Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Candyman (1992)

Also known as: Clive Barker’s Candyman (complete title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1992 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bernard Rose
Written by: Bernard Rose
Based on: The Forbidden by Clive Barker
Music by: Philip Glass
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Ted Raimi, Vanessa Estelle Williams

Candyman Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“They will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for if not for shedding? With my hook for a hand, I’ll split you from your groin to your gullet. I came for you.” – Candyman

This movie is adored by some within the horror community but it’s just never really resonated with me. The weird thing, is that I love Tony Todd in just about everything he does and this certainly is his most iconic role. However, the film just kind of falls flat and it’s hard to care about much within it but I’ll explain.

To start, the film does lure you into a dreamlike state, almost immediately, by the enchanting, interesting and unique score by Philip Glass. However, even though I like the score, I don’t specifically like it for this film, as it gives it a weird tone and for me, at least, it doesn’t quite fit.

That’s also not to say that it’s not somewhat effective, as it does put your brain in a strange place. But that strange place sort of wrecks the film. Just because something is effective doesn’t mean that its effect is a good creative choice.

I have several issues with the film beyond this.

Firstly, the score doesn’t really help the pacing of the film, which moves slower than a drunk snail crossing over a maple syrup spill. In fact, it makes the film seem slower, as it tries to constantly enchant you and put you to sleep.

Secondly, it never really clearly defines who or what the monster is. You also don’t really understand what his powers are. Almost every time you see him, he appears to have the ability to teleport. Yet, at the end of the film, when he’s stuck in a giant pile of burning trash, he doesn’t teleport out, he just burns to death.

Thirdly, the ending is bizarre and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Does Virginia Madsen actually take the Candyman’s place as the monster? The ending implies such but this isn’t anything that’s ever revisited in the sequels. Granted, I haven’t seen the third one but I’m pretty sure it’s left unanswered and continuity doesn’t mean jack shit with these movies.

Fourthly, the film is just full of a lot of random, baffling shit. Like why was there a giant mountain of garbage in the first place? How did days go by and no one heard the missing baby in the next door apartment? What baby doesn’t cry every fifteen minutes? When Virginia Madsen calls for Candyman, she just gets drunk and goes to bed, why didn’t he appear instantaneously to butcher her and her friend like he did the girl in the beginning? This movie has more holes in its plot than a hobo has in his underwear.

However, there are some positives in this movie, like the performances from Madsen and Todd. They’re really good despite the picture feeling like a house of cards waiting to collapse in on itself.

Additionally, this flick does a superb job of making duality a theme throughout the picture. There’s the duality between white and black people in Chicago, the duality of there being a supernatural Candyman and a real world drug dealer who adopted the Candyman persona, there’s also the duality of the dream world and reality, as you’re never quite sure what’s actually happening at certain points.

There are a lot of layers to the movie but the problem is that none of them are as clearly stated as they need to be and they sort of get lost in the overall production being lackluster, the pace being too relaxed and the general dreamlike presentation.

The point is, this film should be more effective in regards to its social and political commentary. I don’t know if the director just didn’t want to hit people over the head with it but sometimes a story can benefit from that. The biggest issue with it is that Candyman, as a character, needed to be more defined and clearly tied to the themes of the film. At least the first sequel gives you his origin and clues you in to who he is, why he is and how this is all supposed to make sense in a clearer way.

Overall, this is a movie I’ve always wanted to like but I’m just kind of meh about it. From memory, I like the second one better but I’m going to re-watch it soon and then do a proper review of it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the series, as well as Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.