The Silence of the Lambs or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Ash Isaac

Since 1991 people the world over have been unable to sit down to enjoy a simple meal of fava beans along with a nice Chianti thanks to one man. Step forward psychotic psychiatrist and gruesome gourmand, Hannibal Lecter; a man so dangerous and depraved he gives serial killers a bad name. Despite only being onscreen for sixteen minutes out of a running time of almost two hours, it’s more than ample time to induce nausea, nightmares and a morbid fascination with the life and crimes of Hannibal Lecter.

Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn’t look like your prototypical manhunter. Doe-eyed, waif-like, but when it comes to deductive skills and intuition she is definitely more Columbo than Clouseau. While undergoing her training at the FBI academy in Quantico she is asked by her superiors to venture off on a little field trip to interview one Hannibal Lecter, last known address Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Starling navigates her way around the asylum passing a rogues gallery of notorious villains such as Sideshow Bob, Moriarty and Lex Luthor before eventually sidling up to Lecter’s glass cage.

Starling is there to ask Lecter for help and information in catching “Buffalo Bill”, a crazed fetish serial killer. Lecter (an Oscar-winning Anthony Hopkins) is a cross between the Demon Headmaster and a Big Brother contestant. Self-obsessed, arrogant and with a supreme belief he is the smartest person in the room which, given that he is in solitary confinement, he usually is. Lecter becomes annoyed with Starling’s questioning and refuses to assist with the investigation. He changes his mind after Staling is “accosted” by another prisoner and throws her a bone in the form of a tip off about Bill. The clue leads Starling to the discovery of a severed head in a storage unit which is the serial killer way of letting a girl know that you like them.

Starling then beings her own version of date night with Lecter by swapping stories about her childhood in exchange for further clues about the identity and motives of Bill who has now kidnapped Somebody Important in the form of a Senator’s daughter thus prompting an upsurge in the efforts to catch the deranged maniac. Unfortunately, it’s around this time that Lecter escapes from incarceration in what is surely the most bloody and shocking prison break in cinematic history involving mutilation, murder and all manner of gore.

Deciding that one deranged maniac is all that she can cope with for the time being, Starling uses the clues provided by Lecter to track Bill down to the house of horrors where he has been keeping his victims. That’s the good news. The bad news is that virtually everyone else in the FBI has gone off on a wild goose chase to another part of the country where they believe Bill to be holed up. Yikes. Undaunted, the plucky Starling goes in for the arrest and after a tense cat and mouse game she manages to shoot Bill dead ending his reign of terror and confirming her status as an FBI legend. Everyone celebrates with a federal cocktail party whilst Lecter roams about free and makes one final phone call to Starling to end their relationship (for now) and talk about dinner plans.

Hannibal Lecter is obviously the worst advert for the Hippocratic oath since Dr Crippen, but the best thing to happen to the crime/horror genre since Ichabod Crane. At turns charming, brutal, courteous, vain, homicidal, empathetic and insightful, Hopkins as Lecter is never anything less than utterly compelling, a true, palpitating heart of darkness. The success of Silence paved the way for an expansion of the Lecter mythos encompassing further novels, films, a current TV series and a cartoon. Ok, maybe not the cartoon (yet). Each subsequent outing for Lecter has struggled to live up to the visceral thrills of this Oscar laden version falling into the trap of increasingly contrived, macabre and grisly demises for Lecter’s victims in an attempt to recreate the shock and awe brilliance of Silence. I’m off to see if I can stomach a glass of Chianti, the fava beans will have to wait…

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.