised meticulous control over this project, whose success led him to being able to directed Philadelphia several years later. Apparently after some criticism from the LGBT community about the portrayal of "Buffalo Bill" as a transvestite in The Silence of the Lambs, Demme acknowledged that there were a significant lack of gay and lesbian characters in film, leading him to be drawn to telling the story of Philadelphia. It is strange to think that the same director crafted such vastly different films, but Demme demonstrates himself to be a very versatile director having helmed such projects as the Talking Heads concert films, in addition to several documentaries on a variety of topics.
The Silence of the Lambs is a film that rightly has taken its place among the top 100 films of the last 100 years, as recognized by the American Film Institute. It stands as a measure of what a perfect psychological horror/thriller film should look and aspire to be. It doesn't cheat, nor does it take any shortcuts in bringing about its horrific story. Anthony Hopkins is absolutely superb and without a doubt, it is the best performance of his career, which is no small feat, as he has had many incredible performances. If you took as long as I did to watch this film, shame on you. I know I feel like a bozo for having avoided it as long as I did.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes