In 1988 novelist Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs was published. The world of thrillers, whether in print or in cinéma, would never be the same again. Harris’s Hannibal Lecter who would go on to be immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 movie. Lecter has become an archetype. One that every writer and screenwriter has battled with.
Lecter is the gold standard. And untold numbers of books and movies have laboured to imitate him or at least channel him. Whether fiction or non-fiction, crime novelists have struggled to reproduce the elegant prose of Harris, while trying to find humanity in the worst of offenders. No wonder that today serial killers seem to populate the zeitgeist of early 21st century. Shows like Criminal Minds and Showtime’s Dexter have strong viewership.
In terms of “beloved” monsters Dexter seems to have taken up the torch from the failing hands of Lecter. Dexter, now in its 6th season, is still going strong. Dexter is the creation of writer Jeff Lindsay. The Dexter series of books tallies in at six with the release on Oct. 18 of Double Dexter.
Dexter Morgan is not the erudite or renaissance man that Lecter is. But he is born “in blood” the same way that Hannibal was. Dexter witnessing the brutal murder of his mother, a young Lecter witnessing the cannibalistic end of his sister, Mischa. Dexter’s voiceover in the series is a compelling voyeuristic device that enables the viewer to empathise with, of all people, a serial killer. Dexter is a serial killer of serial killers. The viewer’s suspension of disbelief is stretched to the limit. Only fine writing can make this premise palatable to the hordes of thriller lovers.
This improbable scenario could only have been made possible with the arrival of Hannibal Lecter. Harris’s novel transcended the genre of thrillers adding aspects of horror in large scoops, that make the Dexters of today possible. Before The Silence of the Lambs, horror was a niche in itself. H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker and Stephen King being the grand masters of terror.
But now horror permeates books and movies. Scenes and images who would have been relegated to the horror side of the cineplex find themselves in small and large doses of mainstream movies. In Steven Soderbergh’s new cinéma-vérité thriller Contagion, an autopsy scene of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character shows a doctor opening up her skull and pulling a skin flap over her brow. Definetly horrific, but now just another gonzo scene for us to stomach.
It seems that this melding of thriller and horror is not going away soon. French film studio Gaumont has just launched a U.S. television branch, Gaumont International Television. Gaumont will debut two new shows, one of them titled Hannibal. So Harris’s creation will come to TV in a series about the early relationship between Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham. The series will be helmed by Pushing Daisies creator, Bryan Fuller.
Now we come full circle and Hannibal is back. But he’s not the only sheriff in town. Maybe they’ll be a crossover show à la Alien vs. Predator. Hannibal vs. Dexter, now one could really wrap himself into this one, saran wrap that is.