31 Days of Halloween 26 – Why do we like Hannibal the serial killer?

lambs1 At the end of the day, most audiences liked the ending to Silence of the Lambs (1991), where Hannibal Lecter plots revenge against his jailer.  Why is this?  Are our empathic buttons pressed so much that now we’re rooting for serial killers?  He’s a CANNIBAL SERIAL KILLER.  And while we don’t see what happens, I guess we can assume Hannibal ate the guy for dinner.  He ate the guy.  HE CHEWED FLESH AND DRANK BLOOD like friggin Dracula or something.  And he gets sympathy in the movie, so much so that he spawned a series of movies, where he jaunts around and has more menacing fun.

Generally, the main characters in movies are the characters we identify with.  There’s usually something in them, no matter how small, that makes us like them.  I would have to say Hannibal is quite a distance from normal, except for his charming mannerisms.  There are also worse things in Silence of the Lambs, as the movie quite clearly points out.  Lecter is a gentlemen and seems calm, rational, only striking out when necessary.  He commits murder on a whim, but only because the guy in the cell next to his insulted his newest obsession, Clarise, the FBI investigator.  That’s not so bad, right?


Buffalo Bill is played by Ted Levine

One of the things even more evil than Hannibal is the serial killer Buffalo Bill.  Clarise stumbles upon Buffalo Bill’s house by pure accident, but Hannibal’s help was invaluable in getting her there.  This is likable.  This is something a human being would do, not a monster like Buffalo Bill.  In comparison, Buffalo Bill has no humanity, which the movie makes a point in showing.  

I think this is what Hitchcock did in Psycho for Norman Bates and what the producers did for Walter White in Breaking Bad.  Both of those guys are really villains.  They’re evil and pretty much evil jackasses, yet audiences like them for their humanity.  In comparison, Walter White is way more human than Hannibal, because he has a family and has had some hardships.  I’m not sure why people like Norman Bates, but maybe it’s the underdog factor, or his personality.  

hannibalAnthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his role as Hannibal Lecter and I agree.  He is the best thing in the movie by far, and gives a great performance.  We believe Hopkins is a total gentlemen and his menacing attitude works well too.  His interaction with Jodie Foster produces some great moments.

The Journal of Forensic Sciences published an article in December of 2013 on psychopaths, which explains that Hannibal Lecter does not fit the definition.  He is not a psychopath.  Most scientists agree that a psychopath like Hannibal Lecter do not exist.  They don’t exhibit the intelligence, charm, and empathy that Hannibal displays.  The Journal describes most classic psychopaths as having no empathy.  However, the “Hollywood Psychopath”, like Hannibal Lecter, is very common in movies.  

Psychopaths do not have these traits, but Hollywood Psychopaths usually exhibit most of the following:

1.  High intelligence and an affinity for cultural recreation like art or music 

2.  Somewhat vain or shy

3.  Has or had a successful career

4.  Calm and in control of himself or herself

5.  Skill at killing people with blades or other objects

— Leistedt, S. J. and Linkowski, P. (2014), Psychopathy and the Cinema: Fact or Fiction?. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 59: 167–174. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.12359

lambs4I think the Hollywood Psychopath developed through the maturity of the cinema, which desired to put the uncommon, shocking, and unusual on film.  The value in putting a serial killer like Hannibal on film is extraordinary.  We can experience talking and listening to Hannibal in a unique way.  It is a unique experience.  We couldn’t be able to do it otherwise, unless you know some serial killers living the down the street.  However, as a real psychopath, Hannibal Lecter doesn’t fit the clinical definition, but for our purposes, he is an archetype.

Overall, Silence of the Lambs is a great movie.  It won ‘best picture’ for a reason and Anthony Hopkins deserves his praise for his role.  This proves that Hannibal Lecter is one of the most successful “Hollywood” psychopaths put to film, a character meant to emulate real life, not imitate it.


31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon

1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)