Death is often a common theme in cinema. This can come in many forms, including many standard conflicts. Man versus nature and man versus man can usually end with someone dead at the end of the day. Films about war, be it historical or imagined, can really pile up the body counts. Often, a death in a movie can be due to circumstance or complete accident in order to propel the plot. However, perhaps the most disturbing deaths in cinema are the premeditated ones. Many could consider killing once, but it takes a special kind of madness to propel someone to kill multiple times. These characters are sometimes based on real-life events (as in 2007’s Zodiac), but when it comes down to it, these antagonists are the most terrifying in all of cinema. What propels them to kill is usually a twisted and insane reason, which is why many films about serial killers are categorized in the horror genre. This week, we will examine two films that highlight the antics of serial killers.
Man Bites Dog
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours
To truly understand a serial killer, you must interview one. Even though it would take quite a bit of courage just to sit down and talk with someone like that, the scariest thing about it would be learning that they are really no different from you or me. What is more disturbing is when you come across a serial killer who considers it his career. After all, people have to make money somehow, so why not do it by stealing from those you kill? While Man Bites Dog (1992) examines the life of such a man, hopefully, we can be comforted in the fact that, while the style is that of a documentary, the subject is absolutely fictional. I don’t know what I’d do if I learned that someone like this truly existed. Needless to say, some of my faith in humanity might be lost that day.
Killing is a craft, and no one understands this craft better than Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde). While a camera crew follows him, documenting his life (satirically, thankfully), we see there is some method in his madness. He usually starts off the month by offing a postman and generally sticks to older individuals living off of their pensions for his petty cash. Still, since he is so comfortable with killing, there are random murders here and there. As Ben becomes more comfortable with his film crew, he soon starts asking them to help him out. What was supposed to be an objective lens of the documentary quickly becomes an accessory to murder. By the end of Man Bites Dog, there can be no possible way for a happy ending to exist. Everyone was in too deep.
The Silence of the Lambs
Length: 118 minutes / 1.96 hours
To understand a serial killer, you would have to interview one. However, to catch a serial killer, you must become one. Or, at least you must call upon one to help get into the mindset of someone who is mentally unhealthy. In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is a serial killer who is called upon to lend his expertise to catch another serial killer who is on the loose. When it comes to the most famous villain in American film history, Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter stands at the top of the list, or at least according to the American Film Institute (based off of their “100 Years . . . 100 Heroes & Villains” list). In fact, Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in one of the most chilling movies ever made.
Serial killers are one thing, but when you add on top of that skinning the victims or (even worse) eating them, a whole new level of depravity is reached. Unfortunately, to catch a killer who has taken to skinning women, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) must call upon the experience and expertise of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. While Hannibal is a former brilliant psychologist, he is also a cannibalistic serial killer. This is why Clarice must visit him in prison to ask for his insight into the case. After all, information is rarely free. As Clarice gets closer to finding the killer, has Hannibal been using this opportunity to stage his escape? If there’s one thing worse than a serial killer on the loose, it is most definitely having two serial killers on the loose.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 murderous madmen