“His pulse never went above 85, even as he ate her tongue.”
That line, spoken by Anthony Heald, happens moments before the audiences first meeting with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It sets an eerie, dark mood, one enhanced by a long walk down a hallway toward Lecter’s holding cell partially in first-person.
It’s an unforgettable moment, and leads into an intense psychological showdown between the serial killer Lecter and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Mind games are key to the classic horror/thriller Silence of the Lambs, instead of graphic gore. Silence of the Lambs uses its blood for effect, not shock.
The film even avoids showing graphic mutilated bodies, instead choosing to linger on the characters discussing what they see while the audience is forced to pain a vivid picture in their own minds. Specifically, the autopsy sequence is brilliant, able to convey horror after the victim has already been killed off-screen.
Everything in Silence is a mind game. Director Jonathan Demme chooses to put the camera in front of the actors. Not only does this prevent them from playing off their co-stars, it’s as if Lecter is speaking directly to the viewer, with a cold blue-eyed stare that is horrifying by itself. Hopkins performance is unforgettable.
While Hannibal Lecter may be an icon of cinematic horror, Silence is a film about Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (Ted Levine). While not as memorable as Hopkins, Levine’s performance is an undoubtedly believable deranged maniac who skins his victims to wear their flesh.
Masterful tension and atmosphere makes situations the audience knows are safe feel stressed. As Foster searches the home of a victim, her slow movements are aided by effective camera angles as the audience waits for her next gruesome discovery. There’s not a moment in the film where anyone feels completely safe.
Silence does give the audience a taste of Lecter’s madness as he escapes confinement, yet it’s easy to imagine the film without his violent outburst. His eerie facial mannerisms and cold, heartless stares are just as effective as watching him bash someone’s face in with a nightstick. When a serial killer can be feared without killing anyone on-screen, you have something to be remembered for.
Numerous DVD editions of the film have certainly made fans tired of having to re-buy the film, but hopefully a later Blu-ray release to fix this transfer. While some film grain is still apparent, there’s a rather obvious layer of DNR at work here, leveling facial textures and giving skin tones an unnatural pink glow. Some fine detail is evident in close-ups, although these shots are rare. Detail is relatively muted otherwise.
Black levels remain solid throughout, and contrast is fine. Colors are flat and muted by design. A few minor specks on the print are not worth complaining about. Some light artifacting is visible on this MPEG-2 encode, especially on Jodie Foster’s face during her first sit down with Hopkins outside his cell. Sharpness is fine, although not top-tier.
A DTS-HD encode does little to bring the film to life. Fidelity is excellent, certainly impressive for a film pushing 20 years old. Sound design sits in the center channel, with zero surround use. Minor action uses the stereo channels for mild effect. The low end remains quiet, leaving the subwoofer with nothing to do. Adequate.
Many features have been brought over from prior DVD editions, the notable one being Inside the Labyrinth, an hour long documentary with numerous interviews from cast and crew (oddly missing Foster). Understanding the Madness is a 20 minute look at the psychology of the film, and the methods used by the FBI.
Page to Screen aired on TV, detailing how the novel was brought to the screen. It’s just over 40 minutes. A featurette used to promote the film back in 1991 is included for completeness. Twenty minutes of deleted scenes offer additional insight into the Lecter/Starling “relationship,” and a brief selection of outtakes are mildly amusing (especially Hopkins’ Rocky impersonation).
An oddity is Breaking the Silence, which a feature stuck in BD Profile 1.1. It plays a standard definition version of the film with various pop-up trivia and interviews. Why the studio felt it was necessary to include an entire version of the film in SD, taking up space that could have been put to better use elsewhere, is somewhat confusing. Some trailers and a funny answering machine message from Hopkins are the final special features.
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