"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti." Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter suddenly relives this glorious moment of cannibalism - a speech now doing the party-turn circuit in the US - with a noise more appropriate to professional winetasting, revelling in the memory of the sweet taste of human flesh. And, by the look of sheer horror on her face, it is at this moment that Jodie Foster as budding FBI Agent Clarice Starling first truly realises the type of animal she is dealing with here, a charming, intelligent gentleman at first impression, a quite terrifying pyschopath at will.
It is testament to Jonathan Demme's superb adaptation of Thomas Harris' cult 80s novel that these two images of Lecter never lose their grip from the quite brilliant opening visiting sequence, the one reaffirming the other, combining to create the most memorable basketcase in the movies since Norman Bates first opened for business. This is a man who sketches and listens to Mozart while planning to literally eat off a policeman's face, a creature sensitive to Starling's tale of childhood torment yet cruelly reticent in supplying clues that might lead to the capture of the serial killer closest to his natural heir.
If Hopkins' unforgettable Lecter is what puts The Silence Of The Lambs into genuine phenomenon territory, it is Foster's fleshing out of FBI student Starling which gives the film real class, a performance easily on a par with her Oscar-winning turn in The Accused and one likely to see her back in the frame next March. Scott Glenn provides typically solid support as the G-man charged with leading the hunt for the killer, the ubiquitous Chris Isaak makes a distinctly cameo appearance as leader of a SWAT team and even good old Roger Corman gets in on the act as a blink-and-you'll-miss-him exponent of the FBI school of excellence.
Ultimately, though, Demme's breakthrough film is a triumph by virtue of its narrative strength, its sheer confidence in tackling Harris complex characterisation head-on, and its ability to scare the shit out of its audience without ever once resorting to amateur hour frightwigs and hands-over-the-eyes. Fingerlickin' good.