In the 1991 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ taut crime thriller, director Jonathan Demme and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins craft a fascinating and terrifying portrait of a cold, cultured, intelligent psychopath. Why does “Hannibal the Cannibal” agree to help FBI trainee Clarice Starling track down the deranged serial killer known only as “Buffalo Bill?” More importantly, why does he take such a keen interest in her past—her darkest childhood memories, her most deeply buried trauma? Does he hope that, by confronting and overcoming her repressed pain and fear, she will find the psychological strength she needs to face the demon in the shadows? Or does dissecting the inner-workings of her mind give him the same perverse thrill as would dissecting her body?
One thing is certain: Lecter oozes a carefully calculated creepiness. From the slurping to the sniffing to the speaking-in-riddles, the bug-eyed doctor seems to delight in unnerving his fellow man. This is never clearer than when he finally—inevitably—escapes his cage, brutally murders his guards, and strings up their severely mutilated corpses (sculpted into a bizarre, grotesque work of modern art) for the first responders to find.
And yet, somehow, he remains impeccably charming.