The Horror Honeys: Manhunter: It's Just You and Me Now, Sport...

Manhunter: It's Just You and Me Now, Sport...

A Murder Monday Review by Head Honey Kat

Manhunter (1986)

We don't invent our natures, they're issued to us with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it?

In an age where we have multiple representations of Thomas Harris' books to refer to, it's difficult to avoid the inevitable comparisons that can be made between the different incarnations of their main characters. 

The story: Former FBI profiler Will Graham (a deliciously tortured William Petersen) returns to service after being committed to a mental hospital (the psychiatric wing). His reason for committal? A run in with Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox - I'd always wondered why I found him inherently creepy) to pursue a deranged serial murderer named "the Tooth Fairy" by the media. But Francis Dollarhyde isn't ready to be captured, and won't go down without a fight. 

Graham's relationship with Lecktor is a memory in Manhunter, a bad dream, but their interactions are unique. Lecktor toys with Graham and manipulates him easily. Watching Graham crumble under Lecktor's careful gaze is something to behold, and Cox's Lecktor is a jovial and appealing figure. Despite his aversion to Lecktor and his methods, Graham is using the incarcerated former psychiatrist to get clues about this new killer and his MO. 

"The Tooth Fairy" is a biter... and a secreter, which is unique for serial murderer.

Graham's process is nothing short of amazing, putting himself literally into the shoes of the killer and experiencing the murders through his eyes. This is obviously something fans of Hannibal will be familiar with, but for 1986? It was a crazy concept to put on film. 

Dollarhyde himself reminds me in some painful ways of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs - his height, mannerisms, and his search for transformation... But he is also unique, as is his treatment. Dollarhyde is a sympathetic figure - almost endearing - and is also the owner of the only sex scene in the film, a surprisingly tender one at that. 

This shot... 
There are a few things that stand out in Manhunter that will stay with me. Most stunning of these is the role that color plays in the film. Stark white, shades of white and ivory, stunning sunsets and sunrises in rich colors and blending, the color and patterns of blood splatter. I'm a sucker for stunning visuals, and there are some enduring tidbits included in Manhunter that are exquisite: Unexpectedly amazing camera angles that I would have expected from a Kubrick style of filming are prevalent, and a flickering TV in the background of several shots is one of my favorite recurring elements. The only downfalls of the film (at least in my mind), are the dated soundtrack (awful), and the tragic miscasting of Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) who is uncomfortably out of place in this cast.

As a longtime devotee of Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter might have ruined that particular obsession for me. Manhunter's Lecktor is lightyears away from Silence of the Lambs' Lecter, and is again far removed from the Lecter in Red Dragon, a 2003 remake of Manhunter.

The verdict: 4 out of 5 mirror shards reflecting your true self... If you haven't given Manhunter a chance, do please indulge. 

Unavoidable comparisons and rankings (best to worst comparing Manhunter, Red Dragon, and Hannibal):
Winner by a trembling lower lip.

Will Graham - William Petersen, Edward Norton, Hugh Dancy
Dancey's passionate portrayal of Graham puts him ahead of Petersen who is tortured but not as vocal nor as nuanced as Dancey. Norton is at the bottom of the pack with his wooden two-tone portrayal, he renders a complex character boring and delivers an unappealing hero. 

Jack Crawford - Dennis Farina, Harvey Keitel, Laurence Fishburne
Laurence Fishburne will always be first in everything. He is a subtle, compassionate and commanding FBI agent and wears the mantle of power more comfortably than Keitel. As much as I enjoy Keitel's performances in all of his roles, he's too hard for this role, but not as hard and rough as Dennis Farina who is better suited for "gritty" asshole cop roles.  

Hannibal Lector - Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen
A sensual psychopath... goodbye panties.
This decision was an extremely painful one, as Hopkins' portrayal of the good doctor has been the gold standard in horror for so many years. Mikkelsen's updated portrayal of the aloof, congenial, sensual Lecter is one of the best things I've ever experienced - this Lecter is a full meal. We are introduced to Lecter the man, instead of Lecter the monster as in Manhunter and Red Dragon. Cox and Hopkins come to the role with a backstory already intact and they each approach it differently. Cox is conversational, and agreeable, but the underlying tension and creepiness that Cox brings to the role is a beautiful thing. Hopkins' turn in Red Dragon is miles away from the rougher attitude of the Lecter of Silence of the Lambs, and is closer to Mikkelsen's portrayal - aloof and approachable, but with a volatile nature that isn't present in Cox or Mikkelsen's interpretations of the role. 

Francis Dollarhyde -  Tom Noonan, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Armitage
For now, this comparison is a difficult one as I'm honestly torn on my favorite portrayal of this role. Noonan's Dollarhyde is clearly tortured, painfully at war between his murderous ways and his sweeter nature which comes out in his interactions with his lover, Reba. Fiennes by comparison is a shy figure in public, but a strong and commanding presence on his own, which is something we never see from Noonan. However, Fiennes' portrayal had the advantage of a small backstory, where Noonan did not. Richard Armitage will make an appearance in Season 3 of Hannibal, and I'm personally beyond excited to see how his treatment of Dollarhyde will measure up. 

Honorable Mention to Anthony Heald's Fredrick Chilton in Red Dragon, who will always be the smarmy goalpost for this role.