Based on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name and directed by Jonathan Demme who started off his career by directing a Roger Corman produced low budget women in prison movie (Caged Heat), this 1991 film was the first horror film to win best picture at the Oscars. In fact it swept all the top awards that year. Best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay.
The film is about a serial killer named Buffalo Bill who has been abducting women and dumping their bodies in random locations, minus some skin. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a trainee FBI agent. She’s called in to interview captured serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) for insight into the Buffalo Bill case. Lecter was a brilliant psychiatrist who ate his victims. Lecter is intrigued by Starling and agrees to help as long as she divulges information about herself to him. Meanwhile Buffalo Bill has kidnapped a senator’s daughter and the race is on to capture him.
This was actually the second Hannibal Lecter film, the first was Manhunter in 1986 from director Michael Mann based on Harris’ novel Red Dragon. Lecter was played by Brian Cox in that film. Manhunter featured a similar plot, tracking down a serial killer (this one is called the Tooth Fairy) and the FBI agent (William Petersen) who captured Lecter questioning him to help capture the Tooth Fairy but it failed at the box office and only received moderate reviews at the time. In fact producer Dino De Laurentiis was so disenchanted with the results that he gave away the rights to Lecter when they made Silence of the Lambs. Naturally he didn’t when the sequel Hannibal came around.
Interesting trivia note, apparently the death head moth on the poster does not actually contain a skull. It’s actually a version of the Philippe Halsman / Salvidor Dali picture In Voluptas Mors, which was a skull made out of seven naked women. It also influenced the movie poster for the horror film The Descent.