It’s Not a Charm School

I love this movie so much. I started this blog because I love scary movies and I wanted a place to discuss them. I have a fondness for the shitty movies that I watch, but this movie is close to my heart. I’m talking about the 1991 Jonathon Demme movie The Silence of the Lambs. This movie came out when I was eight -years-old, but I didn’t see it until I was about sixteen, in 1999. It took me forever to see it because I wanted to read the book first, which is as good or better than the movie. I actually did a book report about it during my senior year of high school, comparing Clarice Starling to Theseus and the minotaur, the struggle of fairy-tale heroes, and the various monsters in the novel. This is more than just a police procedural movie, The Silence of the Lambs has become an essential, iconic pop culture reference in our culture.
By now you’re probably saying, “But, Scarina, The Silence of the Lambs isn’t a scary movie at all.”
First of all, I’d like to say who are you to question me? *Ahem* I mean, I think that The Silence of the Lambs‘ genre is debatable. I tend to think that it’s a horror movie with elements of a police procedural.
A short version of the plot, for all eight of you who haven’t seent he movie, is that there’s a serial killer skinning women in the midwest. Clarice Starling is a trainee in the FBI who’s hoping to join the behavioral sciences unit. Her superiors send her to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, aka “Hannibal the Cannibal.” Hannibal is eventually recruited into the hunt for the serial killer.
Now, I have three main reasons for labeling The Silence of the Lambs a horror movie.
My first reason is the goriness and graphicness of the film. This is the obvious answer.
The movie throws you into the horror via the closeup of the wall of horror.

Here’s some more of the creepy, gory, and graphic shots from the movie.

This well-scene between Jame Gumb and Catherine Martin is so iconic.


The view from inside the well really creeps me out.

This shot of Hannibal is simultaneously gory and beautiful.

According to the documentary on my special edition, this scene was based on the artwork of Francis Bacon. I always interpreted as Renaissance anatomical sketches and wood carvings.

This scene has become so iconic too. Heck, they’ve done it on Family Guy.

Now, my second argument. The movie is about catching a monster [Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill] through the assistance of another monster [Hannibal Lecter] while being hindered by a third monster [Dr. Chilton.] Ultimately, you wind up rooting for Hannibal to succeed at catching this even worse monster.
Sadly, much of Jame’s back story has been truncated for the movie. What you learn about him is that he had an abusive past and has never fit in society. His ultimate solution is to kill women and take their skin to sew a woman suit. What was interesting was picking out the bits of real-life serial killers that influenced Jame Gumb’s character. Ted Bundy used a cast to appear helpless to his victims. Ed Gein was known for dressing his victims the way you would a deer. He also robbed graves and made bowls out of skull caps and lampshades out of skin.
And, can I say, there were protests of the movie because Jame was gay and/or transgendered. This really pisses me off, because it’s really clearly stated in the movie that Jame isn’t a transsexual.
I consider Dr. Chilton to be a monster, to some degree. He’s so much nicer in the movie, though, than he was in the book.

He’s a very little man, a very minor monster, who manages to botch things in a very big way.
And finally, there’s Hannibal Lecter. What’s known about him, in the movie, is that he was a cannibal. His crimes aren’t described very clearly, although you’ll get much more detail if you read the book.

This is the first view of Hannibal Lecter. The first fifteen minutes of the movie are spent discussing him and when the audience first sees him he’s utterly still. But this is a man that people are so scared of that he’s been found to be criminally insane and that he’s kept in the lowest level of an asylum behind plexiglass. It’s very Dante-esque.
Much of the action takes place between Clarice and Hannibal with this glass between them. Demme uses these dual shots when they interact and it makes you feel like Hannibal is speaking to you and THAT builds tension.

Looking at how Hannibal is handled makes you fear him. And his character in the mask has become iconic.

He’s charming, likeable, and polite, and yet he does horrible things. But you find yourself supporting him, you want him to escape. Frankly, Hannibal Lecter is one of my absolute favorite characters of fiction because of he’s capable of charm and capable of terror.
Finally, I think it’s a scary movie because it’s actually fucking scary. The scenes in the well in Gumb’s basement are claustrophobic and the end scene, where Gumb is stalking Clarice through the night-vision goggles never fails to scare me. I always want to shout out that he’s behind her, and I’m someone who’s seen the movie about a bazillion times.
This movie’s one of my favorites because I consider it a very feminist film. Now I really hate the term “politically correct.” I think it’s used in a derogatory way to marginalize those who have legitimate complaints about mainstream society. Plus, it seems to encourage people to behave as boorishly as possible just to prove that they’re not “politically correct.” Now, I love the horror genre. I’ve loved it since I first saw a Nightmare on Elm Street movie as a five-year-old and thought it was funny. But it’s not always a genre that’s friendly to women. Pedantically, I get that no one’s safe in horror. Duh. That’s the point of horror. But it’s also been used as a means to exploit vulnerable members of society, people that are legitimately at risk for no other reason than being born with the wrong genitals.
So now we have this film, by a male film-maker, that manages to bring to life one of the kick-assiest (Yes, that is a word) female characters, Clarice Starling. I love Clarice. She’s so plucky, kind of like Nancy Drew but she doesn’t have her dad and her boyfriend for back-up. She has her best friend and herself and that’s it.

Yes, she’s pretty, but she’s also smart.
Aside from Clarice, the audience sees her best friend, Ardelia, who’s attending the FBI academy with her and is shown as being as smart and as tough as Clarice.
But what I think is really important is that women are victimized in this movie but they’re not shown passively accepting the victimization. Catherine Martin actively plots to get out of the well and her mother, a senator, uses all the resources at her disposal in order to save her daughter’s life. This is something that’s really important for people to see, that you don’t have to accept what’s doled out to you.
I think that the final thing I’ll say about this movie is that it’s quite beautiful. The music enhances the mood without being overwhelming and it’s not like any music that I’ve heard in horror movie before or since.
And there are just some shots that I think are really beautiful and well composed.


The death’s-head moth was created by painting a fake nail and wedging it in a cocoon.


I think that this is my favorite shot in the whole movie, and may be my absolute idea of romance. Just his hand touching her’s, there’s something so lovely about it. This probably says something deeply disturbing about me…

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About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 1990's, books, serial killers, thriller and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to It’s Not a Charm School

  1. Jennifer says:

    I have always considered Silence of The Lambs to be an awesome movie. The chemistry between Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster was simply amazing. I really wished they hadn’t screwed up the sequel, Hannibal so badly.

    • scarina says:

      Their chemistry is phenomenal. I can’t deny that Anthony Hopkins is prolly part of the reason that I’m crushing on Hannibal so much.
      The book of Hannibal is so good, I consider it my favorite romantic book except for maybe Jane Eyre. The Hollywood treatment was so disappointing.

  2. Amiee says:

    I always thought of this as a thriller, but there are definitely scary moments. And many tense ones, it’s called a classic for a reason.

  3. FRC Ruben says:

    The moral of the story: We’re all sick and depraved.

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