Few modern horror movies have matched the critical acclaim of Jonathan Demme's 1991 The Silence of the Lambs, featuring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal psychiatrist. The film, along with Alfred Hitchock's Psycho (1960), is one of few horror/suspense films accepted by movie critics as one of the best American films ever produced. However, as the trilogy of movies in the Hannibal Lecter series progressed, many feared that the character would become commercialized, as he has in many ways. In the two subsequent films, Ridley Scott's sequel, Hannibal (2001), and Brett Ratner's 2002 prequel, Red Dragon, Lecter often seems more of a parody of himself, playing up the larger-than-the-screen status bestowed upon him after Anthony Hopkins's superior performance in Lambs. While many critics were upset at the “commercialization” of one of the greatest characters in the history of American cinema, an even more interesting change may be indicated through the character's acceptance in mainstream culture. Hannibal Lecter is a different type of cannibal monster than those previously seen in horror films, as shown through his motivations and criminal actions, and has been accepted by the audience as an “anti-hero” instead of the antagonist of the movie.
Cannibalism has become a prevalent theme in horror movies since the 1960s. According to Robin Wood, “[t]he cannibalism motif functions in two ways. Occasionally, members of a family devour each other [ . . . ]. More frequently, cannibalism is the family's means of sustaining or nourishing itself” (84). The latter theme has been seen throughout several movies, including Tobe Hooper's cult classic The ...
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..., both the intellectual and the primal self. And, whether most viewers would admit it or not, he is, in many ways, the type of person we are encouraged to be.
Ebert, Roger. “The Silence of Lambs.” Chicago Sun-Times. 14 Feb. 1991.
Gregory, Bettina. “Hannibal Lecter: The Honey in the Lion's Mouth.” American
Journal of Psychotherapy 56.1 (2002): 100-14.
Martingale, Moira. Cannibal Killers: The History of Impossible Murders.
New York: Carroll, 1993.
Sagan, Eli. Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form.
New York: Harper, 1974.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Orion, 1991.
Wood, Robin. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the '70s.” Hollywood from
Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia UP, 1986.
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