Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Notes For March 23rd, 2011

This Day In Writing History

On March 23rd, 1999, the famous American horror novelist Thomas Harris delivered his completed manuscript for Hannibal to his publishers. It was the third in a series of four novels featuring his most famous character - Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, classical music enthusiast, wine connoisseur, and gourmet turned cannibalistic serial killer - who had been terrifying readers for nearly 20 years.

Lecter made his debut in Red Dragon (1981), where he was called on by Will Graham - the FBI agent who captured him - to help profile a new serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Red Dragon. The sequel, The Silence of the Lambs (1988) found Lecter called on again, this time by trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling, to help her gain insight into the mind of Buffalo Bill, aka Jame Gumb, a depraved serial killer who has abducted a Senator's daughter.

Although Red Dragon was filmed first in 1986 as Manhunter, (featuring British actor Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter) it would be the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 that made Hannibal Lecter a pop culture icon. Stylishly directed by Jonathan Demme and featuring stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, and Ted Levine as Jame Gumb, the film swept the Academy Awards, becoming only the third movie in history to win all five major Oscars - Best Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), Director (Demme), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

After the huge success of The Silence of the Lambs, fans were clamoring for a sequel. It took some ten years for Thomas Harris to deliver. Hannibal was the result. In this novel, Lecter himself is Agent Starling's quarry, as he escaped from custody in The Silence of the Lambs. What Starling doesn't know is that someone else is hunting Lecter.

Mason Verger is a victim of Lecter's who survived. Verger, the wealthy heir to a meat packing empire, was a depraved, sadistic pedophile whose long list of victims included his own little sister. When his father established a Christian summer camp for children, Verger used it to prey on more young victims. When he was finally caught and arrested, Verger avoided jail time because of his family's wealth and power. He was ordered to perform community service and receive therapy. His psychiatrist? Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The good doctor's idea of therapy was to have Verger take hallucinogenic drugs, manipulate him into demonstrating his technique of autoerotic asphyxiation via hanging, then make him slash his own face to ribbons with a shard of broken glass. Lecter then hanged Verger with his noose, breaking his neck. Verger survived, but was left a quadriplegic with a horribly mangled face. He wants to catch Lecter before Agent Starling does and take revenge. The revenge Verger has planned is a fate worse than death, and he has FBI agents on his payroll - including Starling's superior, Paul Krendler.

Hannibal received mixed reviews because of the ending, which I won't give away. I will say that it does make sense after all that happens to Clarice Starling throughout the novel, and fits in well with the dark surrealism of the story. I for one enjoyed Hannibal immensely. I believe it's the best book Harris has written so far, second only to The Silence of the Lambs. Horror master Stephen King, a big fan of the Hannibal Lecter series, proclaimed Hannibal, along with William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (1971), to be the two greatest modern horror novels of all time.

Hannibal would be adapted as a feature film in 2001, with Anthony Hopkins returning as Lecter and Julianne Moore taking over the role of Clarice Starling. Directed by Ridley Scott, it received mixed reviews from fans because the screenplay (written by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian) omitted a major character (Mason Verger's sister) and changed the ending of the novel.

To placate fans, the screenwriters did include part of the novel's ending - the famous Grand Guignol scene where Dr. Lecter lobotomizes corrupt FBI agent Paul Krendler and... well... serves him a most unusual dinner. Unfortunately, the most shocking part of the novel's ending - the fate of Clarice Starling - was omitted from the screenplay, which featured a completely different outcome.

Thomas Harris followed Hannibal with a a fourth novel, a prequel called Hannibal Rising (2006), which was published seven years later. Expanding on flashbacks that appeared in Hannibal, it told the dark and chilling story of how a frighteningly intelligent little Lithuanian boy named Hannibal Lecter grew up to be the monster we know and love.

Quote Of The Day

"Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it." - Thomas Harris

Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 2001 feature film adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1999 novel, Hannibal. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Jody Ewing said...

What a terrific post, Eric! I've read all of Harris's novels and seen all versions of each film, with the exception of "Hannibal Rising." I still remember the first time I saw the (teaser) trailer for "Hannibal" -- the one that begins with only the text DO NOT APPROACH THE GLASS followed by DO NOT PASS HIM ANYTHING. I got goosebumps!

As for his novels, I thought "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" were best. One could almost feel some sort of sympathy for Francis Dolarhyde. That's when I first realized how adept Harris really was when it came to developing multi-layered characters.

All the films were excellent, but it's the novels where DO NOT LET HIM INSIDE YOUR HEAD truly rings something like "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." Letting Hannibal inside one's head is what makes the stories so compelling, and chilling.

Keep up the great work!

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