What's So Appealing About 'Hannibal'?

ByABC News
February 12, 2001, 9:50 AM

Feb. 12 -- Fava beans, Chianti and human flesh. That was Hannibal Lecter's idea of a tasty snack a decade ago, and this past weekend movie audiences just couldn't wait to see the evil doctor serve up his next meal.

The reviews for Hannibal certainly weren't as strong as they were for Lecter's last outing, The Silence of the Lambs, and everyone has been warned of a certain stomach-turning final scene. Nevertheless, Hannibal is now the most successful R-rated release and the third strongest weekend opener in movie history.

In its first three days, Hannibal grossed $58 million in the United States and Canada.

Even the film's producer Dino De Laurentiis seemed amazed by audiences' persistent fascination with the macabre.

"I must confess I expected it to be big, but not this big," he told Reuters news service from Berlin, where the film premiered.

So what draws millions of people to voluntarily witness scenes of gratuitous violence, gore, and terror?

'Fascinated by the Bogeyman'

Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Hannibal Lecter the serial killer who makes gourmet meals out of his victims attributes people's interest in his character to a fascination with our own potential for evil.

"We are fascinated by the darkness in ourselves. We are fascinated by the shadow. We are fascinated by the bogeyman," Hopkins, wearing the black dinner jacket from Hannibal's final scene, said at a news conference. "You live through someone else's nightmare for a few minutes while you're safely in the theater eating popcorn."

At one time, public hangings and executions routinely drew bloodthirsty crowds. A similar impulse regularly slows traffic to a crawl as motorists gawk at car accidents across the road.

Even the most unlikely people show a morbid curiosity in the horror genre, says Michael Kronick, president of Startifacts, a popular Hollywood memorabilia store in Las Vegas.

"Some people might find a bloody T-shirt on the wall to be disgusting, but some people really like that kind of thing. I know quiet little ladies that collect those heads from Hellraiser and put them in their living room."