Literature: Red Dragon

In 1981 Thomas Harris released a very dark thriller called Red Dragon, about a gifted FBI profiler named Will Graham, who comes out of retirement to assist in the investigation of a Serial Killer known as "The Tooth Fairy" (for his habit of leaving bite marks on his victims). Throughout the novel, Graham reluctantly seeks help from another serial killer, the brilliant but insane psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The two had previously forced each other into mutual retirement, Graham by catching Lecter, and Lecter by nearly disemboweling Graham while trying to escape.

The novel was well-regarded for its unyielding gothic tone and the unnerving detail and care Harris put into the psychological dysfunctions of villain Francis Dolarhyde. The book was made into the movie Manhunter in 1986, starring William Petersen (yes, that one) as Graham and Brian Cox as Hannibal "Lecktor".

In 2002, there was a new film adaptation of Red Dragon, starring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton and keeping the original name this time. It was a moderate success, although some fans of Manhunter complained that a remake was unnecessary, though others were just happy to see something that didn't suck as bad as the Hannibal film adaptation. The film also included the focus on the Red Dragon's psychological torments, which was all but ignored in Manhunter, and features an ending more faithful to the book's.

The book received a sequel in form of The Silence of the Lambs in 1988.


This series provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Both film adaptations. Manhunter only briefly references the painting and ignores Lecter's cannibalism, while the 2002 film has a greater focus on the Lecter/Graham relationship.
  • Affably Evil
  • Antagonist Title: An indirect example. "Red Dragon" is actually a shorthand for the painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun" that figures into the plot. Francis Dolarhyde, the villain, believes himself to be representative of it, and develops a murderous split personality that identifies itself as the Dragon.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When it comes to unsettling Will Graham in their interview, Hannibal Lecter's most effective tactic is to keep asking "Do you know how you caught me?" It speaks to many of Graham's fears about how and why he's good at catching intelligent psychopaths.
    Lecter: The reason you caught me is that we're just alike.
  • Ascended Extra: Hannibal Lecter appears very briefly in the book, but then he becomes the Breakout Character in The Silence of the Lambs and has a lot of screentime in the 2002 adaptation of Red Dragon.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted and double subverted by Serial Killer Dolarhyde - despite his shyness he is (as Reba laughingly points out) something of a pin-up to the women he works with. The double subversion? Dolarhyde was born looking so horrible that they had to sedate his mother to stop her from screaming at the sight of him. His good looks as an adult are due to a lot of operations to sort out his severe cleft palate and some pretty intense weightlifting.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the book, while Dolarhyde is eventually stopped, Graham ends up hideously disfigured by Dolarhyde, and deals with it by becoming a severe alcoholic, and Reba is implied to have been traumatized by her experience.
  • Blind and the Beast: Francis Dolarhyde falls in love with Reba McClane partly because she's blind and can't see his harelip, although it's strongly implied that most women he knew were attracted to him already. He just thinks of his harelip as being a much greater problem then it actually is.
  • Break the Cutie: Francis Dolarhyde's whole childhood seems to revolve around this. Reba, his love interest, may also count as this too.
  • Call Forward: The movie ends with Hannibal being asked if he wants to see a female FBI inspector and ends with him saying: "What's her name?"
  • Cannibalism Superpower: Hannibal Lecter invokes this to Will, at least in the 2002 film; "Such a brave boy. I think I'll eat your heart...".
  • Cannibal Larder: It's implied that Hannibal Lecter had one in his basement, as the first officer who entered his basement ended up traumatized and took early retirement.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The Trope Maker, along with The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal is approached by Graham, the FBI agent who had originally captured him, requesting his assistance in capturing a serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy". Hannibal provides this help to Graham, while secretly corresponding with the Tooth Fairy behind his back, in exchange for a first-class meal in his cell and privileges to use the prison library.
  • The Chessmaster: Hannibal Lecter.
  • Composite Character: In Red Dragon, the novel, Will has caught two serial killers prior to the Tooth Fairy case—Lecter, and another guy who was killing college students. In Manhunter, the other guy is vaguely referenced but "Lecktor" has been locked up for killing college girls.
  • Continuity Nod: In Red Dragon we see Lecter wearing practically everything he wore in Silence: The regular blue jumpsuit, the white shirt and pants (worn during his time in Memphis in Silence, worn during his exercise time in Dragon), the straight jacket and muzzle (worn when he was being transported to Memphis in Silence, worn when they clean his cell in Dragon) and the straight jacket and wire mask (worn when Chilton interrogates him in Silence, worn when Chilton clears out his cell in Dragon).
  • Cradling Your Kill: Hannibal Lecter comforts protagonist Will Graham after stabbing him.
    Hannibal Lecter: Shh. Don't move. You're in shock now. I don't want you to feel any pain. In a moment, you'll begin to feel light-headed, then drowsy. Don't resist, it's so gentle, like slipping into a warm bath. I regret it came to this, Will, but every game must have its ending.
    • Then he kind of ruins the oddly touching moment by saying "I think I'll eat your heart." Or perhaps adds to it in a strange way if you consider that Hannibal might be eating his heart because he has great regard for Will's courage and strength. Luckily for him, Will survives the encounter and gets Hannibal arrested.
  • Creepy Souvenir: It was presumed the "Chesapeake Ripper" was doing this, until Will Graham realized the parts being taken were all used in cooking and realized he was hunting a cannibal.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Dolarhyde tries to save Reba from this (being bitten to death by "The Red Dragon") by shooting her in the face. He can't bring himself to do it.
  • Distant Prologue: After Lecter attacks Graham but Graham still manages to subdue him, the rest of the story—Graham's hospitalization and retirement, Lecter's trial and sentencing—is told through newspaper clippings during the credits. The film then picks up "several years later."
  • The Eighties / Only In Miami: Manhunter was displaced to a mostly South Florida setting, and the film itself is very stylized around Eighties South Florida. No surprise, since Michael Mann co-wrote and directed it.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Inverted with Dolarhyde. His dark side is what motivates him to work out and because of it he has a perfect physique that his female co-workers fawn over; something he is ignorant of.
  • The Film of the Book: Both Manhunter and Red Dragon''.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Dolarhyde is often called "the Tooth Fairy". However, context makes this an Averted Trope - they call him the "Tooth Fairy" because they only clue left behind are tooth-marks... on the victims' bodies.
  • Forensic Drama
  • Freudian Excuse: Dolarhyde; as Will Graham notes, "As a child, my heart goes out to him. As an adult, he's irredeemable."
  • Gory Discretion Shot
  • Hand of Death
  • Hannibal Lecture: Trope Namer.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Hannibal Lecter to Graham, at the start of the 2002 film.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Graham goes to Lecter to seek his help in capturing a cannibalistic murderer.
  • House of Broken Mirrors
  • I Am the Noun: See Antagonist Title
  • I'm a Humanitarian
  • I Ate WHAT?: That poor boardwoman...
  • Insufferable Genius: Lecter himself. "It's the only weakness I ever saw in him: he has to look smart, smarter than everybody. He's been doing it for years."
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Francis Dolarhyde setting Freddy Lounds on fire.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Hannibal Lecter; Jack Crawford (who manipulates Will Graham into returning to a line of work which is definitely not healthy for him and his family); arguably also Chilton, with his manipulations being wildly outclassed by Lecter's.
  • Mommy Issues: Dolarhyde's grandmother was rather an abusive parent who subject him to physical and emotional abuse.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate
  • Not So Different: Lecter taunts Graham with this.
    Lecter: You want the scent? Smell yourself.
  • Paparazzi: Freddy Lounds in Red Dragon, played by Stephen Lang and/or Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  • Pet the Dog: Dolarhyde and Reba. Characters later suggest that The Power of Love almost convinced him to Heel-Face Turn, sadly the "dragon" took total control, though Dolarhyde does still end up not killing Reba.
  • Photographic Memory: Graham, Lecter to an extent.
  • Public Secret Message: Hannibal Lecter places a personal ad filled with Bible verse numbers in a tabloid as a coded message (the numbers refer to the nth letter on the xth page of his edition of ''The Joy of Cooking'') to Francis Dolarhyde. The FBI decrypts it, and realizes that it told Dolarhyde where Will Graham lives; they send Dolarhyde another message to lure him into a trap, but he recognizes it for what it is.
  • Red Right Hand:
    • Francis Dolarhyde's harelip, which played a major role in his descent into madness due to his being cruelly mocked and shunned. Dolarhyde's yellow eyes may also count. As an impressive piece of detail, it is briefly noted that his mother also had them.
    • Lecter having maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand in the books.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Francis Dolarhyde has his huge scrapbook of crazy going back to childhood, with photographs and journal entries. It also features clippings from the time of Lecter's arrest and trial.
    • Dr. Lecter himself isn't shown to have a room but it is mentioned his basement was horrifying enough to make an officer retire. There is also one small piece that tips Graham off. In the book it is a diagram of the Wounded Man, which matches the murder of Lecter's sixth victim. In the movie it is a human anatomical diagram labelled "sweet breads."
  • Scare Chord: The 2002 film version has a Danny Elfman score which has lots of these.
  • Serial Killer: Perhaps the most famous literary/film examples.
  • Sexier Alter Ego: Zig-Zagged. Dolarhyde believes the Red Dragon to be this but since it's all in his head it obviously doesn't change his harelip. However, in his efforts to "transform" he has taken up bodybuilding, which has made him very attractive to his female co-works in spite of his face. Also, his transformation is what gave him the confidence to approach Reba and find his first genuine human affection.
  • Shout-Out
    • The suit Francis Dolarhyde wears in Red Dragon when he goes to eat the original "Red Dragon" painting is an echo of William Petersen's suit in Manhunter.
    • At the end of Red Dragon Hannibal is informed of a young female FBI agent who wants to question him.
  • Shown Their Work: The manner in which Graham deals with Lecter is very in line with proper protocol with investigative questioning. When Lecter asks probing questions to Graham, he either ignores him, or provides the smallest amount of information necessary to keep Lecter talking. This is to make sure that Lecter can't get inside Graham's head (though naturally, since its Hannibal Lecter, it still doesn't work).
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Hannibal's status inRed Dragon. In the book his appearance is limited to twelve pages and a few letters he writes. Despite this his presence affects the entire story. At the beginning of the story Graham is haunted by his previous encounter with Lecter. Graham's visit to Lecter leads to Graham's involvement with the investigation being exposed to the public and thus to Dolarhyde. The only thing Lecter actually does is give Dolarhyde Graham's address, which at first appears to be for nothing but at the end comes back in a big way. Lecter was able to achieve a final victory over his nemesis from behind bars with nothing more than a phone call and a letter. Whether he really succeeds is debatable, though.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Averted with Hannibal Lecter; it's clear he's still a villain even if he's helping out Graham.
  • Snuff Film: Part of Dolarhyde's M.O. in the book. He films the deaths of his victims and films himself having sex with the woman's corpse. Later he masturbates to it and fuels his obsession with being looked at.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Freddy Lounds is an unusual example, in that he still dies. He gets set on fire by Dolarhyde in the book - and survives for the better part of a day. In the film he dies from the attack within minutes, sparing him that agony.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: In the original book of Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter is a One-Scene Wonder who appears for about seven pages. Good pages, but still. The VHS/DVD release for the first film now advertises it as "the beginning of Hannibal Lecter's legacy" and the poster for the second film is mostly a giant picture of his head.
    • Fans of Manhunter generally see Brian Cox as this for his true-to-the-book, brief on-screen role as Hannibal Lecter.
  • The Remake: At least one trailer was completely Anvilicious about it, sporting this dialogue:
    I admit I'm not smarter than you.
    Then how did you catch me?
    You had disadvantages.
    What disadvantages?
    You're insane.
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted, since Lecter is imprisoned in a psychiatric institution and has been visited by a number of shrinks. Since he's a psychiatrist himself, this rarely works out right.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: How Will Graham catches serial killers - he's able to get into their mindset, to empathize with them, to an extent that disturbs him.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Reba, blind and female. Also invoked by a line of dialogue in the book.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Lecter's insights and lectures are unsettling, but fallible, especially against an experienced profiler like Graham. Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that beneath it all, he is, well, insane.
    • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Lecter is consulted less because he is a killer and more because he is an excellent profiler in his own right. Even so, he doesn't really tell Will anything Will himself hadn't already thought of- all he does is back up Will's opinions, though this is not so much lack insight as Lecter deciding that helping out the FBI is less fun than pitting Will and the Tooth Fairy against each other. Lecters' only real contribution to the plot is taunting Will and telling Dolarhyde where Will and his family live.
    • The Profiler: Will is given three weeks to profile and catch the Tooth Fairy, and he fails; that Dolarhyde doesn't slaughter another family is down to issues he is going through in his personal life, not anything Graham did. While Will does offer genuine insight into what the Tooth Fairy is like and why he is doing this, he cannot deduce what specific delusion is driving him and is clueless as to what "Red Dragon" means. In the end Dolarhyde is found by hard detective work as much as anything else. Though Graham is a highly skilled and near-legendary FBI profiler, he has only caught two Serial Killers in his entire career by the start of this movie, and both cases put him in hospital, with the first for a mental breakdown brought on by the stress of the case and the trauma of Graham killing the perpetrator.
  • Villain of Another Story: Hannibal Lecter, a captured cannibal serial killer who, in both stories, is consulted on how to catch another cannibal serial killer. However, it also subverts this since Lector does become an active threat to Graham late in the book and film by giving Dolarhyde his home address and corresponding with him in secret.