A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated cannibalistic killer who is highly intelligent and manipulative to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
Billy: I’d actually never seen Silence of the Lambs before this viewing. I’d watched Hannibal, and had the cultural knowledge of what the film was generally about, but it was a bit of a fight between Amelia and myself as to whether this could actually be called a horror movie over a thriller. I think it is. From the opening sequence, we see staples of horror. The lone woman, running through the woods in what looks to be the early morning, could easily be the end sequence of a different film. It’s a classic depiction of female vulnerability, but the trope is subverted by how capable we see Jodie Foster’s character of Clarice really is. It makes her later vulnerability even better for the audience.
Amelia: Billy put this one on the list. I personally would have preferred he put, you know, a horror movie down, but here we are with Silence of the Lambs. Now, I’m not saying this isn’t a good movie, or even that it doesn’t have horror elements that make it really striking. I’m just saying that I would have prefered a supernatural based story because human based horror just isn’t my thing. To pull a quote from when Supernatural was a watchable show, “Demons I get. People are crazy.”
Silence of the Lambs is a great movie, beautiful throughout because of the score and cinematography, and acted brilliantly. I just have nothing to say about it in terms of whether or not it’s a horror movie. Billy will say it is, I’m saying it’s not.
Billy: I just think horror is better when explored from all angles. Just because there isn’t a supernatural source doesn’t mean it’s not horror. Look at Halloween!
Amelia: Oh fuck off with that! Halloween is a horror movie where Silence of the Lambs is not because of pacing and story structure. In Halloween you know Michael Myers is lurking outside that suburban home’s window, stalking our main character and putting her in direct danger. Silence of the Lambs is paced like a thriller because everyone’s stories are different, happening in different places, to come together at the end for the audience to feel like there is a definitive conclusion to the mystery. Jodie Foster’s character is never in danger from Buffalo Bill (before the end five minutes) because she’s investigating from a distance. Nor is she in danger from Hannibal himself because he likes her and values her life enough to leave it intact. Michael Myers though? He’s just gonna butcher up some teenagers like God intended!
Billy: But… okay, I get it. That’s actually, like, the perfect rebuttal to what I had going, but something that I love about this movie that makes it feel like horror, or at least a ‘spooky night’ kind of film, is the atmosphere. Hannibal Lecter is superintelligent, a foe who will defeat you if you give him the chance. His whole escape sequence is completely thriller without an ounce of horror to it, but it proves how horrific he could be if it had gone in that direction later on.
Amelia: Yup. Still not a horror movie.
Billy: One of the biggest horror-notes in the film comes at the end when Clarice is searching through the serial killer’s house in the dark, being watched by the night vision goggles. This is something right out of the first-person narratives of Halloween or Friday the 13th. We’ve been in Clarice’s perspective for so much of the movie, seeing conversations playing out through her eyes, with a repeated shot throughout the film being characters talking to Clarice staring straight into the camera. It’s one of the reasons Hannibal Lecter comes off as so powerful. He knows everything, including where the camera is put.
Amelia: …Still not a horror movie.
Billy: Eight psychiatrists out of ten
This is a horror movie for me, or at the very least a spooky film. One of my favourite horror movies we watched last year was Candyman, and this had a similar, darkly beautiful atmosphere that puts you out of ease. There are definitely thriller elements in this movie that overwhelm the horror in parts, but Anthony Hopkins gives Hannibal Lecter such a remarkable gravitas that he becomes a villain that could terrify you. He’s scary. Buffalo Bill… not so much. Maybe because I just remembered Ted Levine was the police captain in Monk. You get the sense that maybe a horror movie was here, but Lecter ate it until its bones remained, then rebuilt it into something new.
Amelia: Seven psychiatrists out of ten
This is not a spooky verdict from me. This is just a verdict because I like this movie. Silence of the Lambs is a superb film: it’s clear why it won best picture at the Oscars and continues to hold up as a thrilling movie nearly thirty years later. But it’s not horror. And if you do personally consider this horror, your constitution is weak sauce and I assume you’re always clutching your pearls: what are you doing watching anything remotely shocking to begin with?