'Silence of the Lambs' has persuasive acting but is excessively gory

Movies

February 14, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

The ''Friday the 13th'' cycle may have ended, for a time, but the legacies of those films are all too evident.

''Silence of the Lambs'' is never as gory as the ''Friday the 13th'' movies, but it is repugnant enough. The ''Friday'' influence is obvious.

The gore takes from the total of the new film. This would be a very suspenseful movie without it. With it, it repels. ''Silence of the Lambs'' is a movie that will have some spectators looking at the walls rather than the screen.

The book was written by Thomas Harris. In it, crime fighters pick the mind of a jailed killer, hoping to assemble a profile on a serial murderer still at large. This was the same gimmick Harris used in his ''Red Dragon'' (''Manhunter'' on the screen), and Harris uses it again in the new film. Those who have read all his books say he uses it in a third novel, the last in a Harris ''trilogy.''

Anthony Hopkins is the imprisoned serial killer, a man who ate parts of his victims. Jodie Foster is the FBI agent who talks to the killer, hoping to learn more about the other killer, a fiend who skins his female victims.

We learn, from the jailed killer who speaks in riddles, that the wanted man is a transvestite, someone with the strength of a pile driver.

When we first see the still-at-liberty killer, he has selected his newest victim by pretending he needs her help in loading a stuffed chair into his van. It's the same sort of ruse Ted Bundy used, over and over. Bundy frequently posed as the nice young man who just needed a little help to move a few things. Partly because he was good-looking, he had many doomed takers.

There are doomed takers in this film, too, and you do wonder a little. You wonder why all these young women walk dark streets, alone, knowing there is a fiend at large.

Ah, well, this is fiction we're talking here, but if Harris wants us to accept the gore, why not give us just a little more plausibility?

You may also wonder what kind of boyhood Harris had. Did he live next door to Stephen King? Was he one of the characters in ''Stand By Me?''

Hopkins is impressively sinister as the cannibalistic prisoner, and Foster is equally persuasive as the FBI agent. She affects a Southern accent and is very easy with is.

''Silence of the Lambs'' opens here today. It includes scenes in which the killer holds a young girl prisoner in a pit, deep in the basement of his very small home. That is, it is small outside. Inside, it looks like the quarters occupied by the ''Phantom of the Opera.''

The scenes in which the young woman is kept captive in the pit are one more reason why ''Silence of the Lambs'' is difficult to watch, unless you like hostage movies, and apparently, a lot of people do. ''Misery'' is doing very well at the box office.

''Silence of the Lambs'' ** An FBI agent probes the mind of a jailed killer, hoping to build profile on a killer still at large.

CAST: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme

RATING: R (language, violence, nudity)

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

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