A killer time
Back in 1991, few could have predicted the impact that The Silence of the Lambs would have on the following years Oscars. Becoming only the third movie in history to do so, Jonathan Demmes sensational adaptation of Thomas Harris novel won the Big Five awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing. That its essentially a horror movie made it all the more notable.
And in the years since its release, few could deny that it fully deserved the accolades. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster make a memorable leading duo, their scenes together fizzing with chemistry, and perhaps the only shame from the Oscars is that Ted Levine wasnt recognised for his chilling turn as Buffalo Bill. So, to mark its 25th anniversary this weekend, heres the 10 creepiest moments from one of the 90s best movies.
10. "Love your suit"
If you need any evidence of just how brilliantly menacing Hopkins is as Hannibal, just watch his brief scene with Senator Martin (Diane Baker) whose daughter has been abducted by Buffalo Bill. With half of Hopkins face obscured by the iconic mask, his eyes and line delivery do all the work needed to give you a serious chill. Hannibal reveals that Buffalo Bill has done things with his victims skins, taunts the Senator (When your little girl is on the slab, where will it tickle you?) and makes sure to have the final word when she walks away: Just one more thing Love your suit.
9. "Having an old friend for dinner"
If were honest with ourselves, we all sort-of wanted Hannibal to end The Silence of the Lambs as a free man, despite the heinous things he does during his escape (more on that later). The coda, set at Clarices FBI Academy graduation party, shows off the wit peppered throughout Ted Tallys screenplay adapted from Harris novel. Its not enough for Hannibal to just bid Clarice a farewell, he has to deliver a killer gag as we see him watching Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) getting off a plane while revealing, Im having an old friend for dinner. As Hannibal himself says to Clarice, The worlds more interesting with you in it. And we cant help but agree.
8. Bug in the throat
Demme certainly doesnt shy away from the gruesome elements, but theres probably not a moment thats as queasily effective as the films autopsy scene. The glimpses of the dead girls body are bad enough, but then Clarice discovers that theres something in the victims throat which, in an extended close-up view, we discover is a bug cocoon that has been shoved in there. Somehow, it makes us shiver more than the subsequent discovery of two pieces of skin taken off the victims back, and it certainly makes us unable to look at a cocoon in the same way ever again.
7. Night vision climax
Most of the horror in The Silence of the Lambs is of the psychological nature, not so in the climactic showdown between Clarice and Buffalo Bill. Here, Demme aims for outright terror and nails it, switching to a first-person perspective of Buffalo Bill stalking Clarice in the dark as he wears night vision goggles. Of course it helps that the eerie green of night vision automatically makes anything scarier, but Demme masterfully prolongs the sequence before putting us out of our misery in a hail of gunfire. Foster is magnificent, conveying the sheer bloody panic that any of us would feel in the situation. Well, we say any of us, wed probably just cower in the corner and accept our fate.
6. Clarice meets Hannibal for the first time
Clarice coming face-to-face with Hannibal for the first time remains one of cinemas best-ever introductions to any character, hero or villain. We follow Clarice down the hallway as shes insulted by other inmates, before we meet Hannibal through Clarices eyes. Hannibal asking Clarice to come closer is just the foreplay to the first of the films several captivating battle of wits between the two. Hannibal definitely gets the better of it, taunting Clarice on her background and showing off his deductive skills. But, Hannibal soon realises he may have met his match when he questions Clarice about trophy-taking and the fact he didnt take anything from his victims. No, you ate yours, she replies without a moments hesitation. Burn.
5. FBI raids wrong house
If any aspiring filmmaker wants to know how to use cross-cutting to its full potential, just point them to this sequence. As the film nears its climax, the FBI think they have their killer and are about to raid his house, while Clarice follows up on an interview lead separately. We see Buffalo Bill panicking as a bell rings at the exact moment the FBI press on the doorbell but, wait, he opens the door to Clarice while the FBI break into what they come to realise is an empty house. The added genius to the sequence is that only we realise just how screwed Clarice is, meaning were hoping and PRAYING she just walks away from the house. She doesnt.
4. "I ate his liver"
Granted, this comes at the end of their very first meeting, but the line has become so iconic that it deserves its own moment. Clarice bites back and asks Hannibal if hes strong enough to self-analyse unless maybe youre frightened. He doesnt take it well. A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, Hannibal taunts, before unleashing his infamous slurping (for want of a better description). For all of his playful, witty persona during this first encounter, we now truly realise how dangerous Hannibal is. And that he knows how to end a conversation with a classic back-turning dismissal of Clarice.
3. "It rubs the lotion..."
Its bad enough that youre trapped in a serial killers dungeon, so spare a thought for Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) whos commanded to rub lotion into her skin. Levine shines as he hints at the psychological conflict Buffalo Bill deals with, attempting to keep things cordial while a rage bubbles under the surface. Still, it doesnt make his repeated requests to Catherine any less disturbing. And his mimicking of Catherines cries for help are truly spine-chilling, first softly repeating before going fully unhinged, shirt-pulling and all. The kicker in the sequence is the zoom-in on the bloodied fingernail in the wall. Admit it, you winced at that.
2. Buffalo Bill's dance
The Silence of the Lambs provides us with many memorable images, but this might be the one thats most unshakeable. The final stage of Buffalo Bills transformation sees him putting on lipstick, whispering Id fuck me and tucking his genitals out of sight to dance naked to Q Lazzarus Goodbye Horses. Interspersed with Catherines desperate attempts to capture his dog and somehow manufacture her escape, its a truly unforgettable sequence and Levine goes for it full-throttle.
1. Hannibal Lecter's escape
But the best moment of The Silence of the Lambs simply had to involve Hannibal himself. A magnificently sustained sequence showcases the brutality of Hannibal and his ingenuity as he first mercilessly slays two unsuspecting (and innocent) police officers, before making good his escape after posing as one of the survivors. It is simply a flawless piece of filmmaking, from the graphic imagery (hello, Christ-like posing of victim) to the slow build of the twist, a trick that would later be played in Saw. For a film that previously was mainly interested in psychological battles, this comes as a visceral jolt to the senses and is all the more effective for it. Pure genius.