Friday, September 11, 2015

The Five Best Scenes in “The Silence of the Lambs”

Recounting the most memorable moments from one of the 1990s' greatest horror offerings…

Jonathan Demme’s 1991 Best Picture-winner The Silence of the Lambs is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s also unquestionably one of the most unintentionally hilarious films ever released, filled to the brim with gallows humor and such outright bizarre sexual content that you can’t help but laugh as a defense mechanism.

Indeed, very, very few movies so seamlessly merge the horrific with the humorous. With The Silence of the Lambs, you really have no idea whether you should shriek in terror or laugh your ass off, which is probably why the film holds up so well almost a quarter century later. Sure, it's pretty damned creepy when Hannibal Lecter peels of a guard's face and drapes it over his own like Kentucky Fried Chicken skin, but how can you not chuckle just a little when the Shakespearean actor takes a big chunk out of that same dude's nose like a really, really cultured-sounding snapping turtle?

For all those reasons and more (including a two-second cameo from B-Movie kingpin Roger Corman), The Silence of the Lambs is pretty much essential Halloween season viewing, easily on par with other genre classics like Suspiria and The Exorcist. Whether you've seen the flick dozens of times or (for whatever stupid reason) have never screened it before, it's one of those rare evergreen horror films from the '90s you can queue up and instantly engross yourself in ... and I mean "engross" here in more ways than one.

There are a lot of things that make the flick great, but if I had to narrow it down, I'd say there are five specific elements of Silence that make it so unforgettable.Yeah, the acting is spiffy and it's atmospheric as hell, but when you really get down to it, these are the things that REALLY make Hannibal Lecter's most critically-celebrated outing such a genre classic...

It’s official … nobody drops the “C” word better than Jodie Foster 

Certain actors are just better than others when it comes to profane dialogue. Hardly anybody out there would argue that Samuel L. Jackson isn’t the undisputed master of “motherfucker,” and the universal consensus is that NOBODY calls you a “sonofabitch” quite like Jack Nicholson. Well, when it comes to crude, derogatory references to the female anatomy, I reckon we can chalk up Jodie Foster as yet another master thespian of the vulgar. Contextually, it arrives during Clarice’s first meeting with Dr. Lecter, when Hannibal asks her to parrot something a fellow inmate said to her (and for those who have yet to see the film, for some stupid ass reason? It involves a rather blunt declaration that he can, indeed, smell Ms. Starling’s lady parts.) I don’t know if it's her artificial southern twang or how she puts so much emphasis on the first “ku” syllable, but as soon as Jodie dropped the dreaded “c” word, I just knew I was witnessing swearing excellence.

Talk about a spunky inmate!

Speaking of that iconic first encounter between Starling and Lecter, the most memorable thing about the exchange doesn’t involve them engaging in discourse. Rather, it comes at the very tail-end of the sequence, in which Starling unwisely decides to nuzzle up closer to the bars when one of Lecter’s fellow inmates starts crying about some kind of hand injury. Of course, Starling thinks he may have attempted suicide, but as soon as she gets within six feet of the cage, he breaks out into laughter and proceeds to douse her with a nice, globby handful of his … ahem, home-made love batter. And to think: most people still consider There’s Something About Mary to be the film that made splooge mainstream!

The connotation of an upbeat Tom Petty song is forever sullied

“American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a pretty catchy jingle. In fact, it’s so darn catchy, The Strokes completely ripped it off, made a ton of money off of it and Tom Petty didn’t even care. Alas, that AOR favorite never sounded quite the same in the wake of Silence, as it was featured as a precursor to one of the movie’s most skin-crawling sequences. You’d think that a U.S. Senator’s daughter would have a bit more gumption than to get out of her vehicle and help some weird crippled dude stuff furniture into a van, but by golly, the unfortunate character Catherine Martin must’ve had her ears plugged during that little talking-to. Eerily, the lyrics of the song seem to not only cryptically portend Martin’s abduction (“Well it was kind of cold that night,”) the concluding stanza (“God it’s so painful, when something that’s so close is still so far out of reach”) even seems to forewarn Martin’s helplessness while in Buffalo Bill’s dungeon.

Dr. Lecter decides to probe Clarice’s childhood experiences

While most cinema intellectual elitist snobs consider the scene where Clarice explains the title of the film to be the best moment in the movie, I beg to differ. For my money, it’s actually an earlier exchange, in which Dr. Lecter first asks Clarice about her upbringing. Of course, Dr. Lecter being the fine, outstanding cannibal sociopath he is, doesn’t begin by asking her about her school experiences or what her hometown is like. Instead, he decides to break the proverbial ice by asking her if her legal guardian ever sodomized her and -- in his inimitable semi-Shakespearean intonation -- made her perform fellatio on him. It’s a disturbing scene, to be sure, but Anthony Hopkins’ over-delivery of the line also makes it funny as all hell … and something that, much to my girlfriend’s chagrin, I still routinely quote out of context in public.


Of course, you can’t talk about The Silence of the Lambs without talking about Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster may get all the praise, but really, the film's standout performance truly belongs to Ted Levine, whose portrayal of the infamous transvestite rapist psychosexual skin-stretching B-villain is pretty much the definition of epic. Even before he applies his pretty pink lipstick and starts strutting around his bedroom to the tune of "Goodbye Horses" with his wiener tucked between his legs, Levine's character had already established himself as an all-time classic cinematic maniac, thanks to his eerie-beyond-words penchant for kidnapping the offspring of overweight congresspeople and mandating those around him practice proper moisturizing techniques. Ultimately, Ted Levine came off as too much of a natural at twisting his nipples and whispering how badly he wanted to procreate with himself, however, and he could never really escape from being typecast as anything other than a pervert lunatic from that point forward. Oddly enough, he would go on to achieve latter success as the police detective on the USA series Monk ... and if you're like me, the moment you realized THAT dude and good old Buffalo Bill were one and the same you likely experienced what could only be described as a miniature aneurysm. .


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