“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

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“To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985) dir. William Friedkin

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“To Live and Die in L.A.” is one of the best crime films of the 1980s. Looking at the trailer, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out why the film wasn’t a hit, considering its rapid-fire editing, intense action, and excellent cast, which featured Willem Dafoe, William Peterson, John Turturro, and John Pankow early in their careers. On the surface, it looks like every Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer produced box-office blockbuster from the period.

However, director William Friedkin has an uncanny ability to make things complex, where the alleged “good guys” aren’t all that good. In fact, the good guys do a lot of morally and legally objectionable things … but unlike a “Dirty Harry” film, they pay dearly for their transgressions. In other words, “To Live and Die in L.A.” makes you, the audience member, pay dearly for your transgressions, more specifically, your voyeurism at all the graphic violence and sex that Friedkin piles on. Nobody says movie watching is easy, but if you’re OK with films that explore grey areas, “To Live and Die in L.A.” is an amazing experience. I remember seeing it twice in the theater when I was 15 (you gotta love those morally lackadaisical theater owners back in the day who didn’t give a s–t about enforcing R-ratings) and among friends who had seen it, we all thought it was as cool as “Scarface.” To say this is a movie they don’t make anymore is an understatement. I’m actually surprised it got greenlit back in the 1980s. Today, it might get a nod as a cable movie, but that’s about it.