One of the most heinous actions in human history is that of murder. From the Biblical account of Cain and Able people have been strangely fascinated with one human being taking the life of another. In the age of Victorian England a man became infamous as one of the earliest serial killers to capture the morbid attention of the popular media as Jack the Ripper became the focus of sensationalistic tabloid news papers and the penny dreadful novel that dominated fashionable reading. Technology may have altered the methods the public use to cull over these tales of monstrous men who are capable of snuffing out the lives of people with no more concern that swatting and insect but the interest has only waxed over time. One of the most well known fictional serial killers to populate literature and cinema is Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecktor . The deadly exploits of this character are well known and provided a significant paradigm change in the serial killer horror genre. The signature portrayal of this cold blooded killer was by Sir Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. He would go on to reprise the role lackluster sequels but most regard the Lecktor seen in ‘Lambs’ to be one of the most terrifying even seen in the annals of horror. As all cinematic devotees can tell you this was not the initial appearance of Hannibal. That honorific falls to Brian Cox in the movie under consideration here, ‘Manhunter’. Since ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was such an exceptionally well crafted movie it may seem difficult of accept but the first stab, pun intended’ would also be of extraordinary craftsmanship.
The simple fact remains; ‘Manhunter’ is definitely on the same rarified strata as ‘Lamb’. Perhaps the factors that contribute to this include a different story and filmmaker but the original character created by Thomas Harris in his novel ‘Red Dragon’ remained at the core of both films taking them to such heights. It is exceptionally rare that such a powerfully drawn literary character is so successfully translated to the screen but to have it happen in two movies from different filmmakers is beyond statistical analysis. ‘Manhunter’ is the back story that lays the foundation for what goes on in ‘Lambs’ but a significant part of the genius of these films is how fantastically well the stand on their own as independent movies albeit ones that are inexorably linked.
‘Manhunter’ is one of those films that takes awhile to be fully appreciated; a hindsight success. Although it opened to mediocre reviews and uninspiring box office it has been elevated in the regard of fans and critical communities subsequent to the explosion of positive reaction to ‘Silence of the Lambs’. In this case it is not a result of retroactive praise rubbing off from the subsequent movie, the quality of this film was always there and many, myself included, felt the film was grossly undervalued. Fortunately, the distribution rights are in the possession of MGM/UA and they wisely decided to include ‘Manhunter’ in their ongoing effort to re-release high definition editions of a number of fan favorites. This Blu-ray edition not only looks and sounds better than any previous release of the film it gives a worthy example of cinema a revived chance to garner the accolades it so richly deserves. This is a case where the combination of increased fan interest in the leading actor and a shift in the critical appreciation of the director’s stylistic choices resulted in a reappraisal of the film’s intrinsic worth.
Will Graham (William Petersen) is a retired FBI agent trying his best to live out his life in relative peace. His retirement was hastened by a brutal physical and psychological confrontation with the infamous cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). Prior to that case Graham was considered the best profiler in the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Unit but now he lives in Florida with his wife Molly (Kim Greist) and their young son Kevin (David Seaman). His attempt at a peaceful life removed from the brutal necessity of immersing himself in the twist minds of serial killers is disrupted by a frantic visit by his former FBI superior, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina). The Bureau is contending with a new serial killer, the Tooth Fairy, operating in the Atlanta area, he gained his moniker die to his habit of leaving bite marks on his victims. Crawford assures Graham that his involvement would be limited to examining the case file for overlooked psychological clue and that he would not be placed in harm’s way. The case file lacks the required detail so Graham travels to the first crime scene in Birmingham, Alabama to get a better read. The situation is complicated when tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds (Stephen Lang) becomes entwined in the case. Previously he sold photos of Graham in the hospital subsequent to his climatic encounter with Hannibal. Now Londs it trailing the Tooth Fairy for his own sensationalistic ends. The true master stroke of the film is in the character of the killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan). His oral fixation stems from an uncorrected cleft palette which instigated social ostracism. His alternate ego is ‘the great Dragon’ after the William Blake's painting which is reproduced in elaborate detail as a tattoo on his back. He is befriended by a blind woman, Reba McClane (Joan Allen), who quite literally is unaware on the clues right under her nose.