So how does a crime novel become a horror film? Some say it's not horror but if you want to put a specific label on the movie, it is a psychological horror thriller. I seriously don't feel it's a stretch at all to place this film in the horror realm. First of all, it's a film that will scare the complete shit out of you. The sets and imagery created in the film alone are enough to creep you out. The dungeon-like area in the depths of the insane asylum in which Clarice has to visit Hannibal Lector, Clarice's discovery of the head in the jar at the storage unit, the security guard skinned and strung up on Lector's cage and, of course, Buffalo Bill's sadistic basement lair, all are elements of a film that deserves its spot in the genre.
What really drives this film though is the relationships between the characters. Clarice is an inexperienced FBI agent when her boss, Jack Crawford, throws her to the wolves basically to pry information from the infamous Dr. Lector. The only real reason she is given the duty is because Crawford knows she will be of interest to Lector and possibly get something out of him. Nevermind the fact that he could certainly destroy her psyche in the process. The plan does work though has Lector eventually gives her bits and pieces of information that may lead her to the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. These meetings between Starling and Lector are very few but they hold so much power within the film. The most intense scene being when Lecter begins a game of "quid pro quo" with Starling, offering clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for events from Starling's traumatic childhood.
Now what about Ted Levine, the man who plays Buffalo Bill? So much attention is given to Hopkins and Foster in the film for good reason but Levine's turn as Jame Gumb is perhaps the one of the most sexually disturbing performances in horror, which is saying a lot. Director Jonathan Demme and Levine collaborated on much of how he was to play the character of Buffalo Bill but Levine went out on his own and improvised some of his scenes, including the one we are all thinking about right now (the, um, the tuck). Another pivotal moment in the film is between Buffalo Bill and Catherine Martin, the kidnapped daughter of a US Senator. She is imprisoned in Bill's dry well in his basement. While she is terrified, she does not simply give up and die like so many victims in horror film. She is a fighter and challenges him constantly, eventually baiting his beloved poodle into falling into the well to gain some leverage.
The Silence of the Lambs succeeds on all levels. It keeps us in constant suspense and it makes us care about the characters whether we love them, hate them or sometimes both. It shocks us with it's violent and gory scenes as well as it's steady stream of plot twists. It also makes us laugh with subtle dark humor and because of it's excellence it has become one of the most quotable films in American cinema. Think about all the memorable lines in the film, especially the last one. "I'm having an old friend for dinner."