Written by Thomas Harris
Published by Delacorte Press
In the upper most echelons on my list of most hallowed monsters is a sickly brilliant cannibal psychiatrist made most famous by Anthony Hopkin’s unblinking eyes. The baroque operandi that oozes out of each carefully crafted movement, thought, and word escalates Dr. Lecter to the pantheon of the perfect terror organisms. Like Giger’s Alien and O’Brien’s Kong, Hannibal Lecter is a creature that effortlessly resonates of personal historic depth. The murkiness that surrounds them is both tantalizing and abhorred. Any distaste for the subject matter’s details ebbs quickly within the flow of one’s own curiosity, as these abominations are the base from which all nightmares are birthed. They represent the source. Or, at least, they are the purity inside all monsters. There are great tales reflected in the unflinching eyes of that killer, but who dares to look?
I have tracked Hannibal Lecter for a long time across a vast multimedia plain. First watching him in Silence of the Lambs, then moving onto gospel with both forms of Hannibal, in the order in which they were released. I’ve not read Red Dragon but have seen both films, Manhunt and Red Dragon.
But the feast is over, and a new meal is set before us. The entrée is changed, and having supped on its flesh, I am weary that not all of those who have been called to Harris’s previous Lecter communions will be all that fond of the unleavened loaf he is trying to pass as transmogrified meat.
Hannibal Rising takes away the form of the creature. Dr. Lecter is replaced and in his stead we get a series of childhood recollections that are to represent the formative years of his life. We glimpse into three separate portals in Hannibal’s mind. The story begins as he is a young privileged boy living in Castle Lecter in Lithuania as Hitler’s armies began to sweep across Europe. We jump from there into a post World War World where Hannibal is now the lone Lecter, scarred and mute. Finally, the story closes with a freshly adult Hannibal hunting out those who haunt his dreams.
In each instance, Thomas Harris is not light on any of the superfluous details that surround Hannibal, and ultimately will come to define him as a person. In this manner, Harris is attempting to write like abstract painters paint. He is giving you the clue to decipher what it is that you are looking at. He could very simply just write out a schematic of Lecter’s life going from A to B to C, but I don’t think that was the intent of the book.
Hannibal Rising feels like an addendum to the previous Lecter literature. It is filling in the cracks in the wall, trying to complete the picture of the nameless beast, without having to give the beast a name. Harris tries so hard to do this tangled task that he risks losing those readers who came looking for the monster that so fascinated them in the first place. Rising is not boring, but it’s content places it easily within such rudimentary forms of criticism.
The effete world from which Hannibal rose is marked with rich and wonderful characters. Harris breathes a forceful life into each and every one of them. At first, very little is said about Hannibal; instead we get him reflected off of this wonderful supporting cast. From Count Lecter, the uncle who takes the adolescent Hannibal in, to the count’s wife Lady Murasaki, a beautiful Japanese woman who not only becomes a focal point for Hannibal’s character but can easily be seen as the source for all of the grace that emanates from Hannibal later in life. The book is at its most effective when we get impressions of Hannibal from their eyes. It allows Hannibal to fill out and take on a human form.
Which is where the problem lies. Hannibal Rising is an attempt to explain the why Hannibal does the things that we see him do later in life. Harris does a great job of telling us, but while handling the shark in this manner, he accidentally loses some of its teeth. Once we see where the book is going, we end the mystery behind Lecter and are left with just a vengeful child moving through a series of acts designed to destroy those who wronged him. Hannibal devolves quickly in the book to a shallow vigilante. Devoid of his darkness, all we can do is just watch as an empty shell of Hannibal goes through these trite and clichéd motions.
I never saw Hannibal Lecter as a pitiful or saddened figure. I never thought there was anything more behind his eyes than a disdain for humanity in any of its lesser forms. Thus he ate the violinist to improve the symphony; he had a pedophile feed his own face to dogs. Hannibal Lecter is not a hero, he just has standards. That’s why he is such a fascinating specimen that warped set of rules he has for his life. In the previously books, we get glimpses of as to what they are, but they’re never completely spelled out for us. The acts just come rushing in at us and then we get a quick barb as to why. Often this is accompanied with a snaky or ironic flavor, which gives Lecter’s actions a subtle humorous aftertaste.
Hannibal Rising strips all of this away, and in the end does not even give us any hint of their creation. The book just says: “They” are why he eats people and this is what he did to “them”.
Hannibal Lecter is a gifted artist, orator, and medical student, from an old wealthy family in Lithuania. Something horrible happened to his family, it scarred him for life, and he took whatever justice was deserved for those actions into his own hands. Cannibalism, one of Lecter’s defining features, plays a role in all of it, but the involvement is as minor as a triangle’s part in the London Symphony.
Hannibal Rising is both maddening and far too simple. It is a sylvan quest where the trees are not as thick as they appear and when the trek is through, you see that the forest is not haunted, but misunderstood and misrepresented. I can’t say to disregard the book completely, as it does have some beautiful insights into Hannibal’s life, and Harris’ prose is like a puzzle. The problem is that the background into Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter’s life is not a puzzle grand enough to warrant a book. The History of Hannibal worked better when it was the idea of conjecture and lore. Seeing it all spelled out does the monster a disservice. Everyone is afraid of the darkness until they have a flashlight.
2 1/2 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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