In 1991, one of the most iconic (and terrifying) horror movies of all time was released: The Silence of the Lambs, based on Thomas Harris‘ novel of the same name. It achieved both critical and commercial success, paving the way for future sequels which would never quite live up to the success of The Silence of the Lambs. While we’ll never forget Clarice Starling or Hannibal Lecter (or Buffalo Bill, no matter how hard we may try), there are some things most fans still don’t know about the film itself.
1. During Hannibal’s first scene with Clarice, Sir Anthony Hopkins improvised his mocking of Starling’s southern accent; Jodie Foster claimed she felt personally attacked by this, so her horrified reaction was real.
Later, she thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest performance from her.
2. Anthony Hopkins also improvised that iconic slurping noise.
The hauntingly grotesque sound wasn’t scripted, and shows how into character Hopkins was.
3. The moth cocoons Buffalo Bill placed in his victims throats were actually made from a combination of Tootsie Rolls and gummy bears, in case they were swallowed.
We were always creeped out by that cocoon, and we still are, but we have to admit…it does look kind of…delicious? Doesn’t it?
4. Clarice Starling and Dr. Lecter actually only share four scenes together throughout the entire film.
5. And none of those scenes feature the iconic line, “Hello, Clarice.”
This line is often misquoted, but is actually “Good evening, Clarice.” However, in the 2000 film Hannibal, Dr. Lecter says, “Hello, Clarice,” to Julianne Moore’s Agent Starling.
6. One of the inspirations for Hannibal Lecter came from one of the most common of all fears: dentists.
Anthony Hopkins convinced Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme and costume designer Colleen Atwood to dress Lecter in white instead of an orange jumpsuit for his transfer to Baltimore. He thought the character would seem more clinical and unsettling if he only wore white — an idea he got from his fear of dentists.
7. Silence of the Lambs the only horror movie ever to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Only two others have even been nominated: The Exorcist and Jaws.
8. It’s also one of only three films to win the top five honors at the Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay).
The others are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Silence of the Lambs is also the most recent Best Picture winner to win for both its Lead Actor and Lead Actress.
9. Jonathan Demme always had characters speak directly into the camera for conversations with Clarice, yet he always filmed Jodie Foster looking slightly off camera.
The idea was to make audiences directly experience her point-of-view to more easily empathize with her character. We think anyone who has watched those gripping last few moments of the film can confirm the success of this technique.
10. Anthony Hopkins is only on screen for 24 minutes and 52 seconds.
This makes his performance the second shortest to ever receive a nomination for Best Actor.
11. After she first read Thomas Harris’ novel, Jodie Foster tried to buy the film rights to The Silence of the Lambs herself, but was beaten to the punch by Gene Hackman.
12. Hopkins has described the voice he used for Hannibal Lecter as “part Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn.”
13. In order to prepare for her role in the FBI, Foster spent time with Agent Mary Ann Krause before filming, and it’s Krause who gave Foster the idea to stand by her car crying in the film.
Krause said that, because the work could at times become so overwhelming, emotional releases were welcome in any form.
14. The hauntingly terrifying character, Buffalo Bill, is actually a combination of three real-life killers.
Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik, and scary-movie-celebrity Ed Gein were all used as inspiration for the grisly killer. Bundy was known to wear a cast on his arm to lure victims in much the same way Bill does in the film; Heidnik was known to go on hunts and hold several women captive at once, using a pit in his home to keep them in; Gein was known to dig up the graves of elderly women (killing two others), and preserving their skins to wear around his house while staring at himself (and he would also accessorize his body with wigs, jewelry, and fake breasts). Gein is also famously the inspiration for Norman Bates of Psycho and Bates Motel fame, as well as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
15. The famous photo of a moth on the film’s poster is actually taken from a photo of Salvador Dalí.
The original photo, “In Volupta Mors,” was taken by Philippe Halsman and features Dalí standing next to a photo of naked women in the shape of a human skull.