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The Horror of Silence

Emma Harllee

November 22, 2018

State College of Florida: Bradenton Campus

Author Note

This paper was prepared for Written Communications I (ENC 1101), taught by Professor

The Horror of Silence

Blood, guts, and gore within films immediately make people assume that that this is just

an introduction to another horror film. There are other aspects that are consistently repeated,

while often being overlooked. What could be considered the soul of horror films would have to

be the concept of fears. “Some fears may be potential, lying dormant until a horror film arouses

them; some may be created entirely by the movie,” (Kawin, 2012 p. 3) These scenes often follow

with music that “arouses various emotions” within us. (Lerner, 2010) “It awakens the gentler

feelings of tenderness and love, which readily pass into devotion.” (Lerner, 2010) The audience

is left on their feet as the social hierarchy of men being more intelligent than woman unfolds.

The man is above the woman who is above the animal within the films. (Wolfe & Elmer, 1995 p.

145) This man tends to be a “monster [who] represents disorder, confusion of identity, [and]

social havoc.” (Wolfe & Elmer, 1995 p. 145) This is viewed with different camera angles

making the audience to be more immersed within the scenes. It puts the audience in the point of

view of the victim, rather than being a bystander.

An outstanding horror film example is The Silence of the Lambs (1991) directed by

Jonathan Demme. Within the movie, an FBI trainee named Clarice Starling pursues help from an

incarcerated cannibal, Hannibal Lector. Although true, she must first gain his trust in order to

receive information from him. Together, they solve the case about a serial killer who kidnaps

woman. Buffalo Bill, the sought out killer, skins the victims in order transform himself into a

woman with a suit composed of their parts.

Jonathan Demme’s film, The Silence of the Lambs, provides a new standard for the horror

genre by showing the audience the emotions, fear, and physiological events that can happen

being within a horror situation. This movie was so well done it provides a new standard to beat

in the movie industry. Overall, it is a unique portrayal of horror films by being more

physiological than having just horrifying scares that make a member of the audience jump out of

their seat.

Following other horror films, Jonathan Demme made the setting of the film very fear

based. He contrived the antagonists’ place of holding very eerie compared to an ordinary place to

live. On one hand, Hannibal Lector is found within an insane asylum, which is often viewed as a

spine shattering place. Not only are the creepiest people alive found within asylums, but mental

health issues are often viewed as a spooky thing. It is the concept of being out of control of one’s

mind that triggers the deep fear of asylums viewer. On the opposing hand, the other antagonist,

Buffalo Bill, resides within his lair that is a basement under his humble home. He captures

woman and stores them in a deep ghoulish cave found in the basement. Between the dark cave

like setting and the creepy woman parts; seeing this place in person would definitely creep

anyone out. Whether these fears are “lying dormant,” “created entirely by the movie,” or “part of

out daily life,” tapping into the audience’s terrors is a key part to the horror movie experience.

(Kawin, 2012 p. 3) There are two perfect scenes to exemplify capturing the audience’s fears. The

largest example would have to be the scene where the moth is found. In this particular part of the

film, there was a moth found in the throat of one of Buffalo Bill’s victims. Of course, one may

assume this isn’t an ordinary fear of a person, thus making this an example of a fear “lying

dormant” or “created entirely by the movie.” (Kawin, 2012 p. 3) In general, the bug being pulled

from the throat isn’t a pleasant thing to view, which causes that to spark even more of a terror

held within the audience’s mind. Another great example is Hannibal Lector’s escape. Not only

does it include the brutality of Hannibal, or cannibals in general, it shows the merciless of a

murderer. Between the twists caused by the intelligence of Hannibal and the graphic imagery, it

taps into the fear of never wanting to encounter a mass murderer even more than previously


In accompany to physiologically scaring the audience, music within horror films is an

essential key when the cards are played right. Music taps into the emotions of the viewers who

watch the film. It brings up suspense, respect, and maybe even hatred towards either a character

or a scene. Depending on the type of music it arouses different type of emotions within anyone

watching. In horror films specifically, the goal is to leave the audience in suspense before

something major s about to happen. A great example is the scene known as “Pitch Black.”

Within the clip, Clarice is shown breaking into a room in Buffalo Bill’s house with her gun.

There is very loud rock music playing and all of a sudden the lights cut out and everything is

silent. The following 20 seconds proceeds with heavy breathing, and the music dramatically

returns once Buffalo Bill’s face is shown with the night vision goggles. This music creates an

eerie feeling of what may happen next, and it keeps the audience on their toes. In addition, the

scene concludes with very dramatic sad music like something horrible is about to happen, which

results in Clarice shooting Buffalo Bill rather than the other way around. Without the music, it

would just be a silent mess with no suspense for the audience. Music brings out the jolts of fear

and the sympathy towards the characters.

Included within a horror film is an often encountered issue known as sexism. There is a

scenario as the last girl or the lone survivor theory. It makes the film seem more appealing if

there is a female survivor of the situation, especially if she appears to be weak. (Wolfe & Elmer,

1995 p. 145) Although true, The Silence of the Lambs takes a little different approach on this. In

scenes where Clarice is shown with Hannibal, she is revealed to be breaking down her inner

emotions. Hannibal requires her to answer some tough questions for a answer to a possible lead

on Buffalo Bill’s case. He even went as far as digging into her childhood fears. The whole movie

title is based upon her childhood fear, the squealing lamb, that Hannibal managed to correlate

with the modern case. Every time she would go to ask a question, he would nag her and break

her down into pieces all to show he has the power in the situation at hand. He was in a way

torturing her to feel empowered over the situation. The way the movie’s way of portraying a

weakened female role differs in this film than others. Normally, the authority within the film are

"attributed to the man […] rather than to the woman, and to the woman rather than to the

animal,” (Wolfe & Elmer, 1995 p. 145) This means the men have absolute power over the

female characters by the females being shown as incredibly week. In the case of this film,

Clarice stays powerful throughout the film, even through her soft moments. The movie choses to

adapt her as a strong lead, rather than a scared woman. This causes the way woman are portrayed

in films to be updated later on in time. In movies, such as Halloween (1978), the female roll is

portrayed as week, and the lead gets luck at the end at killing the antagonist. Halloween has Lori

Strode shown as a timid and fearful girl throughout the movie. She was shown running from the

action, rather than trying to hurt the killer sooner rather than later. However, in The Silence of the

Lambs Clarice is portrayed as a strong independent woman throughout the film. At the end of the

movie, she purposely puts herself into the situation of going into investigate Buffalo Bill alone.

This results into her being attacked by him, while following the stereotype of being a survivor

who gets lucky.

Horror movies contain both physiological monsters and actual monsters. This means

either the thing appears as a hideous beast or is a monster in the head of the viewers. The purpose

of “the monster [is to] represents disorder.” (Wolfe & Elmer, 1995 p. 145) Other than having a

physical monster, the overall goal of this is to have the audience see the human as

physiologically disturbed. It is a way to develop the fear deeply withheld in the audience’s mind.

It is supposed to portray a social anxiety in a way by making the film relatable back to the

viewers. In this film specifically, it appeals to the human’s tendencies. It shows the evilness of

true humanity, and the potential of a true human fear coming to life. An example of this is

relating back to Clarice’s fear of the lambs, and how she couldn’t save them. Hannibal

consistently pushed at her to reveal this. This shows how messed up he was, and how monstrous

he was. This caused her to feel he couldn’t save the girl like she couldn’t save the lambs, her

biggest fear. people fear it will become. In the case of Buffalo Bill, he shows how a desire can

drive a person mad. He wants to be accepted as a transgender so badly; he goes as far as skinning

woman his size in order to create the perfect body. The creepiest and most monster like

appearance of him would have to be his dance scene. He is shown with his privates tucked

between his legs as he dance and proclaims that he would do himself. Everything about both of

the antagonists’ actions throughout the fear defines what being monstrous truly is.

Found within an interview with Jonathan Demme, there was an explanation of why a

horror films needs to be shot a certain way. The particular method Jonathan Demme used was

the subjective camera style. At the time, this method wasn’t used very often since it was a newer

and riskier method due to the closeness of the cameras to the actors. This style shows the actors’

or characters’ face very closely proximity to tap further in the characters’ emotions shown by the

actors playing said characters. (Demme, 1991) The purpose of using this style of filming was to

make the film more relatable by the viewer by being in the eyes of the characters. It places the

audience within the shoes of the character rather than being a spectator of the situation.

Furthermore, a scene that exemplifies this method would be when Clarice Starling first

encounters Hannibal Lector. The scene begins with the audience in the POV of Clarice walking

down the hall to Lector’s cell. The camera is slightly shakey to show the effect of the character

walking down a hallway. Then all of a sudden the camera is flipped to show her face in a slight

distance. After a bit of chatter, Hannibal asks for Clarice’s credentials. Immediately following,

Demme begins to use the subjunctive camera style. He shows the malice on Hannibal’s face at a

very close proximity, then he flips to Clarice’s face with the slight fear the audience can witness

in her eyes while holding a straight face. Not only does Demme use the subjunctive filming style,

he also includes other styles making the scene more enticing to watch. He remarkably is able to

do this in many other scenes in a similar fashion without the bore of it being overused. Often

horror movies get rather boring to the audiences, thus making this movie one to impress just due

to the filming style.

The Silence of the Lambs seems to explore new angles of the horror movie genre by

showing the main character, the sole survivor, as strong throughout the film, rather than a weak

link. Furthermore, the film withholds and exceeds the standards of a horror film by being

physiologically terrifying in the sense the person watching is always on their feet. The audience

is mentally scared of the possibility of the situation being real, rather than by the occasional jump

scare. Overall, the film has stood the test of the time so far being made in 1991, and it should

withhold it’s value for much to come. Post film; the audience leaves with fuller appreciation on

how difficult and physiologically terrifying an FBI case can truly be.


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Lerner, N. W. (2010). Music in the Horror Film : Listening to Fear. New York: Routledge.

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