Manhunter

Released:  1986

Cast:  William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan

SUMMARY:  Will Graham (William Petersen) is a former FBI profiler who retired after being attacked by cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox).  When a new serial killer case arises, Graham’s old boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) asks him to help catch the killer.  Graham agrees to help, but only by examining the evidence:  he promises his wife (Kim Greist) that he will not put himself in physical danger.  In order to gain insight into the serial killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy for his cannibalistic tendencies, Graham visits Lecktor in a psychiatric hospital.  Lecktor agrees to help, and is later able to obtain Graham’s home address.

The head of the psychiatric hospital soon finds a note in Lecktor’s cell that connects him to the Tooth Fairy.  The note contains instructions on how to communicate through a tabloid newspaper using coded notes.  The FBI is unable to break the code before the newspaper’s deadline, so Graham puts a personal interview in the newspaper as well.  In the interview, Graham attempts to bait the Tooth Fairy by being very offensive and giving a fake profile.  The newspaper reporter is kidnapped by the Tooth Fairy, and then tortured and killed.  After this, Graham discovers that the coded message from Lecktor to the Tooth Fairy contained Graham’s home address and instructions to kill his family.

The Tooth Fairy is revealed to be a worker in a film lab named Francis Dollarhyde.  He has recently begun a relationship with a co-worker, but soon makes the mistaken assumption that she is involved with another man.  Angered by this supposed betrayal, Dollarhyde kidnaps the woman.  Meanwhile, Graham finally finds a connection between the previous victims, and with the help of other agents, he is able to identify Dollarhyde as the killer.  Graham and Crawford go to Dollarhyde’s house, where Graham realizes that both Dollarhyde and a woman are in the house.  He crashes through a window to get into the house, but is knocked out by Dollarhyde.  Dollarhyde then kills two other police officers before finally being killed by Graham.  After wrapping up the case, Graham retires permanently and returns to his family.

MY TAKE:  This is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs, and introduces audiences to Hannibal Lecktor.  According to the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” book, this movie is scarier than The Silence of the Lambs.  I have seen both movies, and in my opinion, Manhunter is nowhere near as scary as Silence.  Most of this is due to the Hannibal Lecktor/Lecter (it was spelled differently in the first movie, but was later changed to be the same as in the books) character.  In Manhunter, Lecktor is played by Brian Cox, and only appears very briefly.  During this time, he appears to be extremely smart, but fairly non-threatening; there’s no hint of the serial killer nature or the cannibalistic tendencies.

As most people know, in Silence Hannibal Lecter is played by Anthony Hopkins to scary-as-hell perfection.  Hopkins famously studied serial killers, rarely blinked and imitated snakes for his performance, and won an Oscar for a performance that lasted less than half an hour.  He also escaped his cell and brutally attacked several people, and he had an eerie ability to discern Clarice Starling’s thoughts and emotions.  None of these elements are present in Manhunter, which makes it thoroughly less scary.  The Tooth Fairy character is creepy, but he doesn’t have anything on Hopkins’ Lecter (AFI voted this version of Lecter as the #1 film villain of all time).

This movie is supposedly a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs, but it seems like it could also function as a prequel to William Petersen’s role as Gil Grissom on the original CSI.  He has the same single-minded intensity, and an ability to see and interpret crime scenes in a way no one else can.  The only difference is the amount and color of his hair.

My only issue with this movie was the part where Graham jumps through Dollarhyde’s window.  I know that he was trying to get into the house to save the woman, but seriously, jumping through a window?  There has to be a better and safer way to enter a house.  It might attract a lot less attention, too.

RATING:  It was interesting to watch Graham try to get into the mind of the killer, but it wasn’t as suspenseful as I expected.

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