‘Manhunter’ Inadvertently Started A Horror Franchise Four Decades Ago

I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen a single episode of Succession. But I do admire Brian Cox. It’s surprising he was younger than I when he first appeared as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor in the 1986 horror thriller Manhunter. (The mispelling is listed in the credits differently than what Thomas Harris had wrote in the 1981 novel Red Dragon for reason I don’t know). The movie was independently produced through the since-defunct De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and directed by Michael Mann, who co-wrote the screenplay.

Will Graham (William Petersen) is a retired FBI profiler living in south Florida with his wife, Molly (Kim Griest) and son, Kevin (David Seaman). It’s not revealed at first but through several interactions throughout the movie that Graham was violently attacked by Lecktor (Cox) while investigating a series of violent attacks and murders causing him to retire early. Any mention of cannibalism is gone from the movie.

Graham is approached by his friend and former colleague, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) who wants him to work on two murder cases (one in the Atlanta area, the other in the Birmingham area) in which the entire families were brutally killed during full moons. They’re afraid that the killer will strike again as the next full moon approaching and no matter how they try to connect the two families, there’s no link to determine who the killer might be. Labeled “The Tooth Fairy,” because someone found teeth impression, Graham is considered for it because Crawford says he has a special way of getting in the killer’s mind. Yet, he is reluctant as well as Molly who doesn’t want him to return.

When Graham works out a deal with Crawford he’ll remain out of danger and out of the immediate field work, he goes to Atlanta to look through the crime scene which still hasn’t been clean. However, a sleazy tabloid writer, Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang), is able to locate Graham outside the mental hospital where he visits Lecktor for help and prints it in the tabloid The National Tattler. And Lecktor is able to communicate with the real killer through classifieds informing him of Graham’s Florida address. A scene in which Lecktor sweet-talks a gullible adminstrative assistant over the phone into finding Graham’s home address shows how amazing an actor Cox is.

Of course, it’s hard to watch Manhunter without envisioning anyone else by Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lector. I never did see the TV show Hannibal, which reportedly also incorporating elements and characters of Red Dragon, but Mads Mikkelsen seems like another good actor to play the mad cannibal doctor. But there is something just chilling about Cox’s performance, even though he’s only in three scenes.

Even though Mann directs most of the scenes with a sexy coolness of blue hue and pink lighting that screams 1980s, the scenes with Lecktor drain all that feel to show just how isolated Lecktor is in a claustrophia setting. And Graham having to meet with Lecktor knowing that they are so close for the first time since Lecktor’s conviction. Lecktor even comments that it’s the “same atrocious cologne” he wore. Nothing separates them except some bars and it’s even more frightening. The plexiglass used in The Silence of the Lambs made Lector more pleasant because he wasn’t going to break through to attack someone.

When we finally do see The Tooth Fairy’s identity half way through as Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), we can see he’s more dangerous but more weaker than Lecktor. Eventually he will be caught because he’s weak as he leaves a partial fingerprint at one of the crime scenes as well as the teeth impressionms. Lecktor not only sees himself as smarter, he knows how to push everyone’s buttons. Mann filmed some interiors and exteriors of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as the mental hospital where he’s being kept. The High Museum, which was also featured in Black Panther, has a lot of windows and sky windows which is also contrast to Lecktor’s cell.

Mann is known for his desire to film on locations as much as possible. He didn’t used one soundstage for his 1995 crime saga Heat. And here, he filmed all over the country. With the addition to Atlanta, scenes were filmed in Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, N.C. and the soundstage there. Scenes were also filmed on several location in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. They even have a scene in an actual commercial passenger jet because have the camera grew film it guerrila style.

Dollarhyde, who lives alone, along the Mississippi River, eventually strikes up a relationship with a coworker, Reba McClane (Joan Allen) who is blind but is attracted to him none the less even though she can tell he has a lisp. And it’s this relationship that shows how weak Dollarhyde is. They both work at a film lab where Dollarhyde has access to family movies that are being converted to videocassettes. Hey, it was the 1980s. This was very popular to do at the time. It’s hard to think of it now that everyone has camera phones and editing equipment on their phones or they can upload software on personal computers to do so. We’re told before Graham figures it out this is how Dollarhyde has been selecting his victims.

During filming, Noonan asked that no one who played his victims nor his pursuers talk to him and only to be addressed by his character’s name. He did whatever he could to avoid contact with the rest of the cast including taking different flights and staying at different lodging. Petersen, himself, said the character of Graham got to him so much that he actually cut his hair and had it dyed making sure the next movie he made was lighter in tone. That would be the HBO baseball movie Lone Gone.

As for the title, Dino De Laurentiis said that even though the Red Dragon is discussed in the movie and a painting is seen, the title had to be changed because the previous year, Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon had underperformed. He didn’t want people thinking it was a movie about martial arts or having a Chinese cast connection. Sadly, Manhunter would only gross $8.6 million worldwide.

Even though he still own the rights to the Hannibal Lector character, De Laurentiis allowed the filmmakers of Silence to use the character at no cost. Ironically, Silence would be made and distributed itself through a struggling film studio, Orion Pictures. In a case of foreshadowing, Ted Levine, who would go on to play Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill, in Silence, is friends with Petersen from their days working in Chicago theater, crashed the wrap party but would go on to audtion and appear in Mann’s TV show Crime Story.

Manhunter gained some popularity in the 1990s following the success of Silence. But it gained more when Petersen would go on to appear as Las Vegas crime scene specialist in CSI: Crime Scene Investigations in 2000. Petersen would also find himself part of an urban myth of bad blood between Mann and William Friedkin, who directed him in To Live and Die in L.A. Both directors later came out and dispelled the myth and said they were actually friends and good admirers of each works. Even though Petersen had appeared briefly in Mann’s 1981 movie Thief, Friedkin recommended Mann hire him as Graham.

Manhunter would be remade by Brett Ratner in 2002 with Hopkins reprising his role for one last time after appearing in the 2001 movie Hannibal. Even though it would get good reviews and be successful at the box office, people still consider it an inferior movie. And then there was the horrible prequel Hannibal Rising, Harris only wrote to keep De Laurentiis from messing it up. But the less said about that the better. Hannibal the series ran for three season from 2013 to 2015. In 2021, Rebecca Breeds played Clarice Starling in another spinoff series titled Clarice that was supposed to be focused on the events between Silence and the Hannibal movie. It lasted one season and got mixed reviews.

It’s probably best to leave the franchise alone right now, but I’m sure one day someone might decide to remake Harris’ books.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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