Movie #77: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, and Ted Levine

Academy Awards (1992):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Anthony Hopkins

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Jodie Foster

Best Director: Jonathan Demme

Best Picture: Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Ted Tally

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Film Editing: Craig McKay

Best Sound: Tom Fleischman, Christopher Newman

silenceofthelambsposter

Clarice Starling (Foster), a FBI trainee agent, is sent to interview convicted psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins).  The FBI is trying to find Buffalo Bill (Levine), a serial killer who kidnaps, starves, kills, and skins his victims, his latest being the daughter of a U.S. Senator.

As with many great films, The Silence of the Lambs sets itself apart as both a horror and thriller film with two strong lead characters, suspenseful story lines, and just enough tension to keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats.

silenceofthelambshopkins

It goes without saying that any Hannibal Lecter film has to have Anthony Hopkins.  The look on his face in his first encounter with Starling, and subsequently the way he spoke sent chills through me.  Without knowing anything about his past, I would have been bothered by those two things.  His character is very wise, tactful, and finds the right balance and timing when it comes to withholding or revealing information.

Jodie Foster gives a great balance of the young but wise beyond her years Clarice Starling.  Though she is young and probably looked down upon for her inexperience, she keeps a strong enough front even when she’s completely intimidated and scared.  Her background in psychoanalysis yet being haunted by experiences from her childhood are handled wonderfully by Foster.

Visually this film does a great job of building up suspense with the audience.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the opening sequence.  Perhaps someone was running from Buffalo Bill, in the end it was simply Foster’s character running the FBI obstacle course.  The prison scenes, either at the institution or at Buffalo Bill’s house, give that eerie creepy feeling.

Though this film has its twists and turns, at the same time there were some things that seemed like a give-away.  When they transferred Lecter to Memphis, you had to know he would break out.  The way in which he did it, skinning one of the officer’s faces, the bait-and-switch, made up for the predictability of his escape.

silenceofthelambsnightvision

In particular, the night vision scene at the end of the film, though it felt like a second-rate first person shooter video game at times, does a great job of building that suspense as Bill toyed with Starling in his basement.  The times when he reached out his hand were particularly disturbing.  I felt this scene actually dragged a little bit and could have been 15 to 20 seconds shorter and kept the same effect.

The Silence of the Lambs, though not a film I would go out of my way to see, is one I can appreciate and understand its significance as both a horror and thriller film.  Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter is both disturbing and brilliant at the same time, and I found myself both repulsed and at times mildly sympathetic as he and Starling worked together to catch Buffalo Bill.  

I watched Hannibal a few years ago, and I’d have to watch it again to see what I think of Julianne Moore’s Clarice Starling,  I don’t plan on watching this film again, but in a small way I’m glad I watched it this time.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Advertisements

Movie #76: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Mike Williams

Cannes Film Festival (1999):

Award of the Youth, Foreign Film: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

blairwitchproject

Three amateur filmmakers shoot a documentary in Burkittesville, Maryland about The Blair Witch, a local folklore.  What started as a weekend trip ended up costing each of them their lives as they went from curious and intrigued filmmakers to terrified people just hoping to survive.

It’s been a couple of years since I saw this film, but it still creeps me out just thinking about it.  I’m not a fan of horror films, plain and simple, so even watching this movie once was a big deal.  I watched it at night of all times while living alone.  I didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights after watching this.

There are a few things that stand out about this film.  The marketing of it no doubt is something that sets it apart from most other films.  The movie itself was presented as fact: three filmmakers had been killed, and their film footage had been recovered and pieced back together nearly a year later.  The media buzz around that generated a lot of free publicity, though confusion from the audience.  I didn’t figure this was a true story, and since this was still largely a pre-digital world of film making, I found it hard to believe they would be able to piece together a relatively complete story with the film being out in the elements for so long.

Though the film spends most of the time with the three filmmakers on their trip, the beginning scenes where they’re interviewing locals told and lot and did some foreshadowing for what was to come.  I don’t remember who said it, but one of the people they interviewed hesitated for a second and more or less said they shouldn’t be doing this project.  Myrick and Sanchez also do a great job of connecting some of the things these people said with how the film ends.

Something that sets this film apart within the horror genre is the slow, gradual suspense that builds throughout the film.  Though the audience knows the end result, it’s interesting and disturbing to see how quickly the three filmmakers become more paranoid and frightful.  The scene where Heather breaks down and confesses that she thinks no one will survive is often ridiculed, but by that point in the film it almost seemed unbearable.

The Blair Witch Project adds a sense of realism in that there isn’t some knife-wielding killer or spooky ghosts or monsters popping out in the film.  There were many times throughout where that could have easily happened, but the suspense of it not happening almost had a greater impact than it these things had been used.  The amateur, low-budget camera feel also adds to it, though at times I found it a bit too stomach-wrenching.  I guess that was the desired effect though.

It has since been parodied and made fun of to the point of exhaustion.  However, The Blair Witch Project took the horror genre back from a more mainstream approach that had started nearly a decade earlier with films such as Misery and The Silence of the Lambs. It returned, I can only assume, back to a more genre specific and less mainstream film as it was in the 1970s and 80s.  Unique marketing and continued and exhausting suspense helped set The Blair Witch Project in a category all its own.  It goes without saying that the one time I watched this will be the only time.  It’s not one I would normally watch, but as a film it still impressed me.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Tremors (1990)

tremors-poster

Tremors, where do I begin?

While this movie is listed in the ‘horror’ category, I find that very difficult to believe.  Yes, it’s about man-eating monsters that hunt their prey underground, but it’s so over the top that it’s more comical than anything else.  It’s also rather dated special effects-wise, much like another ‘horror’ film, Gremlins.

Tremors seems like more of a mock-horror film because it’s so over the top.  Therein lies its charm. “There’s no intention to scare, classic genre stereotypes are gently mocked for viewers’ amusement, without the film ever trying to be too clever.  Charming and unpretentious fun.”

Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward make this movie.  They come across as two guys that have known each other for years, they act like brothers, and they’ve known each other so long that they’re more or less stuck with one another whether they like it or not.

As I write this I think of a few of my oldest friends and could see any combination of us ending up like Valentine and Earl.  The banter between the two provides most of the comic relief, and that’s one of the more charming aspects of this movie.  Each of them stays true to character   I can think of a few people that are like Burt (Michael Gross), but I won’t go any further than that.

Tremors is entertaining no doubt, but is more of a comical than a scary way.  That’s why I like it.  I’m not much into horror films: to date there are only 4 of the 50 that I have or would like to see.  I think the two direct-to-video sequels and additional prequel have dumbed down and lessened the impact of this film (I vaguely remember the sequels and haven’t seen Tremors 4 and probably won’t).  This film has just enough to scare but more than enough content to entertain.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.