The world is full of funny horror movies, and then there are serious movies that are accidentally super goofy. But what if you learned one of the most revered psychological horror films of all time, is actually hilarious? The Silence of the Lambs may still be the fuel of many viewers' nightmares, what with it being one of the most famous serial killer movies ever made, but a little perspective reveals it's actually quite funny. Perhaps Clarice heard the young sheep chortling instead of screaming?
In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs, whether it is an accidental comedy or not, set the bar for all serial killer movies to come. Like many great mystery films, it focuses on a vulnerable but tenacious detective hero hot on the trail of a maniac murderer. The film has suspense, action, and even face-eating. Outright, it may not sound like a particularly silly horror movie, but when looked at from another perspective... well, just try not to laugh. Whether it's the blatant use of comedy tropes and joke structure, or the film's so-over-the-top-they're-funny characters, here's laugh-out-loud proof that Clarice Starling is just a gal having a comically bad couple of days. The Silence of the Lambs is a comedy that, once considered, may even land among the funniest movies ever made.
Since the movie is a true crime-style thriller dealing with sensitive topics like the kidnapping and murder of women, it follows that most of the dialogue is serious and unemotional. However, Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter (a role that won him an Oscar, by the way) gets quite a few zingers. He delivers witty jokes left and right—lines like "People will say we're in love," "I'm having an old friend for dinner," and "Oh, and Senator, just one more thing: Love your suit," give Lecter the comedy crown of the film. Though his humor is clearly in keeping with his sadistic and genius side, all one has to do is imagine a laugh track after those lines to realize he's basically joking for most of the film. Maybe because viewers really are supposed to laugh?
Above all, The Silence of the Lambs is a serial killer thriller. The atrocities committed by the film's primary villain, Buffalo Bill, are seriously disturbing. But aside from what we know he's done to other girls in the past, the way the character is presented in the film brings some serious laughs. Like an immature side character, Buffalo Bill giggles over size 14 girls and asks if one was "a great big fat person." He's obsessed with his dog, aptly named Precious, and with nipple rings, sewing, and moisturizer. He's full of truly goofy one-liners, like "It puts the lotion in the basket," "Would you f*ck me? I'd f*ck me," and "You don't know what pain is!" That these lines are spoken in Ted Levine's impossibly deep bass voice makes them even more jarring and hilarious.
Throw in a dash of the eccentric—this dude loves death's-head hawkmoths and solo naked dance parties—and there are plenty of reasons to laugh out loud at this weirdo.
One major element found in all comedy is misdirection. The audience is led into thinking one thing is about to happen, but what actually occurs is completely different. Horror and thriller films use this technique to build tension and suspense, but when used for comedy, the unexpected makes us laugh.
The Silence of the Lambs misleads the audience by inter-splicing seemingly unrelated scenes. As the FBI closes in on what they think is Buffalo Bill's house, Clarice Starling visits a potential witness—a much less important task, natch—in another town. However, we soon find that our hero has been the one to inadvertently stumble upon the real serial killer. What could be a frightening revelation becomes funny as the killer pushes his face in the door and says, deeply, "Oh wait... Was she a great big fat person?"
As in any good comedy, the straight man (Clarice, in this case) is put in hilarious situations where her sanity is tried by the zany and kooky characters around her. The Silence of the Lambs is riddled with such characters. There are two wacky entomologists, a mortician with strange fashion tastes, a whimsical storage unit owner, a sleazy prison warden, and some incredibly crazy prisoners. All films need a supporting cast, but why would a mystery/suspense film make its side characters so unusual and offbeat if not to infuse some comedic levity? Quite a few of these characters even hit on Clarice at some point in the film, fueling the incongruous hilarity of her nose-to-the-grind work ethic contrasted with their silliness.