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Thursday, September 1, 2016
Not so well-received, unfortunately, as the 1991 horror classic THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was the inevitable follow-up, HANNIBAL (2001). The unenviable task of trying to match the financial and artistic success of SILENCE fell to director Ridley Scott, whose ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER were already regarded by many as classics themselves.
Here, he is working not only with a lesser script but with a new leading lady, Julianne Moore, replacing the absent Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling.
With the Lecter character now free and unrestrained, Anthony Hopkins has a field day developing him into an even more sinister, sardonic, self-satisfied, and almost supernatural force of evil who savors every sensual nuance of his heinous actions.
Moore does what she can with the Starling role as her character suffers a major setback and is unjustly suspended from duty. Lecter, returning from a sabbatical in Rome in which he was forced to disembowel a detective (Giancarlo Giannini) who was on his trail, takes an active interest in the life of the only person on earth for whom he has any affection.
This puts them both at odds with a horribly-disfigured billionaire named Mason Verger (a fascinating Gary Oldman), a former victim of Lecter who has concocted a revenge scheme which involves man-eating pigs.
Ray Liotta, in full slimeball mode, plays rival FBI agent Paul Krendler, whose ill treatment of Clarice will put him on Lecter's bad side in a big way.
Lacking the new-car smell and scintillating story of SILENCE, Ridley Scott compensates by turning HANNIBAL into an elegant yet balls-out horror epic loaded with shock value and gore.
Scott pulls no punches with the graphic violence and boldly risks alienating audience members expecting more of the same but finding themselves in the middle of a big-budget H. G. Lewis flick.
There must've been a few walkouts by fans of the previous film when one character's entrails splashed onto the pavement or the ravenous pigs started feasting on screaming humans in loving closeup.
But (warning--the next two paragraphs contain spoilers) Scott saves the most memorably jaw-dropping image for the finale, as Lecter hosts a dinner party for Starling and Krendler in which the entree just happens to be Krendler's brain.
Our gracious and urbane anti-hero deftly slices around the top of the drugged Krendler's skull and pops it off, then begins to feed him sizzling morsels of his own sauteed gray matter hot off the wok as Starling, along with most of the audience, gapes in mortal revulsion.
A final encounter between Lecter and Starling defines their relationship unequivocably and ends the movie on a suitably morbid note.
While admittedly inferior to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, I find HANNIBAL to be an outstanding horror film in its own right and above-average on every level. The Lecter character is taken farther than ever before and explored in lots of fun ways, yet still avoids the cartoonishness into which he finally sinks in RED DRAGON. For me, Ridley Scott's uncompromising foray into the horror genre is a memorable success.