Movie Reviews 236 – Manhunter (1986)

ManhunterMost people think of The Silence of the Lambs as the cinematic birth of the evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. But not only was it not the first Lecter movie, Silence was the follow up novel by creator Thomas Harris to his original novel Red Dragon, and Manhunter is the original adaption of Red Dragon. (I say, original adaption since after Silence, Red Dragon was once again adapted to a movie, this time keeping the original title and starring Hopkins in the Lecter role. Hollywood can be a bitch when it just comes to comprehensive adaptations.)

But if you thought Manhunter was a far cry from the overwhelming critical acceptance of Silence think again. For one thing, the two stories share an eerily similar in plot with a determined detective reluctantly using the sage if not sane incarcerated Lecter (Brian Cox) to get into the mind of a sadistic killer on the loose. But in Manhunter Lecter (actually named Dr. Lecktor in this one installment) plays a pivotal yet decidedly smaller role in the film. Instead of Jodie Foster as agent Sterling we have William Petersen as Will Graham the troubled, retired agent called back to track the “Tooth Fairy” killer. His retirement as an FBI profiler was due to a psychological breakdown after a face to face encounter with a prior serial killer. Aside from personal anxieties, Graham must also convince his wife of the need to return for this one particular heartless family killer. Part of the deal to coming back to work on the case is contingent on Graham working in secret to the greatest degree possible.

His prison visit with Lecter (OK, Lecktor!) is immediately exploited by Hannibal, seeming to know (and prod) all his personal fears. Being Hannibal, he also manages to use both social engineering and a piece of conductive gum wrapper to acquire the address of Graham’s family who are in a secret hideout while Will is working the case. You really have to watch the movie to understand the gum wrapper bit.

Graham immediately uses deductive logic to not only find previously missed evidence on the Tooth Fairy, but also clarifies the mindset and circumstances of the killer, all while having his name pasted on the front pages of newspapers thanks to a snivelling reporter who just wants splash headlines, regardless of Graham’s fear for his family. A fear fueled by Lecktor being able to relay Graham’s family hideout to the killer all while in seclusion.

There are plenty of thrilling moments and an explosive ending thanks to Peter Noonan’s excellent portrayal of the disturbing Tooth Fairy and while this movie was something of a bust upon release, it has come to earn a lot of respect over the years as a peer to it’s more famous movie sequel.

Think of it as an electro-synth soundtracked version of The Silence of the Lambs.

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