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The Hottest Horror Movie of Summer 2024 Is The Silence of the Lambs

It’s been over 33 years since The Silence of the Lambs opened—on Valentine’s Day, famously—and the film, which went on to sweep the “big five” Oscar categories, became part of our cultural fabric. Hannibal Lecter’s mask and “it rubs the lotion on its skin” made an instant impression, but the film’s main narrative, of a young FBI agent determined to catch a brutal killer with the help of another brutal killer, has impacted cop shows, horror tales, and true-crime obsessions immeasurably in the decades since.

It’s no surprise that a movie so successful—particularly in its objective of terrifying audiences—has remained so influential. Some parts of Silence of the Lambs have not aged very well; even at the time of its release, LGBTQ groups questioned its depiction of Buffalo Bill, and if you watch the movie in 2024, you can easily pinpoint where the screenplay could use adjustments for sensitivity. You can also give thanks that entertainment is more evolved now than it was in 1991, and that the horror projects that pluck threads from Silence of the Lambs key in on its central dynamic, not its problematic aspects. That includes two of summer’s most anticipated releases.

Speaking to Empire, M. Night Shyamalan distilled his new movie Trap into this elevator pitch: “What if Silence of the Lambs happened at a Taylor Swift concert?” The pop-star concert setting is obvious from the film’s trailers; we haven’t seen the film yet (it’s out August 2) but the Silence of the Lambs reference clearly pegs to the main character, played by Josh Hartnett; he’s a serial killer nicknamed “the Butcher” being vigorously hunted by law enforcement.

Whether there are other connections is unknown–perhaps that overly informative guy working at the venue is spouting misdirection to try to influence the Butcher’s next move, much like Clarice Starling with Hannibal Lecter at the behest of her FBI boss? That’s probably reaching. But we’ll be curious to see if there are any specific homages, or if Shyamalan was just using shorthand for “this is a serial killer story” by invoking one of the most famous examples.

Less murky, both because we’ve seen the movie (read our review here) and have spoken to the director about it, is Longlegs. Filmmaker Osgood Perkins told io9 Silence of the Lambs was a “hugely impactful movie” for him personally, going back to when he first saw it in the theater as a teenager, and that his latest movie has “a deliberate one for one relationship” with Lambs. (We’ll have our full Perkins interview posted next week, ahead of Longlegs’ release July 12.) The parallels are both obvious and subtle; Longlegs is about a green but talented FBI agent singled out by her boss to help catch an elusive murderer whose methods are as nightmarish as they are mysterious. It also takes place in the 1990s (a deliberate Lambs-inspired choice, according to Perkins) and features certain stylistic choices and small but memorable plot points that Lambs fans will definitely pick up on. Longlegs in the end is very much its own movie, but knowing that it’s also in conversation with Lambs makes it an even richer viewing experience.

Silence of the Lambs has, over the years, inspired an array of more directly related media, drawn from Thomas Harris’ hugely popular book series but also buoyed by the enduring appeal of the Jonathan Demme film. Hannibal Lecter is now something of a franchise, with five movies (Lambs, the same-but-different Manhunter and Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising) and two TV shows (we all remember Hannibal; there was also a short-lived Clarice series) exploring his unique blend of elegance and savagery.

Some of those had their charms—fannibals are still hoping for a Hannibal season four one of these days, and Manhunter has that distinctive Michael Mann sense of cool as well as the intriguing positioning of having been released in 1986, long before Silence caused a sensation (fun fact: Succession’s Brian Cox plays the spelling-changed Hannibal “Lecktor”). But it’s even more rewarding to think that Silence of the Lambs has infused itself not just into sequels and prequels and spin-offs, but the minds of creatives who’re still carrying its message forward. Part of that message, of course, is that unimaginable evil can be found anywhere—a small town in West Virginia; a Taylor Swift concert; under perpetually gray Oregon skies. What could be more unnerving?

The Silence of the Lambs is streaming on Prime Video. Longlegs hits theaters July 12; Trap is out August 2.

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