5 Creepy Facts You Didn’t Know About ‘Silence of The Lambs’

With director Jonathan Demme’s passing, let’s look back on his greatest film ever.

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Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme has died of cancer complications at 73, his publicist confirmed on Tuesday. Here’s a look back at five facts about his most famous film, the 1991 horror masterpiece Silence of the Lambs:

Believe it or not, there are few things you probably didn’t know about Silence of The Lambs. Sometime in the last quarter-century, all of us have been traumatized in one form or another by the movie that turned Jodi Foster into the Meryl Streep of her generation and brought cannibalism into the mainstream. 

Thanks to Silence of the Lambs, none of us will ever be able to put lotion in a basket or hear “American Girl” on the radio in our pickup trucks without thinking we are about to be skinned alive. And we’re guessing Clarice was probably among the least-popular baby names for the nineties, considering that you can’t un-hear it Hannibal Lecter’s menacing voice.

In honor of the anniversary of Silence of the Lambs, which was released on February 14, 1991, director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and Paradigm’s Robert Bookman, who handled the option of Thomas Harris’s novel, sat down with Deadline and shared some never-before-revealed trivia about the only horror movie ever to win an Oscar. 

1. Jonathan Demme originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer for the role of Clarice Starling.

Demme had Pfeiffer on the mind because he had just directed her in Married to the Mob, but Tally only had eyes for Jodi Foster, believing Pfieffer “was a few years too old and just too beautiful.” In the end, the “too-beautiful” actress thought Silence was a bit too violent, while Foster campaigned for the role. It was a no-brainer. 

2. Sean Connery said Silence of the Lambs was “too disgusting.”

Anthony Hopkins was always on the shortlist to play cannibal killer Hannibal Lecter, but Sean Connery was the first to get the script. “Word came back shortly that he thought it was disgusting and wouldn’t dream of playing that part,” Demme said. 

3. Silence of the Lambs was produced and distributed by a bankrupt studio. 

Though Orion Pictures enjoyed major critical successes with movies like Dances with Wolves, Amadeus, and Platoon, the studio was in dire financial straits during and after the production of Silence of The Lambs, staying afloat only by way of cash infusions from billionaire stakeholder John Kluge. Despite (or rather, perhaps because of) strong feedback at early screenings, Orion gave Silence of the Lambs the dreaded mid-February release date, essentially dashing all Oscar hopes, in part because the studio was desperate for cash. Somehow, Silence still managed to qualify for an Oscar run and won Best Picture 13 months after its release, the longest release-to-win stretch in Oscar history. 

4. The ending was originally much more horrifying.

The ending we all saw was somewhat ambiguous, as prison escapee Lecter is on a payphone call to Clarice from the Bahamas, telling her that he’s about to “meet a friend for dinner.” We then see Dr. Frederick Chilton, the director of the hospital for the criminally insane who tormented Lecter during his stay there, disembark from a plane, apparently also on the run after Lecter warned him he’d be coming after him. It’s strongly implied that Lecter will murder Chilton, but in an earlier version of the ending, he’s already captured him: “Chilton is trussed up in a chair across from him, the same method of restraints the doctor used on Lecter earlier in the movie.”

5. David Byrne was one of the first people to see Silence of the Lambs.

He attended the first public screening in Atlantic City, and rode in a private helicopter from Manhattan with Foster, Demme (a friend), and Tally. “I thought, if this thing crashes, I won’t even make the fine print,” Tally said.