Only two serial killers in history have claimed as much celluloid life as Hannibal Lecter, and those are prostitute killer Jack the Ripper and dressing-up-IN-a-girl psycho Ed Gein. But neither of those madmen charms audiences the way Hannibal does, locked away in his cell or chomping his way to freedom. Writer Thomas Harris could scarcely have imagined that the secondary villain in his novel, Red Dragon, would become the bogeyman for smarties... and a Hollywood cash cow. Here's a look at Hannibal's three-course meal, set on a four-course DVD platter.
• The Silence of the Lambs (1990, MGM or Criterion)--With five Academy Awards, this is the classiest and goriest film ever to sweep the Oscars. An understated Jodie Foster is paired with Anthony Hopkins--who chews the scenery only when judicious--and a banquet of grand guignol glory is set on the table. Try not to wince or freeze-frame during the aftermath of Hannibal's escape, or be creeped out by Ted Levine's killer scene-stealing. The two competing DVD editions both have merit and exclusive material, and true collectors will want each version. Criterion's has a commentary from the director, stars, and an FBI agent, plus storyboards, FBI materials about serial killers, and seven deleted scenes. MGM has a newly produced documentary, the original "making of" short, bloopers and more!
• Manhunter (1986, Anchor Bay, 2-DVD or 1-DVD set)--Often overlooked, this film by Miami Vice-creator Michael Mann is actually the debut of Lecter onscreen, here played by Brit thespian Brian Cox. Hannibal hardly appears, and though purists sniff that Cox's portrayal is more delicious than Anthony Hopkins' follow-up, that's purely a matter of taste. Although Manhunter is a reasonable thriller, and some scenes are spookily resonant, the funky lighting, clothing, and look of the flick, make it dated and unappetizing. Go for the numbered 2-DVD set, which includes short documentaries, a trailer, as well as a briefly expanded director's cut.
• Hannibal (2001, MGM)--The hotly anticipated novel was in production as a film before it ever reached audiences, but the troubled literary ending has been changed for the flick, and the unappetizing lesbian caricature from the book has been taken off the plate. Julianne Moore steps into Clarice Starling's role nicely, giving her both the verve and tiredness that the years would have brought. Hopkins is mostly restrained, but the unaccredited Gary Goldman's role as Mason Verger has got to be the screen's most vomit-raising character in years. The 2-DVD set is crammed so full of material, that even cinephiles will be overwhelmed, with director commentary, 35 minutes of deleted scenes, multiple documentaries, endless trailers, commercials, photos, etc. Hannibal sets the bar high for future DVD releases, while the film serves as a delicious final course to the Lecter banquet. ANDY MANGELS