Thursday, October 29, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Manhunter (1986) ****

R, 124 min. (director's cut)
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Thomas Harris (novel “Red Dragon”)
Starring: William Petersen, Denis Farina, Tom Noonan, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Stephen Lang, David Seaman, Benjamin Hendrickson

So, the best show to get canceled from television this year was “Hannibal”, which remarkably made it through three very dark and twisted seasons. Of all things Hannibal Lecter related, it is by far my favorite. But, Lecter has certainly made an impression before. In celebration of those three wonderful seasons, I decided to watch all five of the Hannibal franchise films for Horrorfest.

The police procedural aspect of most of these films generally places them outside of the horror genre in my mind, yet Hannibal Lecter is one of the greatest movie monsters ever created. So I wanted to look at them from a horror mindset. Certainly the television show is rooted solidly in horror, yet its creator, Bryan Fuller, intended to keep references to the novel storylines throughout the series. So, how much of that horror do the movie versions of these stories contain?

“Manhunter”, the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel “Red Dragon” and first movie appearance of Hannibal Lector, retains the least amount of horror movie aspects of the bunch. Directed by Michael Mann in full 80’s gear, it retains the crisp “Miami Vice” feel to his imagery. Note that in this vision, the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane is depicted with entirely white walls and features. No colors of any kind. This is, of course, how Mann envisions the clinical, completely sanitized. It is 180 degrees removed from the grimy, dungeon-like depictions of the institution in “The Silence of the Lambs” and the later adaptation of the same story.

There are aspects of Mann’s vision, however, that do embrace the horror aspects of Hannibal’s world. Perhaps the most effective is the electronic score by Michel Rubini and The Reds. Rubini only composed “Graham’s Theme” for the movie, with the rest of the score coming from the duo known as The Reds. “Graham’s Theme” is really the tone setter for the film, however, and firmly roots the score amongst solid electronic horror scores. Rubini’s previous score had been for Tony Scott’s vampire film “The Hunger”, and he would go on to score for 80’s television horror anthologies “The Hitcher” and “Tales from the Crypt”.

What Rubini latches onto with his theme is also what links “Manhunter” to the “Hannibal” television series in a stronger way than any of the other films. That is Graham’s ability to completely loose himself to the mindset of the killer he is hunting. This is the most horrific aspect of Graham’s character, and the reason he is inexorably linked to the monster Hannibal Lector as the man who captured Lector. William Petersen does a fine job playing this aspect of the Will Graham character. He is so isolated in this film, and Mann’s cold approach to the material helps extenuate this aspect of his character, that it is easy to believe he might one day snap just to feel the exhilaration felt by the men he hunts.

Mann’s original ending cut from the theatrical release, in which Graham fairly sinisterly shows up at the killer’s next planned victims just to see them in person, suggests the dangerous nature of getting into a killer’s head in a more direct way than any of the other films do. I’ve only seen the Director’s Cut of the film since its DVD release in 2000 because my theatrical cut of the film won’t play, so this has become the definitive depiction of Graham for me. He’s never quite sure whether he’ll step over the edge one day.

Of course, the two killers in this film are its most direct links to the roots of horror. Lector is portrayed here, not by Anthony Hopkins, but by another British actor, Brian Cox. Cox’s casting was mostly due to his performance as real life serial killer Peter Manuel. Cox’s performance is more clipped and matter of fact than Hopkins’ more famous take on the character, but the heart of the character is the same.

Francis Dollarhyde, on the other hand, is another beast all together. Played by the always-unsettling Tom Noonan, Dollarhyde is an albino daemon, almost a force rather than a person. But the great thing about this particular serial killer story is that it gives the audience a chance to hope for the human to reemerge. The choice of a blind woman for the conduit to his humanity is important, as a key to his character’s light and his dark. Once he perceives things to go sour, her vulnerability makes his actions that much harder to watch. And, in the long standing horror tradition of turning treasured rock music into something dark and sinister, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” will forever be an anthem for killing thanks to this movie.

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