'At this point, he is more intense, more insane and much angrier'

Story by Jack Foley

HE has committed some unspeakable acts of evil, and kills without remorse whenever the mood takes him, yet audiences’ love affair with Hannibal the Cannibal shows no sign of letting up.

Whether it is serving a victim part of his own brain, ripping the face off of a hapless prison guard to use as a mask, or merely killing a musician who under-performed at a concert and cooking part of him for dinner guests, there is a sadistic pleasure to be found in going to see this particular doctor.

Such is his allure, that cinema-goers recently voted Hannibal as the most popular movie villain of all-time in a poll carried out by US magazine, Entertainment Weekly - and his Box Office appeal looks set to rise.

Red Dragon, released in cinemas on Friday, October 11, marks the fourth celluloid outing for cinema’s most famous cannibal, and the third time he has been portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. It promises to unearth yet another goldmine.

Essentially a remake of Michael Mann’s stylish Manhunter, the film marks the realisation of producer Dino De Laurentiis’s ambition to complete the trilogy with Hopkins in the role, while also presenting Lecter with a new FBI adversary in the form of Edward Norton’s Will Graham, the man responsible for capturing him.

And for co-producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis, the success of the role is attributable to one thing.

"Lecter is a character people want to see and seeing Anthony Hopkins play Hannibal is irresistible," observed Martha.

The intensity of the audience’s reaction to Lecter did, however, startle the movie’s screenwriter, Ted Tally, who commented: "He is a mad man, he is a killer and he is a cannibal, completely without remorse or conscience.

"But people respond to him. They find him seductive. Also, I think there’s a part of all of us that likes watching an anti-hero, someone who can get away with doing and saying things we could never get away with."

It is a point with which Hopkins concurs, even though he was initially reluctant to reprise the role for a third time.

"What’s so fascinating about Lecter is that he is the dark side of every human being. Hannibal makes people face up to their lies and their shadows and the dark sides of themselves."

Part of the challenge of returning to Red Dragon, therefore, was allowing audiences the opportunity to see what Hannibal was doing before he was brought down, who brought him down and how.

De Laurentiis wanted to get more of the novel on-screen and to restore its ending in the new film adaptation, as well as taking advantage of Harris’s new prologue which was added to the novel to coincide with the cinematic release of Silence of the Lambs.

In order to achieve this, he turned to director Brett Ratner - the man behind the action comedy Rush Hour, and the romantic comedy, The Family Man - because he brought a lot of what Jonathan Demme brought to the first project, ‘enthusiasm and energy’.

Ratner realised, straight away, that Lecter would not require reinventing.

He said: "He is the same guy in Red Dragon that he is in The Silence of the Lambs, but at a different time in his life - at the beginning of his incarceration.

"He has yet to find the level of stillness he may have had in Silence. At this point, he is more intense, more insane and much angrier."

Ratner went on to describe Lecter as a ‘charming man’, whose charm is often deadly. Behind bars, he is a caged tiger - cunning, dangerous and sick of suffering fools. His hunting skills remain intact and he knows when to pounce and how to mortally wound, while his hunger for flattery, vengeance and a worthy opponent is insatiable.

Will Graham, in Red Dragon, is one of those adversaries, and Norton relished the opportunity of standing toe-to-toe with Lecter.

"You could say that Will Graham is in the Clarice Starling seat, but he’s not the novice that she was - he’s not out of his league with Lecter," he explained. "Their mutual hatred coexists with a great deal of intellectual and professional admiration.

"Despite the fact that they have become each other’s nemesis, they have a bizarre kind of personal affection for each other."

Lecter’s other adversary is serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (played by Ralph Fiennes), nicknamed the Tooth Fairy, a man who represents Lecter’s chance to exact some form of revenge over Graham, while also providing him with the admiration and challenge he so craves.

Dolarhyde is a man who has been ruined from years of humiliation at the hands of his grandmother, who is obsessed with visionary British artist and poet William Blake’s illustrated Auguries of Innocence. He is consumed by the concept of transformation - transforming his victims, as well as transforming himself.

He knows Lecter will understand his motivations and, possibly, empathise - setting the stage for a terrific battle of wits and a truly cracking movie.

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