Director Michael Mann's Manhunter is among my favorite movies; this 1986 release was the first film based on Thomas Harris' novel The Red Dragon.

Those of you who've seen the more recent Brett Ratner/Ted Tally adaptation Red Dragon know the basic plot. Serial killer Francis Dollarhyde is slaughtering entire families to create grisly fantasy tableaus to "do as God does" and become the godlike dragon from the William Blake painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed With The Sun" and overcome his powerless past. Retired detective Will Graham (who has the uncanny ability to put himself in the mindset of the killers he's tracked) is enlisted to find the killer, whom the police have nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" because of the impressive bite marks he leaves on his victims. Graham retired because of the physical and mental damage he sustained in discovering and capturing the serial-killing, cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, and as he sets out on his search for The Tooth Fairy, he seeks advice from his old nemesis in the mental hospital.

This movie is exceedingly watchable in part because of Mann's directorial style, but also because of the excellent performances by William L. Petersen as Will Graham, Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter and Tom Noonan as Dollarhyde. This is easily character actor Noonan's most memorable performace, and he is one of the creepiest, freakiest villains to come out of 1980s cinema. The scene where Dollarhyde confronts the tabloid reporter he's kidnapped and strapped into an antique wheelchair, forces him to read a letter of apology into a tape recorder, then bites the terrified man's tongue out is something to behold. But the scene right after it in which we see the reporter set on fire and rolling down a parking garage ramp is an image that will stay with you for a long time; they couldn't top this scene in Red Dragon, and they didn't really try.

Movie Information

Release Year: 1986
Rating: R
Running time: 119-124 minutes, depending on cut
Writing credits: Thomas Harris, Michael Mann
William L. Petersen: FBI Agent Will Graham
Kim Greist: Molly Graham
Joan Allen: Reba McClane
Brian Cox: Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Dennis Farina: FBI Section Chief Jack Crawford
Tom Noonan: Francis Dollarhyde
Stephen Lang: Freddy Lounds
Benjamin Hendrickson: Dr. Frederick Chilton
Frankie Faison: Police Lieutenant Fisk (Faison played Barney Matthews in the other Hannibal Lecter movies; he's the only actor to be in all four films).