News & Views » Columns

Glum yum


He’s the epitome of horror, transcending the terrorist-slasher mentality, veering far from the bomber’s rationale, by attacking his victims at their cerebral base — a character respected for his intelligence and stature. It’s only after he gains your confidence, your complete trust, that his true motives crack to life. From behind, you feel a cool breeze teasing your neck. Shadows prevail; even the candlelight is shrouded by his pernicious storm, silent and meditated. Maybe he’ll strangle you with a piano wire, blocking your airways, choking your existence. Possibly, in a more grotesque gesture, he might construct a shrine from your guts, slicing yards of your intestine, propping the shards around as organic streamers. Your eyeballs, rotund and beautiful — reflecting his sinister glares — are tasty appetizers. A slight, precise incision allows him to strike at your heart, already pounding ferociously. It’s a delicacy, in this man’s demented profile, to dine on the cardiac organ, glistening with bodily fluids.

Yet at first sight, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is merely a psychotic, reputed to be dangerous, locked in a metal cage. Words are scattered about the screen — crazy, brilliant, perverse, killer, wicked, menace — deeming him intellectually insane. But it isn’t until the audience receives a first glimpse of Lecter’s elegant lair in The Silence of the Lambs, a locked-down, steel aviary glued in the center of a big-city loft, that true horror is realized. The placement of the modernist jail gives police officers a 360-degree view.

Lecter, a connoisseur of common sense, is grassroots to the core. He could slaughter a herd of buffalo with a pencil, kill a flock of seagulls with a single stone. And never has the movie-going public been treated to such an overcast of evil as when Lecter, determined to escape, bludgeons an officer with a billy club, hangs another — arms spread as if they were wings, dripping with blood, like a defeated guardian angel — on the cage. Then, with delicate conviction, he peels off an officer’s face and applies it over his own. How fantastic: the idea of a compassionate man’s mind, a civilized human, trapped in a madman’s body.

However, Lecter was simply a supporting character in a larger tale of femininity — the twisted, spellbinding story of FBI agent Clarice Starling. So 10 years after Lambs slammed into theaters, thrilling the hell out of viewers, another sort of film arrived. Hannibal, a sequel scorned by anticipation, finally showcases Dr. Lecter as the marquee player. Starling is secondary to the demented, ultra-astute lifestyle of the distinguished cannibal. Hannibal is, by all accounts, much more daring.

By viewing each of the newly released DVDs, a mighty duo of romance and rage, film buffs partake of an outstanding, easily digestible meal. Beginning with the Lambs disc, MGM spared no expense to collect the entire cast and crew for a documentary unlike most. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, director Jonathan Demme and many more delve into detailed discussions, commenting on the film as if it were just days old. The script, the acting process, the score, the controversy — it’s all packed into an unusual disc.

But by being unusual, the DVD embraces the filmmaking process by pushing into depths usually left disregarded. Many “making-of” featurettes breeze through the documentary process, touching on the surface level but rarely tickling the inner lobes. Here, appropriately — as Lambs is about the psyche of the psychotic — a general behind-the-scenes glimpse is expanded into an hour-long Freudian examination.

However, Lambs does overlook an important feature. A year into the advent of DVD, a “special edition” of the film was released by the Criterion Collection. It lacked an abundance of what is presented on this newer disc; but this newer disc also lacks an intriguing bit. An audio commentary, spliced together with insight by Foster, Demme and an FBI director, was deleted from the menu. Legal issues may have prevented its addition, but it’s disappointing to see the alternate track without a home (considering the Criterion version has since been condemned to the morgue).

And even though Lambs wasn’t crafted as a comedy, a small collection of outtakes does exist, featuring a bipolar Hopkins — in serial-killer mode one second, laughing his bloody face off the next. Another odd supplement was also mastered and dubbed “Anthony Hopkins’ Phone Message” (though it’s unclear if it was cut together with dialogue from the film or if Hopkins actually utilized it as his phone-answering droid).

Moving on, the Hannibal package packs even more of a punch, dividing into two separate DVDs — one for the 131-minute feature (along with a commentary by director Ridley Scott) and a second for a gross of extras. Fourteen deleted scenes (mostly cut for an obvious reason: dullness) and an hour-long “making-of” documentary (similar in detail to the Lambs feature) makes up the bulk of disc two. “Anatomy of a Shootout” provides a five-angle breakdown of the opening fish-market sequence; and a multiangle short explores the development of the title design. Scott, an honorary professor of the filmmaking craft, contributes to nearly every aspect of the “special edition,” resulting in a more personal, immersive experience.

Anchor Bay, a Michigan-based home video house, also recently released Manhunter as a collectible DVD. Here, viewers can indulge in the ’80s film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, a lesser serial-killer romp that includes the first appearance of Dr. Lecter.

Enjoy the feast. Just remember: You are what you eat.

Jon M. Gibson has grown quite fond of vegetables and pasta since studying Dr. Lecter. E-mail

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.