I’ve had numerous discussions over the years about whether Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a “horror” villain or not. I guess to really answer that question, you first need to determine if the movies he’s in are horror movies. And while I realize that I’m splitting hairs here, I’d suggest that the first appearance of the iconic cannibal in Silence of the Lambs is NOT a horror movie. I’ve always classified that as more of a “thriller”. Not only that, but in Silence, Dr. Lecter isn’t even the true “bad guy” of the film.
But we’re not here to talk about Silence of the Lambs. We’re here today to talk about the sequel Hannibal. If you didn’t get enough Dr. Lecter the first time around, you certainly will in this follow up that took 10 years to hit the big screen. With a budget of $87 million and a box office of over 350 million I think it’s fair to say that Hannibal was “successful” from a film standpoint. What isn’t quite so clear is if it was successful from a horror movie, plot and character development standpoint.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is back once again reprising the role that won him an Oscar. Departed is Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, replaced this time around by Julianne Moore. Many people have a hard time seeing anyone but Foster in the role of Starling but I’ve honestly never had an issue with Moore’s performance here. In fact, with all the action in this film (starting with the opening drug bust sequence) I actually have a hard time picturing Foster back in the role.
Adding some big name star power to this cast are Ray Liotta playing Paul Krendler and Gary Oldman playing Mason Verger. Actually that’s not quite accurate. Gary Oldman was actually uncredited in this role and unless you know it’s him under all the makeup you’ll never recognize him. Speaking of makeup…
If there’s one scene that takes this from “thriller” to “horror” it’s the Ray Liotta “brain scene”. At this point in the movie, Lecter has captured Krendler and is nursing Starling back to health. Starling comes downstairs in a drug induced haze to see Krendler sitting at the table with Lecter preparing a very eloquent dinner. During their discussion, Lecter proceeds to remove the top of (an obviously sedated) Krendler’s scalp and begin to filet a piece of his brain.
Back in 2001 this scene looked incredible and had people up in arms about how such a violent movie could get a R rating. Upon re-watching it recently, it’s amazing just how bad the CGI really was. This certainly shows the sadistic and sick side of Hannibal Lecter while at the same time showing once again his admiration for Clarice Starling. After all, the way I took it, the whole reason he put Krendler into this position was because he’d done a disservice to Clarice earlier in the film.
This absolutely isn’t the best movie in the Hannibal Lecter series of films. That honor goes to and always will go to Silence of the Lambs as it’s nearly a perfect movie. That said, I may actually enjoy Lecter in this film more than I did in Silence. The problem with a character like Lecter is that the audience likes him. Because of this, they root for him more than they would for other horror leading men such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. And while that makes for a great character, it doesn’t make for an outstanding horror movie necessarily.
If you’re a hardcore Lecter fan I’d say you definitely need to watch this one. As opposed to Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter and Red Dragon, Lecter truly is the leading man here. You get another great performance out of Hopkins but with the gore and action turned up a bit. Moore does an above average job as Starling and the plot moves rather quickly through its 131 minute running time. If you’re looking for a slasher flick this one isn’t going to have much for you other than a couple of scenes here and there.
One final note… If you’re a fan of the series, you should definitely check out the novel. While the movie is relatively close to the book, there are some pretty significant differences especially near the end that caused quite a stir among Lecter / Starling fans. Let us know what you think!