Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time

The "Hannibal Lecter" Films

Manhunter (1986)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Original)
Manhunter (1986) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Hannibal (2001)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Prequels)
Red Dragon (2002) | Hannibal Rising (2007)

The "Hannibal Lecter" Films (Original)
Manhunter (1986)
(aka Red Dragon: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter)
d. Michael Mann, 119 minutes, 124 minutes (director's cut)

Film Plot Summary

In the film's skin-crawling creepy prologue, a flashlight's circle of light (seen in a hand-held videocamera view), in an extended tracking shot, "stalked" and ascended a suburban home's main stairs to a second-floor bedroom where it was directed toward two sleeping individuals - the light caused the female victim to slowly awaken, as the film cut to its titles.

The film opened, in September of 1986, with former FBI profiler agent Will Graham (William Petersen) on a tropical Florida beach, speaking to his ex-boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina). Graham had retired (or quit his job) after suffering a heavy psychic toll, and was unaware of recent high-profile murders of entire families committed in Birmingham and Atlanta. Crawford was asking him to return to his job, to catch the killer who was working on a "lunar cycle" - with a little more than 3 weeks until the next potential murder during a full moon. Graham responded: "I'll think about it." A family man with one son named Kevin, he discussed the offer with his pretty blonde wife Molly (Kim Greist), and assured her: "If I went back, I'd only look at evidence. I wouldn't get deeply involved. He'd never even see me or know my name," but his mind was made up to return.

Back on the job, he was driven by a police officer to the most recent crime scene, where he crossed a yellow-taped line and entered an Atlanta suburban house (owned by the family of Charles and Valerie Leeds). He ascended the stairs, noticing a blood-stained carpet in the children's room. In the master bedroom, he saw a bloody, grisly murder scene (with stains on the walls, bedding and carpets), and recorded his findings into a hand-held tape recorder, about the deranged killer's skillful mode of entry into the house, the killer's description ("blonde hair, strong, size 12 shoe imprint, blood AB positive"), and the mode of murder. The husband's throat was cut (with evidence of "arterial spray" on the wall), and then the killer shot (and then strangled) the wife. The husband vainly attempted to prevent the killer from moving to the children's room. Graham then asked: "What did the killer do with them after they were dead?" During his investigation, the phone rang, and he listened to the dead female's haunting recording to "leave a message."

Later, in his Atlanta Marriott hotel room, Graham viewed VHS videos of the family's home movies, and recorded further thoughts about the post-mortem actions of the killer (who had cut Mrs. Leeds with smashed mirror fragments), asking himself what he might have done in the interval between killing the children and Mrs. Leeds' actual death a few minutes later. He then appeared to enter the mind-set of the killer, speculating about his reaction to the beautiful wife: "It was maddening to have to touch her with rubber gloves on, wasn't it?" He surmised that talcum powder found on the victim's leg came from the rubber glove that he took off to touch her, and that he may have closed the eyes of the victims with his bare hand.

Graham phoned boss Crawford and asked: "Is Price still in Latent Prints?", asking for the meticulous FBI duster named Jimmy Price to re-examine the crime scene, now that he knew the killer took off his gloves: "Dust Mrs. Leeds' finger and toenails and the corneas of all their eyes." In a police briefing about the case at the Atlanta police department, an officer mentioned that the killer was often referred to as "The Tooth Fairy" because of the peculiar shape of his teeth: "He has pegged lateral incisors." It was admitted that they had no motive and very little evidence, although Graham postulated: "It's in his dreams...His act fuels his fantasy." Graham had caught the infamous psychopath Doctor Hannibal Lecktor three years earlier, who had killed multiple victims. Price phoned with news of a partial thumb print ("with a tented arch") from the oldest child's left eye, and the fragment of a palm print off the nail of Mrs. Leeds' left big toe. Outside the department, Graham was confronted by sleazy, unethical tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds (Stephen Lang) who had covered the Lecktor case for The National Tattler and wrote the paperback. The nosy Lounds asked about the murderer: "How's he do 'em, Will?" Graham grabbed him physically, tossed him onto the hood of a car where Lounds' foot smashed the windshield, and warned: "Keep the f--k away from me."

Graham proposed visiting Lecktor to "recover the mindset" of a serial killer -- and the next day was led to the stark-white, harshly-lit, anticeptic cell of the notorious, brilliantly-perceptive, but insane Dr. Lecktor (Brian Cox). One of the serial killer's first questions was: "Do you have any problems, Will?" Lecktor had been an accomplished surgeon and writer, and had published an article on surgical addiction in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Graham admitted he needed Lecktor's help about the killer's choice of victims: "You want to know how he's choosing them, don't you?" Graham stated that although Lecktor was smarter than he was, he had "disadvantages" - the major one being his insanity. Lecktor revealed how he recognized Graham's after-shave lotion, and also noticed his non-cop rough hands and tan. He asked to look at the case file before considering the request to help Graham. After reading the file, Lecktor asked about the yards surrounding the homes, and postulated that the killer, in the nude, went outside into the big back yards to look at blood (transformed to the color black) in the moonlight. Then Lecktor responded with the real reason for Graham's visit, something Graham didn't want to admit: "You came here to get a look at me, to get the old scent back again, didn't you?" As he was looking over the files of the serial killer he had agreed to assist capture, Lecktor asked, almost as an afterthought: "Would you like to leave me your home phone number?" He then added as Graham hastily departed: "Do you know how you caught me? The reason you caught me, Will, because we're just alike. Do you understand? Smell yourself."

Complications arose in the case when Freddie Lounds published a front page story in The National Tattler about the fact that Graham had returned to work: "FBI Manhunter Graham, Consults Hannibal Lecktor, The Fiend Who Tried to Kill Him," accompanied by a picture of the profiler outside Lecktor's prison. In his cell, Lecktor rigged the analog telephone to connect to AT&T and requested that the operator dial a 301 area code for him - the University of Chicago's Dept. of Psychiatry, to speak to Dr. Sidney Bloom's secretary, where he was able to craftily obtain the home address of Graham: 3680 DeSoto Highway, Captiva, Florida. [Lecktor was seeking revenge at Graham, by discovering his home address and informing the "Tooth Fairy".] Meanwhile, Crawford sent a telegram to Graham (on his way to Birmingham), telling him that the Birmingham PD found a cat buried in the back yard, and that the killer also killed pets. A match still hadn't been found for the prints.

The crime scene in Birmingham revealed the Jacobi's' modern house surrounded by a big yard and woods, where Graham found a used Mars candy wrapper, and a tall forked tree that was used as a vantage point to peer into the house. He found a whittled design carved into the tree's bark, later revealed to be a lucky sign in gambling, and used on a Mah Jongg game piece - it was interpreted as "Red Dragon." Crawford and Graham also learned that an "Avid Fan" (presumably from the admiring "Tooth Fairy") had written a letter to Lecktor on toilet tissue, with teeth marks pressed into it at the bottom. Part of it read: "Investigator Graham interests me, very purposeful-looking." Graham was recalled by Crawford to Washington, DC, where the note was analyzed and one hair was found. The missing part of the note was thought to reveal how the Tooth Fairy told Lecktor to correspond with him - through a personal ad in The National Tattler. The FBI planned to pull the suspected ad and replace it with one of their own, to set a trap for the serial killer "Tooth Fairy" ("Mementoes for you at Baltimore Central Left Luggage. Ticket number 72683").

Lecktor's own 'personal ad' was intercepted, with a mention of Galatians 6:11 and 15:2, Acts 3:3, Revelations 18:7, Jonah 6:8, John 6:22, Luke 1:7. However, it was discovered that there was some other 'book code' being used other than the Bible, since Galatians had only 6 chapters, and Jonah had only 4 chapters: "The Tooth Fairy would have named a book he knew Lecktor has access to." Knowing the risk, Graham decided to run Lecktor's ad, rather than the substitute, and then proposed that he be used as bait a week later, although Dr. Sidney Bloom (Paul Perri) feared: "You're getting deeper and deeper into this...You could relapse, my friend."

Further details about the case were discussed with Freddie Lounds, who was summoned by Graham and Crawford to FBI headquarters in DC to work with them and publish material - the "Tooth Fairy" was probably gay, and had molested all of his male victims, and was possibly impotent with members of the opposite sex. In his past, he may have had sexual relations with his mother. Wearing body armor, Graham checked out a .44 special using Glaser Safety Slugs, suspended in liquid Teflon in a copper casing - "Guaranteed one-shot stop." The most recent edition of The National Tattler displayed a picture of Graham and reporter Lounds on the front page, next to Lounds' article entitled: "FBI Pursues Pervert." A trap was set outside the FBI building with Graham as the decoy, but the jogger-suspect was not the "Tooth Fairy."

Instead, Lounds was ambushed by the killer in an underground parking garage, chloroformed, and kidnapped. He was blindfolded and strapped in a wheelchair, and taunted: "According to you, I'm a sexual pervert. 'An animal,' you said." The tall, crazed "Tooth Fairy" with a cleft-palate and scraggly white hair wore a ladies' sheer stocking mask over his head and eyes, and forced Lounds to watch a slideshow beginning with a painting of William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Rays of the Sun, with further pictures of his transformed female victims (Mrs. Leeds, Mrs. Jacobi). The killer told Lounds: "Before me, you are a slug in the sun. You are privy to a great becoming, and you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is your nature to do one thing correctly, tremble. But fear is not what you owe me. No, Lounds, you and the others, you owe me awe." Lounds was forced to record a note in which he admitted his writings about the Red Dragon were lies, and that Graham had coerced him to write the untruths ("He will be more merciful to me than to you. You will lie awake in fear of what the Red Dragon will do"). The "Tooth Fairy" then announced: "We'll seal your promise with a kiss," and after having his lips bitten off (off-screen), Lounds was set ablaze, and rolled down a steep underground parking garage ramp towards the camera - his death occurred later (offscreen) in a hospital.

The FBI determined that the book code selections were taken from the State of Maryland statutes, as Crawford told Graham its interpretation: "The bastard gave him your home address" - ending with Lecktor's statement: "Save yourself. Kill them all." A tense scene at Graham's Captiva, Florida home revealed that the local police had been summoned by the FBI to protect Molly and son Kevin, and Graham's family was moved to another location as a precaution. The strain of the case and its effects on Kevin were evident - he asked: "This guy is trying to kill us?...When are you going to kill him?" Graham replied: "I'm not. It's only my job to find him." Graham's son was aware that his father had been transferred into a hospital's psychiatric wing after the traumatic Lecktor case (Hannibal was attacking and killing college girls "in bad ways"). Graham explained his tracking method of entering the mind of the killer, although it meant he would became psychotic, and it took a tremendous toll before he could completely recover: "I tried to build feelings in my imagination like the killer had so that I would know why he did what he did, because that would help me find him...But after my body got okay, I still had his thoughts going around in my head." Only six days remained until the next crime was anticipated, and Graham vowed he couldn't quit ("This killing, it's gotta stop"), although Molly knew he would make himself sick or get himself killed.

In a subplot, it was revealed that the newest serial killer, the "Tooth Fairy"/ in real-life known as Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), was employed as a Production Controller in the Administration department of the Gateway film processing plant in St. Louis, Missouri, where he had access to family photographs and home movies - of potential future victims. He became romantically interested in blind co-worker Reba McClane (Joan Allen). After a dinner 'date' with Reba, the creepy Francis watched home movies of a pretty mother - one of his next family's victims - as Reba innocently sat on the couch next to him. Soon after, she kissed him and they made love, as she told him how thoughtful and sweet he was, and she stayed with him until the following morning's dawn.

Meanwhile, Graham continued his pursuit of the killer, speculating over evidence from the crime scenes, home videos of the families, and the killer's actions: "You rearrange the dead families into an audience to see what you do. You think that what you do will make you into something different. You are becoming. What is it you think you're becoming? The answer is in the way you use the mirrors. What do the mirrors make you dream you're becoming?" Later, the FBI determined that the "Tooth Fairy" drove a van with Goodyear tires. During a phone call with Lecktor, he heard the crazy doctor speak about God who should have been pleased when a recent church roof collapse resulted in 34 victims: "Don't you think that felt good?...It feels good, Will, because God has power, and if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is." Graham reenacted the Atlanta killing by walking through it again, expressing his thoughts and feelings from the killer's point of view. He guessed that the killer covered the eyes of his victims with shattered mirror parts. His conclusion was that the killer "dreams about being wanted and desired, so he changes people into beings who want and desire him...Killing and arranging the people to imitate it," in order to make his dreams come true.

The "irredeemable" killer was an abused child and "battered infant...Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster...He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow this sick f--k out of his socks." Graham also added: "He needs souvenirs or trophies to re-live the event. Maybe he records it somehow. So he could see himself accepted over and over and over again." Then, Graham had a revelation that finding the method of how the killer specifically picked his victims would lead them to him - "There's selection and design in his choices." From specific details in the home videos of the families, Graham deduced that "either he was casing far ahead and we didn't check back far enough, or..." the killer was using the images from the films to plan his meticulous murders ("You've seen these films"). From the packaging and labels the films came in, Graham traced the Leeds and Jacobi films to Gateway Lab in St. Louis, Missouri, where the killer was undoubtedly employed. Crawford ordered transportation to immediately get them to St. Louis.

Dollarhyde felt betrayed when he stalked Reba's apartment from the street, and watched as another co-worker drove her home and caressed her face at the front door. He misunderstood and thought they were romantically-involved, although the male was just removing pollen from her face. When the man was leaving, Dollarhyde repeatedly shot him point-blank, and then the schizophrenic psychopath announced that "Francis is gone forever" when Reba opened the door. He reverted to his murderous ways, kidnapped Reba, and took her to his home as a captive. He terrorized her by not speaking to her and by playing Iron Butterfly's throbbing, hard-rock song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" loudly on his stereo. Enroute in a private jet to St. Louis's Lambert Field, Crawford and Graham joined up Gateway employee van stickers with Missouri driver's license identifications to match with Dollarhyde and his location on a rural route in Chester, Missouri. When they landed, they were whisked away by police to Dollarhyde's residence outside the city.

Graham refused to wait for a SWAT team and other backup support, and loaded his own weapon with Glaser Safety Slugs. He and Crawford approached the house through the woods, as Dollarhyde was straddling Reba on his kitchen counter and threatening to slice her neck with a piece of shattered mirror glass. Filmed in slow-motion, Graham explosively crashed headfirst through the kitchen window, where Dollarhyde assaulted him and slashed at him across the face and neck with the mirror shard. Graham was thrown to the floor where he laid unconscious, as Dollarhyde extinguished his home's lights with shotgun blasts and killed a number of officers who attempted to enter the house. Graham revived and emptied his gun with six shots into Dollarhyde, who fell down dead on the kitchen floor, with his blood spread out under his body (like the wings of the demon in the Blake painting). Police sirens wailed as other support forces arrived, and Reba was rescued.

Graham was reunited with his family in Florida after the nightmarish ordeal ended. He admitted to Molly: "I thought I had to work things out and call you after." She replied: "I thought I wouldn't wait." They stood at the ocean shore together, as Red 7's tune "Heartbeat" played and the film ended.

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

Based on Thomas Harris' 1981 best-selling novel Red Dragon, and from the screenplay by director Michael Mann. A prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The film's original title might have been misinterpreted as a kung-fu movie, so it was renamed with the bland title of Manhunter.

This psychological thriller was later re-made as Red Dragon (2002) - see here, by director Brett Ratner, starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (now spelled Lecter) and Edward Norton as Will Graham.

With a production budget of approximately $15 million, and box-office gross receipts of $8.6 million (domestic). The film was a box-office flop, and therefore wasn't sequeled.

This was the first film to introduce the serial killer character named Hannibal.

When the film was re-released on video following the success of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), it was erroneously retitled Red Dragon: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter - both because of the different spelling of Hannibal's last name, and because the word 'pursuit' seemed inappropriate -- Lecktor was jailed, while the "Tooth Fairy" was being pursued.

The film's main star William Petersen, a forensics FBI profiler, also played a similar role for many years in TV's CSI show, beginning in 2000.

Will Graham
(William Petersen)

Molly Graham
(Kim Greist)

Jack Crawford
(Dennis Farina)

Dr. Hannibal Lecktor
(Brian Cox)

Freddie Lounds
(Stephen Lang)

Dr. Sidney Bloom
(Paul Perri)

Francis Dollarhyde
"The Tooth Fairy"
(Tom Noonan)

Reba McClane
(Joan Allen)

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