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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 also serves as the basis for the television series Hannibal, which stars Hugh Dancy as Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter; though showrunner Bryan Fuller says they will adapt the events of the novel itself at some point, the show is presently a Prequel, and does not maintain continuity with the Hopkins/Foster movies.

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.
  • 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...".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Film of the Book
  • 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."
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Reba and Dolarhyde. D is the Ax-Crazy serial killer of the story, so this is either subverted, or invoked deliberately to make D more sympathetic.
  • 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...
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Reba. While blind, she is otherwise portrayed as relatively normal.
    • Explicitly deconstructed in the novel: Reba mentions in internal monologue how her condition mostly just draws all the codependent people out of the woodwork.
  • 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; Lecter having maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand in the books.
    • Dolarhyde's yellow eyes may also count. As an impressive piece of detail, it is briefly noted that his mother also had them.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Sociopathic Hero: Averted with Hannibal Lecter; it's clear he's still a villain even if he's helping out Graham.
  • 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.
  • Verbal Tic: Dollarhyde avoids words with "S" sounds, as his cleft palate makes them difficult to pronounce.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Francis Dolarhyde.


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Red ArmyLiterature of the 1980sRed Dwarf

alternative title(s): Red Dragon; Red Dragon
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