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A Filmmaker's Guide to the Horror Techniques Used in 'The Silence of the Lambs'

Study, Experience and Analysis

(Note: this article will contain analysis on the film "The Silence of the Lambs" and in order to get the most out of the article, it is recommended that you watch the entire film at least once). 

This is one of the most iconic horror films in the history of horror because of the fact that it is not only scary, but it is also chilling. Here's a short anecdote, this is the only film in history that has been able to gross out my mother, and she rarely gets scared of horror films. The Silence of the Lambs marked a new era for mental patient based horror and the true terror of the real world. Let's have a look at the themes we'll cover: 

- Cannibalism  
- Darkness
- Instability

Let's get on with it then.

Cannibalism

Probably the greatest theme in The Silence of the Lambs it plays the role of terrifying the audience into disbelief. The whole point of including this theme is to create the horror that goes along with the atmosphere of Anthony Hopkins' stellar performance. The whole thing works together and, perhaps, the theme of cannibalism could not work on its own and have the same effect. There's a fine line between terrifying your audience and making them laugh with disbelief. Let's take a look at the scene then:

Scene

This is a brilliant establishing scene of the theme of cannibalism. It sets out the creepy atmosphere and the danger because of the fact Dr. Lecter is being kept all by himself in a form of solitary confinement. The fact that they have been talking for a while means that she is not analysing him, he is analysing her. In fact, the theme of cannibalism even though is only a mention, is terrifying as it presents that he is known to others as a danger. It is not him that says it, but her. This is essential to creating that danger. 

If you want to do this in a similar manner then you need to pay attention to how you elicit a response from the characters. You need to have your most vulnerable character responding with the main answers to do with the "danger" as this will make it easier to associate the danger with known facts around your narrative's community. 

Darkness

There is an element of darkness in most every horror film. In The Silence of the Lambs it isn't just atmospheric, but it also presents a form of danger in which the characters cannot see where they are. I think you know which clip this is going to be so let's just get on with it: 

Scene

In this scene we hardly see anything and, when we do, we see it through the lenses of another character. The whole point of this scene is to show us the danger of the darkness as we now have another character who is inside a room with another person who is trying to kill them. The character has to work off sound and eventually kills the one we see through. 

If you want to create this form of danger through darkness then you need to make sure you have enough good sound to do so. You need sounds of breathing, walking, floorboards creaking and various sounds that indicate or suggest that more than one person is in the room. As you can imagine, The Silence of the Lambs caused a whirlwind of other films which copied this element of darkness. 

Instability

Instability may be a hard thing to create in terms of the film itself. It is something that needs to be built up through the film and then dropped at the end in order to leave the "open ending" to the film that we are so used to. But without creating the sense of danger that we are aware of throughout the film, this cannot be achieved. In The Silence of the Lambs this is no exception and, it does this very well. Let's have a look at the scene:

Scene

Now, in The Silence of the Lambs, it is clear that Dr. Lecter eats people and this is his crime. The way in which the danger shows itself throughout the film means that the audience understands that if this man was not in a controlled environment, it could be very bad for some very unfortunate people. The way in which the ending creates this danger is having him not only in disguise, but also being able to use a phone without it being tracked. This represents the freedom that makes the audience reaction unstable. Thus, we have instability. The freedom of Dr. Lecter creates the ultimate unstable ending as he walks off without any worry whatsoever of being caught. It is the ultimate instability and should be praised. 

If you wanted to use this in your own film then you definitely need to build up the sense of danger in character throughout the film. Then, at the end of the film, let this danger become free and have this sense of stable freedom which destabilises the sense of the narrative and the reaction of the audience. 

Conclusions

We all know that The Silence of the Lambs is a favourite among horror fans all over the world and, has been largely imitated over the years. Being the only horror film that has ever won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it is no wonder as to why it is so highly respected. If you wanted to have a further look into this film, you could study the following themes: 

- Human Rights and Dialogue 
- Dr. Lecter's Cell and the Representation of Madness
- Intimidation

Good luck on your next project!

Annie Kapur
Annie Kapur

English and Writing (B.A), Film and Writing (M.A).

Musical Interests: Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly 

Favourite Films: I'm Not There & The Conjuring Series

Instagram: @3ftmonster 

Twitter: @3ftmonster

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