Manhunter (1986) — The debut of Hannibal Lector

“Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.”

Kyle’s rating: Inside a killer’s mind you might find… KILLER CLOWNS!

Kyle’s review: Maybe you didn’t know it, but Anthony Hopkins’s award-winning performance as Hannibal Lecter was the second screen appearance of the villain; his debut came when he was played by Brian Cox in this film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. Don’t go into this expecting a repeat of Silence of the Lambs’ interactions between Lector and the protagonist because you won’t get it, but as a race-the-clock thriller with Lambs-level suspense and a high sense of style this one deserves a look.

William Petersen (currently one of my favorite actors) is Will Graham, a retired FBI profiler who is called upon for his skills when a series of baffling murders are taxing everyone who tries to solve them. Graham has no peer when it comes to entering the mind of a killer, though it’s not exactly a skill he’s proud of and it doesn’t make for a pleasant home life where his wife and son are concerned.

But as he finds himself trying to crack the case before the next full moon (when the killer will strike next) he realizes it will not only take a total immersion into the mind of the serial killer the Tooth Fairy to find clues but he’ll need to consult the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter (here it’s spelled “Lektor,” I don’t know why) to get back into the mind-penetrating groove. But will Lecter be willing to help out, considering Graham is the one who captured Lecter? Mind games will abound and tricks will be played, and ultimately it will take the proper mindset and sharp eyes to catch the elusive Tooth Fairy. But will Graham arrive in time to save the latest victim?

Manhunter is groovy and stylish stuff. It’s directed by Michael Mann, who at the time was known only for Miami Vice episodes but today is the man who has put his distinctive mark on Heat and The Insider. He manages to create such a compelling and suspenseful atmosphere that at the few true jump moments (like, say, a certain burning guy rolling right at the camera!) you’ll lose your cool and your bladder control.

The actors are particularly good, especially Petersen as a conflicted and tormented guy who is very good at his job and hates himself for it and Tom Noonan as the disturbed and disturbing Francis Dollarhyde. Cox makes Lektor a lot more of an evil psychopath without the emphasis on style and culture Anthony Hopkins would add in Lambs, and despite having only minutes of screen time he manages to infect a lot of the film with his malign presence. You’ll be sickened that there are people like Lecter and Dollarhyde in the world, but you’ll feel relieved to know that there are truly people like Graham who are willing to fight them at whatever the cost.

If you have a spare two hours, Manhunter is definitely worth a look. It’s a taunt and engaging thriller and while it exchanges the bloody slasher ending the novel had for a tidier and simpler good-and-evil showdown, Lambs fans and Harris fans alike will find enough here to satisfy and fans of good old fashioned suspense thrillers won’t be disappointed. If you thought Mulder was good at his job, wait until you see Graham in action!

Clare’s rating: 5 out of 5 sleeping tigers

Clare’s review: I felt compelled to write this review for one simple reason. They’re developing a new prequel to Silence of the Lambs based on Tom Harris’ novel Red Dragon. They are doing this presumably because Anthony Hopkins is a whore. Ok, that’s MY presumption anyway. Manhunter, a fine, perfectly terrifying movie all on its own has already covered Red Dragon with aplomb.

Directed by Michael Mann, around the time of his days working on Miami Vice, this movie has a distinctively different tone and feel from Silence of the Lambs or Hannibal. It’s one of my favorite good and creepy movies and I’m rather unhappy at whatever small brained, money grubbing pin head in Hollywood decided that this movie isn’t good enough to represent the first of the film versions of the Hannibal trilogy. So, in an earnest attempt to get more people to spend their money on the version that already exists (because it’s awesome), I’m recommending Manhunter LOUDLY and with great determination.

Brian Cox, another highly lauded and not so ham fisted British actor, plays Lecktor in the sprinkle of scenes he’s needed for in Manhunter and he does an amazing job of being scary, wickedly intelligent and entirely without a conscience. No mugging or camping it up here. Cox is the real deal and he’ll scare the pants off you.

It’s only fair to mention that I’m big into forensic psychology. I’ve read dozens of books about “profilers” and the FBI’s special division designed to hunt down serial killers. I also have a big interest in forensics as a science. How the police handle crime scene evidence, determine what physical evidence is a clue and what isn’t and all the various and sundry methods they have to figure out what happened at the scene of a crime all fascinates the bejesus out of me. My fascination was fueled in no small measure by how engrossed I was with Manhunter when it was first released. Tom Harris single handedly brought the study of criminology into pop culture’s psyche. Although Silence of the Lambs hit big and is considered a classic horror/crime drama, for my money, Red Dragon is a much more engrossing novel and Manhunter is a far more frightening movie. What’s great about Manhunter is that there is barely any actual on screen violence. It’s all implied. It’s all there for you to see without ever actually seeing it and it scares the sh** out of you much more effectively than the guts and gore found in other serial killer movies I could mention…

The story follows Will Graham (William Peterson — who’s been one of my boyfriends who lives in the TV from way back) as he gets pulled back into criminal profiling after an almost lethal run in with Hannibal Lecktor some years before. Peterson does an amazing job showing all the conflicting emotions that a man in Graham’s situation would have. He may be mentally unprepared to dive back into seeing the world through the eyes of a murderer, but if he doesn’t more families, just like his own, will be murdered. That’s quite a kick in the guts for a central plot premise and it’s handled astonishingly well here.

Manhunter is a lot more about how cops find criminals than it is a celebration of how scary or creepy serial murderers can be. The thing I love most about Manhunter (and Red Dragon) is that all the characters could quite feasibly be real people. The Tooth Fairy, the man Graham is hunting, actually gets some screen time and character development here and is played with nightmare inducing force by Tom Noonan. He’s a cold blooded murderer who’s stalking and killing entire families to fulfill his own twisted devotion fantasies, but he’s also a guy. I really thought it was brave of Harris (and Mann) to spend time on the killer in order to really bring to bare the reality of the nature of his crimes. This makes his character seem more real and the motivations behind the killings make more sense (if such a thing is possible in these circumstances). We don’t see Noonan until close to half way through the film but his first appearance gives me goose bumps every time.

The film makers had a great deal to work with by way of story line and a lot of extremely talented people lined up to play the very dynamic characters. But there’s also a lot to be said here about the pacing, the use of music, the camera techniques and the development of the growing urgency everyone in the film (and therefore in the audience) feels about catching the killer. I don’t usually get scared during movies, but this one kills me every time I watch it. I had to double check that all my doors were locked and bury myself deep into my covers in order to sleep ok after I got done with this the other night. And I’ve seen it about 12 times. So I’m pleading with you. If you haven’t yet had the chance to watch Manhunter, you really should. It’s fantastic.

Justin’s rating: I guess I’m not odd enough to be a serial killer?

Justin’s review: Hey boys and girls, it’s time for another Lecture Disguised as a Movie Review! We’ll start with a simple question: Have you ever seen a movie series (first time) out of the order in which they were filmed? Sure you have. It’s a strange thing to do, because whichever movie you watch first is invariably the one you associate most strongly with the series entire. So for instance, if you see Carnosaur 3 first, echoes of that film will pervade over viewings of the other ones. Or like eating Spam Lite before dining on the 97% fatty chunks original Spam. It’s weird, that’s all I’m saying. I mean, if you had seen Empire Strikes Back before A New Hope, it wouldn’t make as much of an impact to see Luke in his Tashi station whining days.

But granted, only movie purists go on and on about how you should never ever see a sequel before the first movie, even if the first movie is the pits and the second is the true masterpiece. So we don’t have to do that here.

I think it’s safe to say that a majority of people today have seen Silence of the Lambs before ever (if ever) seeing Manhunter. And that’s the way it should be, probably. The reveal of Hannibal Lector in Silence has a huge buildup and nerve-rattling impact when you see that for the first time, versus the “Hey, I just popped in to mooch a soda” visit seen in Manhunter.

The Thomas Harris serial killer movies are kind of the Alien films of the suspense horror genre. Each of the three (soon to be four) films have been helmed by different directors, they have different actors, and most importantly, they each have a different focus. Silence of the Lambs was more about Clarice’s journey into the mind of a serial killer; Hannibal was about how Lector likes to vacation in Italy; and Manhunter is about how director Michael Mann likes to make a lot of horrible jump cuts.

Sure, it’s the story of a FBI profiler and his quest to stop some vampiric looney who keeps slaughtering families on the lunar cycle, but it’s also a story about how certain elements of the eighties, such as art deco, should never be revived again. Yes, this is Justin saying that not everything from the eighties was Good and Perfect. While comedies could get away with it, a horror suspense film has no place blasting loud rock songs during supposed scary sequences. Nor should the soundtrack to Blade Runner ever be used again, ’cause it was tedious the first time and wears itself out here.

Manhunter flip-flops between good and naughty film direction like a fish in the vacuum of space. The beginning, for instance, keeps the story moving brusquely and managed to keep my interest even though I’ve seen this serial killer profiling done hundreds of times before. But then the movie lapses into periods of long sad music “we need to depressingly ponder what a hardship it is to chase a killer, even though we get six weeks vacation time a year plus expenses” sequences, plus an absurd love for hilariously dated technology (including a cell phone so big that the guy using it instantly grew a tumor on his temple) peppered throughout. But the worst comes when Michael Mann gets itching for some action after long suspenseful parts, and irrationally drops some slow-motion running into the film, not to mention saturation bombing the picture with jump cuts so jarring that your mind has no choice but to shut down for the duration of the picture.

Still, some parts are very creepy, and I liked how the FBI team worked together (instead of your traditional rogue cop) to solve the case. One nail-biting sequence comes when the killer has captured a reporter and is preparing to do God-knows-what to him. When it finally happens, it’s a scene that should go down as one of the more memorable acts of horror in film lore.

So while Silence might be the all-time best out of this series, Manhunter is prime for picking. If nothing else, it’s kinda fascinating to see other actors in the same shoes of the characters in Silence, and nitpick the differences until you feel your ego swell with superior satisfaction that you are the King or Queen of Being Right.

Didja notice?

  • Originally was to be titled “Red Dragon” after the novel, but when Year of the Dragon flopped, Dino de Laurentiis decided to avoid a “dragon” title.
  • When Dr. Lektor has the operator make a phone call for him, he gives a Maryland area code (301) and gets a University of Chicago operator.
  • The annoying Blade Runner synth soundtrack
  • Dr. Chilton and Jack Crawford in their pre-Silence roles
  • Graham’s initial crime scene report into his tape recorder is way creepy — talking inside the bloody bedroom no less, and then watching the VHS tapes
  • Lecktor’s got bright happy white surroundings!
  • How to get around having no buttons on your phone
  • Don’t work on your serial killer project on a plane with bloody photos unless you’re sitting alone
  • What’s Chris Elliot doing in a serious role with a big bushy beard?
  • Flaming guy in wheelchair… should I make a joke about stop, drop and roll?
  • Lots and lots of smoking in this film
  • Blind girls make great girlfriends for a serial killer
  • Eyeless girl is creeping me out man!
  • Lots of art deco here
  • The 80s freeze frame of the last shot of the film — don’t they get tired holding those poses?

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