Hannibal (2001) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

It took 10 years to get a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs into the world, so WTF Happened to Hannibal? Let’s find out…

The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Hannibal was Written by Mike Holtz, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Joseph Wilson, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

When The Silence of the Lambs was released upon the world in 1991 and not only became a financial and critical success but also the third film in history to win all five of the big awards at the Oscars, you knew it meant one thing… Tostito’s Pizza Rolls! Because that’s the best way to celebrate any achievement. No, it meant a sequel. Thank God it released in the 90s and not today! Forget a sequel, Disney would have purchased the rights and farmed out an entire cinematic universe. I can see it now… (trailer voice) “You’ve seen Hannibal Lecter behind bars. But have you ever seen him… in the classroom? This summer on Disney +… Hannibal High”. Why does it feel like that’s a thing that would actually happen and why is it so frightening? Anyways, a Silence of the Lambs sequel was destined to produce itself. But this was no ordinary follow up. The Silence of the Lambs was based off an uber popular novel by Thomas Harris. So, any respectable sequel would need to follow the same path. The follow-up novel, however, would take seven years to make its appearance in 1998. Which, again, would be unheard of by today’s sequel standards. The film would release only three years after that in 2001. Sounds like an easy production which easily brought back the trio of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and director Jonathan Demme to create a sequel that naturally feels like a successor to the original award-winning film, right? Wrong. Nothing would be the same. So, sit back, pop some Pizza Rolls in the microwave OR oven, if you’re fancy (personally, I think Lecter would be an oven guy) pour yourself some chianti and let’s get into just WTF Happened To Hannibal?

Originally, everything was in place just as you would imagine. It was expected that Jodie Foster would return to the character she cared so much about and that Jonathan Demme would direct. The table was set. Bad choice of words! Well, as I learned from the same place I get all my life lessons from, a Steven Seagal movie: ”assumption is the mother of all *bleep* ups”. The book was a best seller with wild financial success that was met with middling reviews. Stephen King loved it, however, ranking it alongside The Exorcist as one of the scariest novels of all time. All this was good enough to convince producers Martha and Dino De Laurentiis to pay a whopping 10 million dollars for the rights to adapt Hannibal (watch it HERE) into a film. That number may seem absolutely nuts but the De Laurentiises had more skin in the game than a room full of Buffalo Bill dresses. You see, they produced the first ever Lambs franchise film in 1986 with Manhunter, an adaptation of Harris’ first Lecter novel, Red Dragon, that Dino wasn’t all that impressed with. So much so that he lent the rights to Orion to make The Silence of The Lambs for free.  Which also seems utterly insane until you hear Martha describe the choice, saying “We were afraid to make the movie. You could be terrible and say no, or you could demand money, which was kind of, why be greedy? Or you let them use it, and if its succesful, your asset has value.” And it had value by the buttload. All this and we haven’t even mentioned a settled 25 million dollar lawsuit they got into with Universal over the production of the sequel. The De Laurentiises were knee deep and involved with this franchise since the beginning. They weren’t about to walk away now. 

Hannibal (2001) - WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

There was just one problem… the book they’d just purchased the rights to, while financially successful and Stephen King approved, was absolutely nuts! The end of Thomas Harris’ novel would take the beloved character of Clarice Starling, which Foster and Demme were understandably precious about, on a Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 level departure off the deep end. The book would ultimately end with Starling and Lecter as not only teammates but lovers. That’s right. Lovers.  In the book, they dined on Ray Liotta’s prefrontal cortex together before Clarice revealed one of her breasts to Lecter (who BY THE WAY had spent a considerable amount of time using multiple versions of “therapy” to turn her into…. wait for it…. his long-lost SISTER) before the two ran off together and lived happily ever after where they spent their days having sex, dancing, and learning new languages. That actually happened.

Now, I respect the absolute marbles on this man for having the guts to get so wackadoodle with his storytelling… but neither Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster nor Silence of the Lambs screenplay writer Ted Tally felt the same way. Tally refused to write the screenplay although he would later return to write Red Dragon. When asked by Inside Film Online why he refused to write Hannibal, he told them, “The Director, Jonathan Demme, and I read it and were horrified. We didn’t see how we could make a movie from it that we could be proud of and not feel sleazy about it, without making it a totally different story, which we could have done on our own. It was upsetting because we had a friendship with Tom Harris and felt we owed him a lot. But he was defensive and didn’t want anything changed and it was frustrating because it would have been the biggest payday for all of us, putting us up there in Spielberg territory.” 

The whimsical romance between Lecter and Starling wasn’t the only hold up, however. Those hesitant to come on board with the film often used the words “lurid” or “explicit” to describe the parts of the book they didn’t enjoy. What they meant by that was a subplot (not included in the final film product) that featured a character named Margot who ends up sodomizing her own brother with a cattle prod to gather his sperm to impregnate her bodybuilder girlfriend; So, I mean… stuff like that… perhaps? 

Determined and ten million dollars lighter, the production pushed on and De Laurentiis was able to acquire Alien director Sir Ridley Scott himself to helm the project. In a hilarious exchange, Dino handed Scott the script for Hannibal while Scott was making Gladiator which he immediately rejected, thinking it was about the historical figure and Carthaginian general, saying “Dino, I don’t want to do elephants coming over the Alps. I’m doing a Roman movie now.” They sorted out the confusion and the rest is history. Really weird history. Scott also thought that Harris’ original ending was as baffling as the rest of us, saying, “I couldn’t take that quantum leap emotionally on behalf of Starling. Certainly, on behalf of Hannibal… I’m sure that’s been in the back of his mind for a number of years. But for Starling, no. I think one of the attractions about Starling to Hannibal is what a straight arrow she is.” Harris was slightly open to the changing of his ending but wanted to know what it would be. Though he was famously reclusive, they somehow got the writer to sit in a hotel room for four days with new screenplay writers David Mamet who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross and Steven Zaillian who would later write The Irishman and hash everything out. And so, the film had gone out and got itself a new writer and director. At least they’d have the cast back, right? RIGHT? Because you have to put the lotion in the basket. Or you get the hose again. We were all about to get the hose again and in a big way. That sounded weird. 

Jodie Foster, much like Demme before her, remained unpleased with the drastic changes to her character. She would ultimately walk away from the project, later saying “The official reason I didn’t do Hannibal is I was doing another movie, Flora Plum. So, I get to say, in a nice, dignified way, that I wasn’t available when that movie was being shot.” Ouch. She would also say “Clarice meant so much to Jonathan and I… and I know it sounds kind of strange to say but there was no way that either of us could really trample on her.” All I can think about is poor Thomas Harris sitting there just being metaphorically hit in the face with his own book like it was a phone book and he’s just been caught cheating at the Bellagio. I’m sure the ten million dollars made it easier to sleep at night. Foster would say after watching the final product of the film she wasn’t in, “I saw Hannibal. I won’t comment.” Probably means she loved it so much she couldn’t find the words, right?

Then there’s the other side of the story… which, Dino De Laurentiis says is drastically different in a 2001 interview with The Guardian, saying that her agent said she wouldn’t even read the script without an offer of $20 million. His alleged response? “Give my love to Jodie Foster, goodbye.” And was happy about it, saying he “didn’t believe she was right from day one when I read the book.” Regardless of the truth of the matter, the search for a new actress was on. After considering multiple actresses from Cate Blanchett to Angelina Jolie landed on Assassin’s actress Julianne Moore. Moore was widely respected and honestly a great choice to replace Jodie Foster. Unfortunately, it just wouldn’t have felt right for the audience no matter who replaced Foster. Never the less, its commendable that Moore had the guts to go in and give it her all. 

Hannibal (2001) - WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Anthony Hopkins, though said to be both hesitant and heart-broken when Foster wouldn’t return… would be the polar opposite of difficult and really, the actor equivalent of that friend who’s always down to go out for a pint when you need a buddy. Hopkins hilariously said of his return “I thought, OK fine, let’s see what it’s like. I tend to be low key about things like that.” Later, they would ask him for his approval on Moore’s casting to which he replied “Oh yes. Jolly good.” I just want to hug him. Is that weird? Shut up, you’re weird! He did later say about the project however, “I think it’s a good film. The reservation I have about that idea though is that when Lecter is let out of his cell he has no power. Because when he’s confined in that cell he’s like a tarantula in a bottle. Once you let him out of that cell there’s nothing frightening about him.” In the end, Lecter would feel quite less intense than he did in Lambs. Hopkins said he considered the character more “mellow” ten years later and “probably a much richer character.” The character definitely felt a lot more refined with Scott and Hopkins diving head first into the “cultured” side of Lecter, all as he disemboweled detectives from rooftops and made chicken nuggies out of Ray Liotta’s brain.

Speaking of Ray Liotta, the cast was rounded out most excellently with his hire as the resident FBI asshole who coined the term “country pone” in regard to female genitalia, whatever that means. Liotta was great in the film, as he was anything with his name attached to it and allegedly got the part because he kept running into Ridley Scott at the gym and one day asked if he had any parts for him. Hollywood is so weird. Most of the people at my gym are just old guys with a proclivity to walk around naked in the locker room throwing baby powder around like pre-game Lebron James. Speaking of which, the title of biggest creep in the film didn’t belong to Liotta’s character or even Lecter himself. No, that title belonged to the character of Mason Verger, a rich pedophile who looks like Mitch McConnell went ten rounds with prime Mike Tyson, was eaten by a T-rex and shat into a volcano. Underneath all those lovely layers of absolutely haunting makeup which took 5-6 hours a day to apply was Gary Oldman. Though you might not have known it since he wasn’t mentioned in any of the opening credits. To hear Martha De Laurentiis tell it, Oldman wanted top billing alongside Hopkins and Moore but for a while left the project when he couldn’t get it. He then returned and asked not to be credited at all for the project, likely realizing that it would create the sort of legend and mystique that actors dream of and Jonah Hill still can’t attain no matter who he sells his soul to. Just kidding, Jonah. You know I love you. Interestingly enough the part was originally offered to the great Christopher Reeve, who thought that maybe playing a disgusting and disfigured pedophile wouldn’t be all that great for his image. Copy that, Superman. 

In one of the wildest and coolest stories of the film, Verger wants revenge on Hopkins for you know, making him look like a bag of milk had a threesome with a Five Night’s at Freddy’s animatronic and an old catcher’s mitt. This, after Lecter had come over and seduced him, gave him a few poppers, and then told him to literally cut off his own face. And he did it! This leads Mason to concoct a wild plot to put Starling in danger so that Lecter will come for her and then he can catch Lecter and feed him to a pack of wild boar that he keeps hanging around the farm like sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads. This all sounds crazier than Courtney Love after a six pack of Monster Energy Drinks and it is. But the boars definitely made for some of the coolest horror FX in the film with the crew buying a Russian boar head off of eBay and then using it for the close ups or creating full size human bodies made up of gelatin and stuffed with chicken and other assortments so that we, the audience had the pleasure of seeing them believably and horrifyingly eat human beings. It was awesomely gnarly. 

Hannibal (2001) - WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The crew outdid themselves, however, with the one scene you think about every time you think about Hannibal. No, not the one where Clarice and Hannibal bang because thankfully even Ridley Scott wasn’t into that idea either. And they ended up not using it although they did allegedly film a version of that ending for Harris just to see if it would work (it didn’t). Rather, it was a scene in which Lecter cuts  chunks of Ray Liotta’s brain out of his head as he’s still lucid and cooks them on a skillet. For this scene the crew had to create a full-scale model of Liotta to painstaking detail and simultaneously shoot a version where Liotta himself sat in the chair with makeup . The result is unforgettable and one of the most iconic horror scenes of all time, despite the overall reception to the film being quite murky. 

Hannibal debuted to the highest box office gross for a movie with an R rating on opening weekend, raking in $58 million dollars. It went on to a worldwide total of $351 million overall. The film boasts a positive audience score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes but 39% rotten critics score with one critic saying it has “No tension, no rhythm and no sense of purpose unless you count helping Faces of Death fans feel more evolved”. Hey, what’s that guys problem with Faces of Death fans? 

One must admit the process of watching Hannibal is a strange one. The film in itself is a well-made Ridley Scott film with an interesting story and some great horror moments peppered throughout. It suffers from a bit of Halloween Ends-itis however, as while one could argue it to be a good stand-alone movie, it is in many ways a poor follow up to its predecessor. The tones of the two films just don’t synch up well at all, especially when you add in the fact that despite her best efforts, it’s just weird to have a different human being in the role of Clarice when Hannibal is still the same Hannibal. It’s also a little hard to suspend belief that someone on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and famed serial killer with such distinct physical traits is just walking around in the open, giving lectures on art and sipping wine on restaurant patios. Even in the book, Lecter had undergone plastic surgery to make this all more believable. In the end, Hannibal crossed the finish line, made a whole bunch of money and is quite an interesting watch, despite never truly feeling like the follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs. And that my friends, is WTF happened to Hannibal. 

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.