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In 1981 Thomas Harris released a very dark thriller called Red Dragon, about a gifted FBI profiler named Will Graham, who comes out of retirement to assist in the investigation of a Serial Killer known as "The Tooth Fairy" (for his habit of leaving bite marks on his victims). Throughout the novel, Graham reluctantly seeks help from another serial killer, the brilliant if amoral psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. The two had previously forced each other into mutual retirement, Graham by catching Lecter, and Lecter by nearly disemboweling Graham while trying to escape.
The novel was well-regarded for its unyielding gothic tone and the unnerving detail and care Harris put into the psychological dysfunctions of villain Francis Dolarhyde. The book was made into the movie Manhunter in 1986, starring William Petersen (yes, that one) as Graham and Brian Cox as Hannibal "Lecktor".
In 2002, there was a new film adaptation of Red Dragon, starring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton and keeping the original name this time. It was a moderate success, although some fans of Manhunter complained that a remake was unnecessary, though others were just happy to see something that didn't suck as bad as Hannibal. The film also included the focus on the Red Dragon's psychological torments, which was all but ignored in Manhunter, and features an ending more faithful to the book's.
- Accent Relapse: Something like that, almost at the end of the 2002 movie. At the climax of Dolarhyde's attempt to escape from the "Dragon", as he decides the solution is to shoot Reba with a shotgun, followed by himself, his hampered voice slides in and out of something much more... average.
- Adaptation Distillation: The 2002 film.
- Affably Evil
- Bittersweet Ending: In the book, while Dolarhyde is eventually stopped, Graham ends up hideously disfigured by Dolarhyde, and deals with it by becoming a severe alcoholic, and Reba is implied to have been traumatized by her experience.
- Blind and the Beast: Francis Dolarhyde falls in love with Reba McClane partly because she's blind and can't see his harelip, although it's strongly implied that most women he knew were attracted to him already. He just thinks of his harelip as being a much greater problem then it actually is.
- Break the Cutie: Francis Dolarhyde's whole childhood seems to revolve around this. Reba, his love interest, may also count as this too.
- Brutal Honesty: When Will is asked how he caught Lecter: "You had disadvantages." "What disadvantages?" "Passion. And you're insane." In every version where this exchange takes place, Lecter shortly changes gears and tries to Sherlock Scan Will onto the defensive. In the 2002 movie, Hopkins' Lecter looks clearly disturbed for a moment.
- Consulting a Convicted Killer: The Trope Maker, along with The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal is approached by Graham, the FBI agent who had originally captured him, requesting his assistance in capturing a serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy". Hannibal provides this help to Graham, while secretly corresponding with the Tooth Fairy behind his back, in exchange for a first-class meal in his cell and privileges to use the prison library.
- The Chessmaster: Hannibal Lecter.
- Did Not Do the Research: Glaser safety slugs have a good reputation as a manstopping round that won't overpenetrate, but they're nowhere near the devastating Bullet of Doom portrayed in the novel.
- The Chinese symbol found in the tree is the symbol for the red dragon in Mah Jong but its main meaning is 'middle' as in 'the middle kingdom' the name for China. Getting to Red Dragon would have been quite a stretch...
- The Eighties: The 2002 movie adaptation may not feel much like an 80s movie, but according to the captions from near the beginning, it takes place in the 1980s as much as the original novel or Manhunter. (Contrast the Hannibal TV series, which adapts the story to the present day of The New Tens.)
- The Film of the Book
- Fluffy the Terrible: Dolarhyde is often called "the Tooth Fairy".
- However, context makes this an Averted Trope - they call him the "Tooth Fairy" because they only clue left behind are tooth-marks... on the victims' bodies.
- Forensic Drama
- Freudian Excuse: Dolarhyde; as Will Graham notes, "As a child, my heart goes out to him. As an adult, he's irredeemable."
- Good People Have Good Sex: Reba and Dolarhyde. Of course, D was the Ax Crazy Serial Killer of the story, so this is either subverted, or invoked deliberately to make D more sympathetic.
- Gory Discretion Shot
- Hand of Death
- Hannibal Lecture: Trope Namer.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?: Hannibal Lecter to Graham, at the start of the 2002 film.
- Graham's response: "No, I needed to see you first."
- Heroic Sociopath: Averted with Hannibal Lecter; it's clear he's still a villain even if he's helping out Graham.
- House of Broken Mirrors
- I'm a Humanitarian
- I Ate What?: That poor boardwoman...
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Reba. While blind, she is otherwise portrayed as relatively normal.
- Insufferable Genius: Lecter himself. "It's the only weakness I ever saw in him: he has to look smart, smarter than everybody. He's been doing it for years."
- Jump Scare: In the 2002 movie, when Graham tells Lecter about an unusually "sloppy" move on the part of the killer he's trying to catch, the restrained Lecter tuts him about whether or not he's ever felt a "sudden rush of panic" and snaps at him. Graham, naturally, flinches, then unmistakably rolls his eyes.
- Manipulative Bastard: Hannibal Lecter; arguably also Chilton, with his manipulations being wildly outclassed by Lecter's.
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate
- Not So Different: Lecter taunts Graham with this.
Lecter: You want the scent? Smell yourself.
- The Other Darrin: Pretty much everyone at some point.
- Paparazzi: Freddy Lounds in Red Dragon, played by Stephen Lang and/or Philip Seymour Hoffman.
- Pet the Dog: Dolarhyde and Reba. Characters later suggest that The Power of Love almost convinced him to Heel Face Turn, sadly the "dragon" took total control, though Dolarhyde does still end up not killing Reba.
- Photographic Memory: Graham, Lecter to an extent.
- Public Secret Message: Hannibal Lecter places a personal ad filled with Bible verse numbers in a tabloid as a coded message (the numbers refer to the nth letter on the xth page of his edition of The Joy of Cooking) to Francis Dolarhyde. The FBI decrypts it, and realizes that it told Dolarhyde where Will Graham lives; they send Dolarhyde another message to lure him into a trap, but he recognizes it for what it is.
- Red Right Hand: Francis Dolarhyde's harelip, which played a major role in his descent into madness due to his being cruelly mocked and shunned; Lecter having maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand in the books.
- Dolarhyde's yellow eyes may also count. As an impressive piece of detail, it is briefly noted that his mother also had them.
- Scare Chord: The 2002 film version has a Danny Elfman score which has lots of these.
- Serial Killer: Perhaps the most famous literary/film examples.
- The suit Francis Dolarhyde wears in Red Dragon when he goes to eat the original "Red Dragon" painting is an echo of William Petersen's suit in Manhunter.
- At the end of Red Dragon Hannibal is informed of a young female FBI agent who wants to question him.
- Shown Their Work: The manner in which Graham deals with Lecter is very in line with proper protocol with investigative questioning. When Lecter asks probing questions to Graham, he either ignores him, or provides the smallest amount of information necessary to keep Lecter talking. This is to make sure that Lecter can't get inside Graham's head.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Freddy Lounds gets set on fire by Dolarhyde in the book - and survives for the better part of a day. In the film he dies from the attack within minutes, sparing him that agony.
- Tap on the Head: Broken down — the fact that two people the killer didn't want to kill were knocked out with a "tap", survived, and one of them is receiving stitches for a concussion tells Jack Crawford that the perpetrator had a "sweet touch", suggesting either care or exceptional skill with the weapon they'd known to be wielded by a killer.
- There Are No Therapists: Utterly subverted, since Lecter is imprisoned in a psychiatric institution and has been visited by a number of shrinks. Of course, since he's a psychiatrist himself, this rarely works out right.
- Twofer Token Minority: Reba, blind and female. Also invoked by a line of dialogue in the book, which is now on the trope's quote page.
- Unbuilt Trope: Lecter's insights and lectures are unsettling, but fallible, especially against an experienced profiler like Graham. Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that beneath it all, he is, well, insane.