As we get down to the number four entry on the list, we find one of the few horror films that the critics enjoyed as much as the fans. It’s not often that true horrorphiles and starchy movie critics look at a film and both nod their heads and say, “Yeah, that’s the stuff.”
But with The Silence of the Lambs, that was exactly the case.
#4-The Silence of the Lambs
“I do wish we could chat longer, but…I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”
That was the perfect ending line for the most critically-acclaimed horror film of all time. The film’s list of accolades includes five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (which Anthony Hopkins won, despite being on the screen for only about 16 minutes of the two-hour film), Jodie Foster took Best Actress, Jonathan Demme was Best Director and the film also won Best Adapted Screenplay. Wow.
Many consider The Silence of the Lambs to be more of a thriller than a true horror film, but don’t make that mistake. Anytime you reflect back on this film and consider that maybe it isn’t a pure horror movie, go back and watch it again…go through the whole experience from the beginning, and you’ll certainly be reminded of the power of the film and the brutality of the characters. Do you recall how Hannibal Lecter escaped police custody? I believe it involved removing a guard’s face in the most rudimentary of ways. This, my dear Dreadies, is a horror film.
The Silence of the Lambs, especially the scenes with Lecter, is a master class in suspense. Before her initial meeting with him, Agent Clarice Starling is repeatedly warned about the danger Lecter poses. And it is through these descriptive images of his crimes (especially those warnings of Dr. Frederick Chilton, describing how Lecter attacked a nurse and ate her tongue) that we are introduced to the monster that is Hannibal the Cannibal. And this is how the brilliant aura of Lecter is built. We hear all about his heinous crimes and see the fear he instills in those that have regular interactions with him. Even before we see Dr. Lecter in that cell at the end of the hall, he’s already crept into our psyche.
Hopkins is absolutely hypnotic in this, perhaps his most memorable role. You simply cannot look away while he is on the screen, even while re-watching the film. His portrayal of Lecter is brilliant. Every line is delivered perfectly, whether it be his probing of Agent Starling, his verbal assault of Senator Ruth Martin or his farewell to Sergeant Pembry, Lecter is played perfectly. It is hard to believe, as mentioned above, that Hopkins could create such an iconic character while being on the screen for just a shade over 15 minutes.
Opposite him, Foster offers an excellent light to Lecter’s dark, allowing him to dig into her mind in exchange for his assistance in the “Buffalo Bill” murder case. Anthony Heald is also great as the smarmy doctor overseeing Lecter in prison. However, often overshadowed by the power of Hopkins’ performance and his chemistry with Foster, is the other monster in The Silence of the Lambs, Jame Gumb a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, played disturbingly by Ted Levine.
Yes, Lecter did utter the infamous line “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” which would go on to be the most memorable slogan from the film, but we mustn’t forget that Jame Gumb had some memorable moments of his own. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was up against one of the greatest antagonistic performances of all time in Hannibal Lecter, we can be pretty sure that The Silence of the Lambs would have been remembered for either 1) “It puts the lotion in the basket”; 2) Gumb’s crazy final scene and death image, crumpled on the floor like a dead spider, coughing up blood, with the night-vision goggles on; or (and this is the most likely) 3) Buffalo Bill’s wild dance scene. Yeah, you know the one. Hidden penis and the hard close-up on his extraordinarily creepy lipsticked mouth saying, “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me. I’d fuck me hard,” in a voice that was very similar to former WWE wrestler Chyna or Ray Lewis.
The suspense never lets up. A great twist scene on the apprehension of Buffalo Bill wraps up an amazing adventure, and Lecter’s exclamation point in the final scene as he fades into anonymity is perfect. Off he goes to hide in plain sight. Not the scariest, not the goriest, but this may be the most perfectly polished horror movie of all time. It is a masterpiece.
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