Follow TV Tropes


Film / Manhunter

Go To
"Father, look in my eyes: see me as I really am..."

"Well... here I... am."
The Tooth Fairy

The first Film of the Book of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, this 1986 film, written and directed by Michael Mann for the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, features Hannibal Lektor (note the spelling) as played by Brian Cox. Like in The Silence of the Lambs, he is used to help an FBI investigator. His name is Will Graham and he is trying to find a serial killer known as Francis Dolarhyde, nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy". As he tries to find the serial killer, Graham's personal demons start to haunt him, affecting his work and his relationships.

A box office flop on release, despite critical approval. It has become a Cult Classic for many Hannibal fans. The lead investigator is played by William Petersen, feeling at times like an extended audition for his CSI role.

The film relied on heavily-tinted scenes and overpowering music. The use of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is very unsettling to anyone who has not seen its use in The Simpsons ("Remember when we used to make out to this hymn?"), and the look of the film is very much The '80s.


Later re-made as Red Dragon, this time featuring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter.

Not to be confused with Sierra's series of adventure games with the same name, or the comic of the same name. It should also not be confused with the similarly titled horror/killer video game produced by Rockstar Games, even though both feature actor Brian Cox.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending is much lighter, being changed completely from the book's ending to one where Graham gets to fight and kill Dolarhyde before he ever gets the chance to invade his home and attack his family. As a result, his psychological troubles are now set at ease so that he can go back to retiring in peace.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The novel describes Freddy Lounds as a lumpy, ugly guy with buck teeth. Here, he's played the handsome Stephen Lang.
  • Adaptation Distillation: A few notable changes:
    • Lecktor's sixth finger is missing- although every film adaptation of the series has excluded this plot point.
    • Dolarhyde's obsession with the red dragon painting and his split personality are mostly ignored and instead just barely hinted at - in fact his past and backstory are glossed over as is much of the character's personality.
    • Lecktor was only specified to have been attacking college girls and there is no mention of the fact he is a cannibal. In some ways he's more of a minor character here to give some history to Will Graham- which is how he was intended to be, but is given much less focus than in the novel.
    • The mental hospital is a new facility, bright white and clean as opposed to the filthy dungeon look of later films, with Lecktor kept in a room divided into his cell and a visitor room. There is no Plexiglas wall or neighboring cells.
    • Kevin is Will's son, not his stepson. In the book, when Will tells Kevin about what he has to do to catch people like Lecter or Dolarhyde, he feels ashamed for having to defend himself to his stepson. In the film, it becomes a bonding moment for father and son.
    • Dolarhyde is killed at his home in a shootout with police, rather than escaping to show up at Graham's house later.
    • In the book, Will is badly disfigured by Dolarhyde, and later is revealed to have become a serious alcoholic. In the film, Will has some facial injuries that are not disfiguring, and while he's going to check into therapy to deal with the trauma of the film's events, he will eventually recover and rejoin his family.
  • Adaptational Badass: Dollarhyde is a pretty fit man but he is still pretty normal in the book, going down to a couple of bullets and running away when his next-to-last kill is stopped by the police arriving. In this film, he takes on said cops single-handedly with a shotgun and kills them all, and it takes Graham emptying his revolver into him to finally kill him, and even then he shrugs off the first few shots.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Chilton is almost a completely different character than he is in the book and later Lecter mythos adaptations, being a quietly competent professional versus a self-aggrandizing Jerkass.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Lektor is much more of a jerk than his Affably Evil portrayal in the book. He also lacks the redeeming qualities of his book counterpart.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Rather than the serial killer of the book who believes he is ugly (due to a birth defect tied in with his traumatic childhood that has since been reduced to a small surgical scar) who is presently oblivious to how women at his workplace actually consider him attractive, Francis Dollarhyde is played onscreen as distinctly older-looking, bald on top with drawn, sunken features.
  • Adult Fear: Will's pre-teen son hates him and feels the need to protect his mother from him, and part of the film is trying to regain that seriously broken trust.
  • Advertised Extra: The film was broadcast on TV immediately after the phenomenal success of The Silence of the Lambs but the title was changed to Red Dragon: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter. Of course, anyone who saw the movie in 1986 or read the book would realize that Lecter had about eight minutes of screen time and being that the story is set prior to Silence of the Lambs, Lecter is still behind bars for the entire film. The character being pursued was a serial killer called The Tooth Fairy real name is Francis Dolarhyde. Lecter's influence is marginal and is mostly part of the main character's backstory. The name change and subtitle was just an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the recent 1991 blockbuster by broadcasting a little-remembered film that was based on the previous book in the series.
  • Art Imitates Art: After Graham fills Dolarhyde full of lead, Dolarhyde falls down on his back. A camera shot from above shows the blood pooling out from Dolarhyde in a symmetrical winged shape that looks just like the Red Dragon from William Blake's painting.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Chinese character 中 (zhong) is said to mean "Red Dragon" in the film. It actually means "middle."
    • The confusion comes from the game mahjong, which features a group of three tiles called the "dragon tiles" in English. There are three of them: a red one, a green one, and a white one. The red dragon tile features the Chinese character for "middle." Evidently somebody misunderstood, thinking that the red "dragon tile" was actually the "red dragon" tile, and that 中 means "red dragon." In actuality, "red dragon" in Chinese would be 紅龍 or 紅色龍.
  • Asshole Victim: Deconstructed by Lektor on Freddy Lounds, practically giggling that Will did a good job of Make It Look Like an Accident by setting him up as a target for Dolarhyde. Will lamely refutes this, but it's clear he wonders if he did it subconsciously.
  • The Bait: One that backfires badly as the Tooth Fairy realises he's being Lured into a Trap and goes after Lounds instead.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • After feeding the misleading and insulting story about the killer to the Tattler in order to set Will up as a target, the FBI plans to have Will walk a particular route at night while snipers and other agents closely monitor the scene. As Will walks the path, a man in a hoodie appears running in his direction. Right when the man gets close, Will tackles him and the agents rush in. Upon removing the hood, they realize it's just some random jogger who can't be the killer (they know the killer is blond based on crime scene evidence, while the jogger is black). The killer had actually decided to go after Freddy Lounds that same night.
    • Immediately after Jack and Will discover that Lektor's coded message to the Tooth Fairy was the address of the Graham family, the film cuts to Molly being woken by Kevin, who notifies his mom of some strange noises outside. The two quietly make their way to the front door, noticing the silhouette of a man holding a shotgun on the kitchen wall. Upon opening the front door, they come face to face with a police officer with a shotgun politely asking if they're alright while loads of other officers sent in by Jack frantically cover the premises.
  • Bald of Evil: Francis Dolarhyde, the Tooth Fairy, is balding in this movie, mostly because his actor is.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Graham doesn't like it when people bring up his past experience with Lecktor, especially when the one bringing it up is the same tabloid reporter who took advantage of said experience to sell newspapers.
    • Graham deliberately makes himself The Bait by telling Lounds to pen a story in which Will insinuated the killer was a) gay, and b) had sex with his mother. It backfires - Dolarhyde goes after Lounds instead.
  • Blind and the Beast: Dolarhyde starts dating a blind woman halfway through the movie. This is partly because of his implicit insecurities about his cleft palate (much more explicit in the novel and 2002 movie); he thinks he is ugly, and doesn't believe he'd stand a chance with someone who could actually see him. This, in fact, is one of the reasons he kills- dead women don't think he is ugly.
    • Significantly, Dolarhyde stops Reba when she tries to touch his face.
  • Book Ends: An inter-film example: Manhunter opens with a POV sequence of Dollarhyde breaking into the Leeds' home in the dark of night, while The Silence of the Lambs, adapted from the sequel to the book this movie is based on, ends with a POV sequence of Buffalo Bill chasing Clarice Starling throughout his darkened basement.
  • Breaking Speech: Hannibal gives one to Will over the phone, telling him that God Is Evil and that what bothered him about killing Garret Jacob Hobbes (the first Serial Killer Graham caught) was that he secretly enjoyed it.
  • Central Theme: The entire film is about vision and color. For example, notice the background colors of the opening credits, saturated and overexposed. Lektor's prison is completely white, which has a negative psychological effect on Will (who calms down when staring at the green grass.) Of course, Dolarhyde's job is color correction, and he puts shards of mirrors in his female victims' eyes.
    Lecktor: Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.
  • Color Motif/Color Wash: Cool blue tones were used for the scenes shared between Will Graham and his wife Molly, and unsettling greens and magentas were used for the scenes with Francis Dollarhyde.
  • 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.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Graham seeks help from Hannibal Lecktor in order to gain better insight in finding the Tooth Fairy.
  • Cursed With Awesome: Graham's ability to get inside the heads of the killers he tracks makes him good at his job, but puts serious stress on his own sanity at the same time.
  • Demoted to Extra: Frustrated with Graham's mental state, his wife decides to spend time away. In the novel, she returns and it is she, not her husband or the cops, who kills Dolarhyde in the climax.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Molly Graham shoots Dollarhyde in her home. In the film, Will shoots him in Reba's home.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Reba, Dolarhyde's blind coworker goes home with him and engages in very vigorous woman-on-top sex with him.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Francis Dollarhyde who leaves slivers of glass embedded in his victim's eyes. In the climax, he's shown shattering a mirror as he prepares to kill Reba.
  • Driven to Villainy: Francis Dolarhyde:
    Will Graham: As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Compared to the 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs and its successors, Manhunter takes a far different approach, to the point where one could easily forget it's part of the same greater franchise. Among other things, it lacks the Gothic overtones of later films, opting instead for a more stylized approach making heavy use of saturated color to invoke mood, as well as lacking much of the more explicit violence of later films in favor of exploiting Nothing Is Scarier and the Gory Discretion Shot, which makes the few instances of explicit violence that much heavier-hitting. Probably the most microcosmic aspect of Manhunter is Hannibal "Lecktor": his prison is a cramped cell in a sterile, white mental hospital, far removed from the large, dungeonlike design seen in later films, and Lecktor himself is more smug and willing to put up facades than the serpentine and more outwardly malevolent portrayal by Anthony Hopkins.
  • Eureka Moment: When Graham finally figures out how the Tooth Fairy chooses his victims.
    Graham: And you know you need a bolt-cutter and every other Goddamn thing. Because everything with you is seeing, isn't it? Your primary sensory intake that makes your dream live is seeing. Reflections. Mirrors. Images. .... You've seen these films! Haven't you, my man?
  • Evil Is Hammy: Largely averted with Brian Cox's cold and understated portrayal of Lecktor (in contrast to Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs). Tom Noonan as Dolarhyde plays it more straight in his debut scene, although all things considered there really isn't any other way to play that moment but hammy.
    Dolarhyde: You owe me awe!
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: During his Eureka Moment, Graham acknowledges that Dolarhyde must have been abused and states that he pities the child Dolarhyde used to be. However, in the same monologue, Graham states that he feels absolutely no sympathy for Dolarhyde as an adult and states that Dolarhyde is a selfish, utterly-disgusting human being who deserves to die violently.
    Crawford: You feel sorry for him.
    Graham: This started from an abused kid, a battered infant... My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
  • A God Am I: Lektor's justification of why he and any Serial Killer commits murder- it makes you feel like you are God. He tells Will to look forward to that feeling.
  • God Is Evil: Lektor insists this is the case, along with A God Am I.
    Lektor: Did you really feel depressed after you shot Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbes to death? I think you probably did. But it wasn't the act that got to you. Didn't you feel so bad, because killing him felt so good? And why shouldn't it feel good? It must feel good to God. He does it all the time. God's terrific! He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshipers in Texas last Wednesday night, just as they were groveling through a hymn to his majesty. Don't you think that felt good?
    Will: Why does it feel good, Dr. Lektor?
    Lektor: It feels good because God has power. If one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is. God's a champ. He always stays ahead. He got 140 Filipinos in one plane crash last year. Remember that earthquake in Italy last spring?
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The moment where Dollarhyde bites Lounds' lips off isn't actually shown, instead cutting to the outside of Dollarhyde's house just before his mouth reaches Lounds' and leaving the latter's muffled screams of pain as the only indicator of what's happening. Additionally, the slides that Dollarhyde shows Lounds, depicting his victims postmortem, are left obscured from the viewer, leaving Lounds' pained reactions being the only indicators of how horrific they actually are. Compare this to the 2002 film, which shows both in vivid detail.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: When Graham shoots Dolarhyde, each round is shown to penetrate Dolarhyde's body, spattering blood on the wall behind him, despite the Glaser specifically being designed to avoid overpenetration.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Will Graham is a criminal profiler who lives in fear that his understanding of the mind of a killer will turn him into a sociopath.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Lektor scoffs that appealing to his intellectual vanity won't work, but once Will tells him Dr. Bloom is working on the case and "he's the best", Lektor immediately acquiesces to Will's demands.
  • Jerkass: Brian Cox's take on Lecktor, in contrast to Hopkins's later, Affably Evil performance.
  • Jump Scare: A few, but the most startling one is after Graham has ran out of the mental institution, interrupted by Lounds photographing him.
    Lounds: Gotcha.
  • Left the Background Music On: Dollarhyde puts Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for his final kill, and it plays in its near-entirety throughout his playing with his victim, his One-Man Army shotgun rampage against the policemen that arrive to try to stop him, and Graham's Big Damn Heroes Dynamic Entry and subsequent killing of Dollarhyde.
  • Lighter and Softer: The ending is changed completely from the book's ending to one where Graham gets to fight and kill Dolarhyde before he ever gets the chance to invade his home and attack his family and completely destroy his face (he gets a large gash across it in the film, but it's nowhere near disfiguring). As a result, his psychological troubles are now set at ease so that he can go back to retiring in peace, his wife and stepson don't leave him, and he doesn't become an alcoholic.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Graham's hair has some gray tinges, due to his experience with Lektor.
  • Mad Doctor: Lektor is a world-famous psychiatrist who happens to be a convicted Serial Killer. He might be stuck in an insane asylum, but that doesn't stop him from writing for psychiatric journals.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lektor, sure, but Crawford uses a Batman Gambit to get Will to take on the case, and freely admits it when Will confronts him with it. Lektor congratulates Will for setting Lounds up to be killed, and even though it wasn't Will's conscious intent, he wonders if he really plot Lounds' death subconsciously. invoked
  • Man on Fire: Freddy Lounds is set on fire and sent rolling down the street tied to a wheelchair.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Dolarhyde's fragile connection with sanity snaps when he misinterprets an innocent moment between Reba and her coworker as something intimate.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Graham's wife keeps the bedsheet wrapped around herself as she walks over to Graham, staring out the hotel room's window.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Used at the beginning when the Tooth Fairy enters the Leeds' house. Portions of the sequence are used again when Graham examines the crime scene for the first time; a visual representation of his ability to enter the minds of killers.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted somewhat; although, if women in this world didn't menstruate, and we found a box of Maxi-Pads from a world where they did, we'd probably be inclined to assume they're some kind of stick-on blindfold, too.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Used quite heavily here: most of the violence occurs entirely off-screen, with probably the bloodiest scene in the movie being the shootout at Dollarhyde's house. As a result, the quick cuts to the graphic crime scene photos and Lounds' flaming body have a much greater impact than if the film were more lenient with its violence.
  • Not So Different: Lektor tells this to Graham. What's scary is that he seems to be right.
    Lecktor: You want the scent? Smell yourself.
  • One-Man Army: When the cops finally close in on Dolarhyde, he rather casually grabs Graham as he jumps at him, slashes him across the face, tosses him into a corner, and then grabs a shotgun. Using the latter, he then goes to town on the cops trying to stop him, killing several and ignoring at least one point-blank gunshot wound. He returns to kill Graham, only to go down after absorbing half-a-dozen .44 Special Glaser rounds.
  • One Phone Call: Hannibal Lektor is given a phone to call his lawyer; he instead rewires the phone (it has no dial) so he can make another call to find out where Will lives.
  • 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 wrote and directed it.
  • Paparazzi:
    • Freddy Lounds, who's so sleazy he even broke into Graham's hospital room to take pictures of his injuries after his encounter with Lektor. Makes it hard to believe he didn't deserve the fate the Tooth Fairy gave him.
    • Lektor in fact applauds Will for setting Freddy up like that. Will ponders if he set Freddy up, if subconsciously, as Lektor implies.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: A great deal of expository content from the novel is absent from the film, thus cutting out a good amount of background information crucial to understanding the book's characters. Most notably, Francis Dollarhyde's backstory and split personality are only briefly alluded to in the film, thus making him a far more enigmatic character compared to the almost voyeuristic level of detail he's given in the book. Given that the final movie is already two hours long, it's likely much of this exposition was cut out for the sake of saving time, and the film works around these gaps by playing them into its heavy focus on implication.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Will Graham has gray tinges in his hair due to his experience with Hannibal Lecktor.
  • The Profiler: Will Graham is the archetypal fictional profiler, the basis for a great deal such detectives who showed up in the media after this film came out, and the book based on it.
  • Race Against the Clock: Since the Tooth Fairy operates on a lunar cycle, the FBI has until the next full moon to catch him before he kills again. They start out with two weeks, but end up taking it right down to the last minute before the killer claims another victim.
  • Re-Cut: The Director's Cut features the following additional scenes:
    • After visiting the Leeds house in the beginning of the film, Will takes a pause in watching their home movies and calls his wife and talks to her for a while.
    • A scene with Graham and Dr Chilton just before Graham goes to see Lecter.
    • Additional dialog during Grahams meeting with Lecter concerning how Graham caught Lecter.
    • A scene with Graham telling Crawford that he is bringing his wife and son to town.
    • An alternate ending, in which Graham visits the family that would be next in line for Dollarhyde, but who are now safe, thanks to Graham.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dollarhyde gives one to Lounds:
    Before me you are a slug in the sun. You are privy to a great becoming and you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is your nature to do only one thing correctly: tremble. Bur fear is not what you owe me. Lounds: you and the others, YOU OWE ME AWE!
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The music that plays when Graham visits Lecktor in his cell ("Freeze" by Klaus Schulze) originally appeared in the 1983 Austrian film Angst.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: How Will caught Hannibal, who he admits is smarter than him.
  • Sanity Slippage: In the Back Story, Will suffered one after catching Lecktor, because of his To Know Him, I Must Become Him detective style, and was committed to an insane asylum.
  • Serial Killer: Francis Dolarhyde, aka "The Tooth Fairy" or "The Red Dragon". Also, Dr. Lecktor.
  • Shirtless Scene: Will Graham gets a few. Comes with living on a Florida beach.
  • Shout-Out: When Freddy Lounds first sees Graham, he says to him, "Whaddya hear, whaddya say?"
  • Show, Don't Tell: Almost everything regarding Dolarhyde's personality and behavior is conveyed through acting and actions.
  • Soft Glass: Graham goes straight through a window at full gallop. He does get a couple of superficial cuts on his face.
  • Spell My Name With A K: Lecktor?
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Fans of Manhunter generally see Brian Cox as this for his true-to-the-book, brief on-screen role as Hannibal Lecter.
  • Super Window Jump: Will Graham does this to rescue Reba in a scene very well-timed to a diegetic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Deconstructed in the uncut version.
    Jack: You feel sorry for him.
    Will: As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: Graham's method for profiling serial killers. Sometimes it works too well.
  • You're Insane!: Not in the usual use of the trope, though.
    Will: I know that I'm not smarter than you.
    Lecktor: Then how did you catch me?
    Will: You had disadvantages.
    Lecktor: What disadvantages?
    Will: (matter-of-factly) You're insane.
    Lecktor: ...


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: