100 Film Favorites – #94: “The Silence of the Lambs”
(Johnathan Demme, 1991)
A guide to pairing food and wine, for all of you sophisticated gourmands out there:
Red Meat – – – Red Wine
Seafood – – – White Wine
Liver & Fava Beans – – – Chianti, preferably a Nice one
“The Silence of the Lambs” is probably the award-winningest horror film in cinematic history. It is one of just three films ever to sweep the “Big Five” Oscar categories, including the awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Writing [Adapted] (the other two films to accomplish this feat were “It Happened One Night”  and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” ). It’s also the only horror film ever to win Best Picture, with only two others having ever been nominated (“The Exorcist”  and “The Sixth Sense” ). Anthony Hopkins also holds the record for least screen time of any Best Actor winner in history, appearing in the film for little more than 16 minutes of its nearly two-hour runtime.
Obviously, the filmmakers did something right. But what?
I would posit that the film’s success is attributable largely to a simple mantra: Anthony Hopkins is a scary guy.
-He makes scary faces.
-He makes scary sounds.
-He has scary eyes.
-He’s scary when he moves.
-He’s scary when he stands still.
One additional point of evidence to submit for the court’s consideration: “Silence of the Lambs” was the second film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels. The first was the1986 film “Manhunter,” based on the novel “Red Dragon.” “Manhunter” stars Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. Not Anthony Hopkins. It won no Oscars. Q.E.D.
But seriously, many elements contribute to the effectiveness of “The Silence of the Lambs.” The score is eerie, and the main cast all turn in stellar performances. The film’s editor(s) deserve credit as well: One of the tensest, most creative sequences in the film works due to manipulating the Kuleshov effect (an idea in film theory which holds that viewers tend to connect sequential images thematically, even if they have nothing to do with each other).
In the scene, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is closing in on the lair of Buffalo Bill, the serial killer she has spent the film collaborating with Dr. Lecter to track. Her approach to the house is intercut with shots of other FBI agents and SWAT team members amassing covertly near what appears to be the same house. As Clarice draws nearer, so do the armed agents. Then, Clarice knocks on the door, just as the armored squad rushes forward with a battering ram…and it’s revealed that the two groups are actually at different houses. While the other agents have been given a bum steer and raided a vacant house, Clarice is now face to face with Jame Gumb, the man known as Buffalo Bill. After having spent our film-going lives growing accustomed to intercutting as a fundamental part of the language of cinema, to have the technique suddenly used to deceive is extra jarring. It’s a great, chilling moment, one of many in the film.
Also, that’s totally Ted Levine, aka Captain Stottlemeyer from “Monk,” as Buffalo Bill.
So really, I had no choice but to include “The Silence of the Lambs” on this list of film favorites.
Or else I’d get the hose again.
P.S. – Here’s a piece of supplemental media for you to feast upon: Dwight Schrute discovers that “the movie was pretty realistic.”
Brian Terrill is the host of television show Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. You can keep up with Brian’s 100 Film Favorites countdown here.
2 thoughts on “Brian Terrill’s 100 Film Favorites – #94: “The Silence of the Lambs””
I’m really glad to see this movie included. It’s just a great movie — well-written, well-produced, well-edited — that people somehow forget when putting together lists of the best movies of 90s and best movies of the past 25 years, etc. type lists. The cut back and forth scene you mention is probably my favorite in the movie (gave me the chills first time I saw it).
Also, the Captain from Monk = Buffalo Bill just BLEW MY MIND… how did I not know they’re the same actor!?