Sit­ting com­fort­ably?

The Guardian - G2 - - Lost In Showbiz -

In 1991, The Si­lence of the Lambs shocked au­di­ences and trig­gered moral panic with its de­pic­tion of a chi­anti-lov­ing psy­chopath. Next month, it will be rere­leased as a 15, down­graded from an 18. Why do se­rial killers no longer scare us, asks Cath Clarke

Twenty-six years ago, The Si­lence of the Lambs was scar­ing peo­ple silly at the cin­ema. It gave one cou­ple the hee­bie-jee­bies so badly that they re­fused to budge un­less the man­ager es­corted them to the car park. Cinema­go­ers were re­ported to be puk­ing in the aisles. In New York, a psy­chol­o­gist claimed that a third of her pa­tients wanted to talk about Han­ni­bal Lecter. Two years later, ITV’S de­ci­sion to broad­cast a wa­tered-down ver­sion – mi­nus the gory bits – caused such a flut­ter of moral panic that it gen­er­ated news­pa­per head­lines.

The Si­lence of the Lambs shocked and thrilled au­di­ences in 1991, but, for its rere­lease in UK cin­e­mas next month, the Bri­tish Board of Film Clas­si­fi­ca­tion (BBFC) has down­graded its rat­ing from 18 to 15. As yet, no one has turned up to man the moral bar­ri­cades. Why? The film is the same. Still Jodie Foster play­ing Clarice Star­ling, the gutsy and re­source­ful rookie FBI agent sent in to win­kle out clues about psy­chopath Buf­falo Bill from that con­nois­seur of evil, Dr Lecter. Is it we who have changed? Have we be­come de­sen­si­tised to se­rial killers chew­ing off the faces of their vic­tims? Has a diet of blood and gore over the past 26 years girded up our loins to face the likes of Han­ni­bal the Can­ni­bal?

“Oh, my gosh. Yes! Of course we have be­come more de­sen­si­tised,” says Ed Saxon, one of the pro­duc­ers who worked on The Si­lence of the Lambs. “In the silent-movie era, when The Great Train Rob­bery came out, peo­ple would duck when they saw the train com­ing. Since then, we have be­come con­sis­tently less sen­si­tised, gen­er­a­tion by gen­er­a­tion.” Back in 1991, Saxon would sneak into cin­e­mas in Los An­ge­les to watch au­di­ences’ re­ac­tions. He is con­vinced the film has lost its power to shock. “It’s a pretty ef­fec­tive pic­ture, so it still rocks peo­ple some. But not to the same ex­tent.”

Killing has al­ways packed in a crowd. Ro­mans piled into the Colos­seum to watch glad­i­a­tors fight to the death. Dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era, travel agents laid on day trips to pub­lic hang­ings. And in 1991, peo­ple queued around the block to watch Lecter play psy­cho­log­i­cal chess with Clarice Star­ling. The Si­lence of the Lambs broke box of­fice records and scooped five Os­cars. Jonathan Demme’s thriller brought mul­ti­ple mur­der into the movie main­stream.

Be­fore Lambs, films portraying psy­cho­pathic killers tended to be cheap and nasty. You crept into a stick­yfloored cin­ema af­ter mid­night to watch gore-fests such as Fri­day the 13th, Hal­loween and The Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre with other peo­ple who shared your sick­ness. Or, if you pre­ferred the art­house to the grind­house, you might have braved John Mcnaughton’s re­lent­lessly re­al­is­tic un­der­ground cult movie Henry: Por­trait of a Se­rial Killer. Michael Pow­ell vir­tu­ally ended his own dis­tin­guished ca­reer in 1960 with Peep­ing Tom, fea­tur­ing a se­rial killer who films his vic­tims’ death throes. Per­haps the clos­est the movies had come be­fore to The Si­lence of the Lambs was Pyscho – Nor­man Bates in mother’s high heels is surely a dis­tant cousin to Buf­falo Bill, tuck­ing up his bits and parad­ing around in a silk ki­mono.

And Lecter was the think­ing per­son’s Freddy Krueger. Un­til Lecter came along, pair­ing fine wines with hu­man body parts, se­rial killers had

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.