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Return of the Dragon: Know Your “HANNIBAL”!

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It’s been nearly 30 years since the first cinematic iteration of Hannibal Lecter hit audiences in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, and even that took place two years before THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS even hit book shelves. And now, with Thomas Harris’ cerebral cannibal now gracing the small screen in an elegant and eerie fashion, FANGORIA is looking back at each of the respective Dr. Lecter’s who have made their mark on the big and small screen…

MANHUNTER
Director: Michael Mann
Performer: Brian Cox

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Though credited as “Hannibal Lecktor,”  Brian Cox’s take on the man-eating maniac is one of the more unique spins on the character to date. Cox’s wry wit, know-it-all attitude and seeming indifference to Will Graham’s search for “The Tooth Fairy” is radically different than the intense takes on the character that would follow, even though there are many elements of his performance that echoes aspects of Bryan Fuller’s HANNIBAL as well. But Cox, almost reduced to a cameo within MANHUNTER, is played more for laughs than for scares as the flip side to Francis Dolarhyde’s psychopathic coin, providing a complete lack of anxiety and empathy, which were character traits that fueled the murderous tendencies of Dolarhyde. And while Cox’s performance certainly resides in the shadow of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-era Lecter, it’s certainly received retro-active praise in a big way, especially from Harris aficionados who prefer his more human presentation of Hannibal.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Director: Jonathan Demme
Performer: Anthony Hopkins

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Of course, when the name “Hannibal Lecter” is mentioned, no film comes to mind quicker than THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. A pop culture phenomenon, and so much so that it’s one of the few horror films to garner Academy Awards, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS introduced Hannibal Lecter and his universe to a much larger audience, painting a less stylized and more gruesome tale than Mann’s previous Lecter outing. But above all else, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS gave the horror community a nightmarish new icon in Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter, with a performance so terrifying and captivating that not only did it win Hopkins an Oscar for Best Actor (with only 16 minutes of screen time) but even disturbed audiences more than the true antagonist of the film, a skin-wearing woman-killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”

HANNIBAL (2001)
Director: Ridley Scott
Performer: Anthony Hopkins

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Ten years after THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Hopkins returned to his award-winning role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter with the highly anticipated HANNIBAL (2001). However, instead of the master manipulator and terrifying psychopath that we were treated to in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Hopkins instead delivered a much more nuanced take on the killer, presenting him as much more of a sadistic and traditionally villainous character. While still effective, HANNIBAL (2001) played Clarice and Hannibal’s dance in a much more adversarial fashion, and the film as a whole has an awkward, thriller-esque atmosphere to replace the foreboding out-and-out horror of LAMBS. Though the film still has its macabre moments, Lecter in HANNIBAL (2001) ultimately leaves the terrifying mindgames at the door, and instead, trades his razor-sharp tongue with a generic knife.

RED DRAGON
Director: Brett Ratner
Performer: Anthony Hopkins

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Surprisingly, Hopkins is in much better form in his third outing as Hannibal Lecter, finding a nice groove between the more casual villain of HANNIBAL (2001) and the cerebral psycho of LAMBS in RED DRAGON. Though this Lecter carries a bit of the sardonic edge that Cox brought to his portrayal, Hopkins is once again incredibly intense as Lecter, even though he’s outshined by Ralph Fiennes’ spectacular turn as Dolarhyde. Hopkins’ variations on his LAMBS creepiness also make more sense considering the character’s unique history and dynamic with Will Graham as opposed to Clarice Starling. And while the film gets much unjust criticism thanks to the filmography of its director, there’s little arguing that Hopkins is not at the top of his horrifying game in his (currently) last embodiment of Hannibal Lecter.

HANNIBAL RISING
Director: Peter Webber
Performer: Gaspard Ulliel

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If Anthony Hopkins’ run as Hannibal Lecter can be summarized as “unforgettable,” the opposite can be said about Gaspard Ulliel’s take on the character. Lacking the predatory intensity and charisma of his predecessors in the role, Ulliel tries hard to do his best as the young Lecter in his first major Hollywood role, but simply was not fit for Hannibal’s shoes. Instead, Ulliel offers a handsome, complicated take on the character that felt surprisingly similar to a generic slasher than a calculated killer. Whether it was a lack of direction from Webber or a lack of comfort on the part of Ulliel, HANNIBAL RISING went as quickly as it came, and remains an often unspoken piece of Hannibal Lecter’s cinematic legacy.

HANNIBAL (2013)
Creator: Bryan Fuller
Performer: Mads Mikkelsen

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Don’t call it a comeback: as a pre-capture Hannibal Lecter, Mads Mikkelsen brings Cox’s charm and Hopkins’ intensity in spades to Bryan Fuller’s serialized take on Hannibal’s story. However, the piece of Lecter that Mikkelsen captures that Hopkins, Cox and Ulliel failed to find is Hannibal’s vanity, relishing in a confident and expressionistic performance that offers a believably disguised take of the demented doctor. And as HANNIBAL (2013) takes us further and further down the rabbit hole of Hannibal’s dark mind, Mikkelsen repeatedly rises to the occasion to give audiences one of the most haunting and proud takes on the character since Hopkins’ uttered “Hello, Clarice.”

HANNIBAL continues its third season at 10 p.m. EST on NBC. HANNIBAL creator/writer Bryan Fuller will be serving as FANGORIA’s first Special Guest Editor for Issue #343; you can subscribe to FANGORIA here. Keep an eye out for more HANNIBAL coverage here at FANGORIA.com!

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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