He was a child of war, a forever twisted byproduct of the Nazi party and its Eastern European collaborators. Born into the aristocracy only to be initiated into evil, he would eventually evolve into a world class psychiatrist, renowned renaissance man, and perhaps, the most brutal serial killer of all time. Indeed, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, as conceived by former crime reporter turned bestselling novelist Thomas Harris, would transform the horror genre, making the calculated mass murderer an icon and jumpstart a few dozen dire imitations. Even the character’s own legacy, peppered with awards and parodies, highlights the fickle nature of filmmaking, as well as the always dangerous quest of trying to recapture creative lightning in a bottle built from consistently diminishing returns.
Over the course of four novels - Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising - and five motion picture adaptations of same, the myth of this man-eating monster (Lecter is best known as a classy, cultured cannibal) has gone from curiosity, to phenomenon, to unimpressive afterthought. He’s risen to ridiculous heights and fallen farther, faster, than any other fright film figure. Sir Anthony Hopkins earned his one and only Oscar for playing this dark, deceptive manipulator, even replacing the prior treatment by (a better) Brian Cox. The Scottish thespian originated the role in Michael Mann’s excellent Manhunter, offering up a casual cruelty that Hopkins would later accelerate and amplify.