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Is The Silence of the Lambs a True Story?

May 31, 2020
4 min read

The Silence of the Lambs’ is a psychological horror film that follows the story of a young FBI trainee who becomes involved with one serial killer while chasing another. It stars Jodie Foster in the lead role, while Anthony Hopkins and Ted Levine portray the serial killers whom she targets. The film has amassed universal acclaim and won multiple Academy Awards. It paints the picture of terrifying criminals and their disturbing crimes, which makes one wonder if it all comes from someone’s imagination or if it’s based on real events. Here’s the answer.

Is The Silence of the Lambs Based on a true story?

No, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is not based on a true story. It is based on the book of the same name written by Thomas Harris. He based the character of Hannibal Lecter on a convicted killer he had met at a prison in Mexico. The part of FBI agent Clarice Starling is based on a real-life FBI agent, Patricia Kirby, whom Harris had met while researching the novel. The character of Jack Crawford is based on FBI agent, John Douglas, one of the first criminal-profilers in the country whose non-fiction book serves as source material for Netflix’s ‘Mindhunter’.

The idea to have an FBI agent using a serial killer to catch another came from the Green River Killer case where Ted Bundy served as an advisor. One of the most terrifying serial killers in history, Bundy was on death row when Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert sought him out to understand the psychology of the killer and find out why he was killing people.

Bundy told them to stake out the graves of the victims or the places where they had been dumped, as he was most likely to re-visit the sites. He believed that the killer was a necrophile, much like himself. The insight proved helpful and Gary Ridgway was caught, after having murdered at least 70 women, with the number assumed to be as high as 90.

Is Buffalo Bill a Real Serial Killer?

Talking about his stories, Harris once claimed that he never really made up anything, be it the characters or their crimes. He said that one needs not make up anything in this world. The same goes for Buffalo Bill. As horrifying a character as he might be, he was not a real person. However, his crimes were an amalgamation of several real-life serial killers.

In the movie, Clarice Starling discovers that Buffalo Bill skins his victims because he is tailoring a suit out of them. In real life, Ed Gein used to wear the skins of his victims, admiring himself in the mirror as if he had worn a dress. He is believed to have tallied the body count to 9 victims. He also inspired the character of another infamous fictional serial killer, Norman Bates.

Bill’s trick to lure his victims was to gain their sympathy by appearing helpless. He abducts Catherine when she tries to help him get a couch in his van, believing that his one hand is hurt. Ted Bundy used to employ similar antics for getting his intended victims in his vicinity. The third piece of Bill’s puzzle is Gary Michael Heidnik. Just like Bill, Heidnik used to imprison his victims in a basement before murdering them.

While Harris brought together the worst characteristics of these serial killers to create Bill, actor Ted Levine added his own twist while bringing the character alive on screen. He suggested the dance and tuck scene for Bill, believing that it would show the audience just how disturbed a person he was.

Read More: Best Netflix Documentaries Based on True Crime

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