Exactly twenty years ago (give or take a month- March 30, 1992) a horror film called SILENCE OF THE LAMBS made mincemeat of the Academy Awards. It devoured all of the major categories, a feat achieved only twice before (by IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.) Some folks are a little hesitant about slapping the horror label on SILENCE, so let me do it for them and without pause. It seems the more accomplished a movie is, the more likely some are to address it as a “psychological thriller” and nothing gets my non-silent goat more. JONATHAN DEMME’s film is certainly rich and expansive enough to elude simple stagnant classification but, at the end of the day, without the element of horror, it has no bones to stand. Let me ask you, if somebody showed up to your Oscar party wearing clothes made of human skin and a mask constructed of another person’s torn off face would you think their outfit was horrifying or thrilling? Exactly. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is horror.
Crikey, if SILENCE isn’t horror then what is? Besides the already mentioned body mutilation, violence and death, SILENCE straps on a diving helmet and plunges into the less easily defined depths of the pit. Yeah, there’s some nifty crime & mystery stuff going on and Clarice’s ascension past those who underestimate her is immensely gratifying, but her anguish and regret over not being able to save an animal she meant to protect from slaughter is the real spirit crushing agent of darkness here. We come to find out Clarice is haunted by past events and I think that emotional/spiritual horror is a sharper more persistent blade. For instance, I have a Facebook page and many of my pals are horror fans, so I’m pretty much besieged with images of “horror” everyday: zombies, vamps, decapitations, the usual snore parade. Every once in a while somebody will post a picture of an animal being harmed under a title like “Stop this!” and I know they are trying to do the right thing but it’s like throwing battery acid in my eyes and it makes my soul barf for humanity. Meaning, I’m not convinced the lambs of the title will ever be silenced. That’s horror.
I get the drift of those that say SILENCE is not horror. I understand their logic and points and politely chuck those ideas towards the dustbin in my head. This is more than an issue of semantics for me. Can I just keep this one victorious memory intact and unmolested by those who live to rain on my parade? When SILENCE won that night twenty years ago, in my mind, the entire horror genre won and more importantly (to me) so did I. It seemed that finally something I cared about was getting some respect. (It did not hurt that just the year before KATHY BATES wrangled a best actress award for MISERY too.) I had grown up watching the movies that I dug utterly disrespected and devalued and frankly, I was sick of it. In 1992 it seemed like the world was catching up to what I already knew. I started to imagine a future where I didn’t have to add an extra star or up the letter grade to every review of a horror film I read in order to make up for the preexisting prejudice. I’m sad to tell you, I’m still waiting for that day.
Maybe I’m OK with that. Some art forms are born to walk the fringes. I don’t expect everyone to like horror films but I do believe they deserve to be judged fairly rather than automatically dismissed because some find their subject matter distasteful. Really though, how can anyone expect horror as a genre to emerge from the ghetto when those who claim to be its biggest supporters are the very ones who most vehemently rip the movies themselves to shreds? If you want to read a truly venomous take on a horror film, your best bet is a horror fan site, a place where boycotting movies that are not filmed yet, burning directors at the stake and tearing apart nearly everything that comes down the pike save for a few worn out sacred cows are a matter of course; with fans like these, who needs enemies? That’s coming from a gay guy who twenty years ago was still firmly in the closet at a gay friendly Oscar party when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won. Nothing drags a movement down like the naysaying, doubting Thomases from within. Tonight I’ll be at another Oscar party but this time not as a self-sabotaging malcontent. Maybe the world of horror hasn’t progressed as much as I would have liked in the past two decades but I have. I’m seriously going to toast SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 20TH anniversary win tonight and I’ll do it as a loud, proud devoted fan of horror…get used to it.