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Aug 19 2019

Horror Actressing: Joan Allen in "Manhunter"

byJason Adams

When I first introduced this "Great Moments in Horror Actressing"series a few weeks back I mentioned that my own definition of what makes a "horror"film is fairly loose -- so is Michael Mann's 1986 serial killer flickManhuntera Horror Film?I think that book author Thomas Harris wrote all of his Hannibal Lecter tomes with enough Guignol to them to say that yes,his intention was to unsettle our fundamental trust in the form of the world -- to violate the borders of what's sane and insane with the explicit intention of horrifying.

But Michael Mann as a director,he does bringManhunterback down to earth a bit -- just look at how Bryan Fuller adapted the material of Red Dragon straight into outer space with his gloriously baroque showHannibalto see how much Mann grounded his movie in contrast.All that genre back and forth aside though,I think it's impossible to argue that the character of Reba McClane -- played by Joan Allen,who's celebrating her birthday tomorrow,in the film -- isn't meant to play explicitly with a standard horror trope...

That trope is the Blind Girl In Danger,one that goes back about as far as you can see back.The serial killer Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan,absolutely brilliant) meets Reba at work and she's immediately drawn to his quiet and kind reserve.We're meant to be terrified as she misreads the signals he's sends out that she can't see -- she takes his reticence as a gentleness,which to the film's credit it both is and isn't.Much like that sleeping tiger...

...she strokes in the film's centerpiece the gentleness is there,but it's a passable hide covering up a voraciousness without end.That said,to Allen's credit -- and lord knows Joan Allen always deserves all the eternal credit -- she complicates Reba in a dozen small directions with her limited time on screen.Reba,for all her smiles and angelic curls,feels dangerous herself.The sweetness is there on the surface,but watch her petting that tiger -- she's totally turned on.

Allen gives this standard victim figure -- there to be weak and in danger and rescued -- a bit of a death wish.You can sense her drawn to the beast in Francis.Not just the soft furry outside but the grumbling belly beneath too.Reba's not happy when we meet her,and Francis feels like a way out.Joan Allen's performance makes us question whether Reba really cares,one way or the other,which direction the exit's in.

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Reader Comments (6)

Correct a Horror film albeit without the bodyparts.

August 19,2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Man,I love that film.I always enjoyed this more thanSilence of the Lambsfor its look,its slow-approach to suspense,Brian Cox's performance as Hannibal Lecktor,and its music soundtrack.

August 19,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Haven't seen this one yet,but a quick shoutout to Emily Watson in the same role in Red Dragon,who's also captivating.

August 19,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

Great write up!I've always though Allen was special in this movie,impressive since the movie kind of slows down and zips through that narrative.When I watch the movie she's always in way less than I remembered.She has worked with so many great people in interesting material.

Where is she?I miss Joan Allen in movie,nothing since room and that dumb show that didn't last.

August 19,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Manhunteris such an underrated gem of a film.

August 20,2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I think it's safe to say many of us on this site are film lovers/geeks/nerds.As in,in a circle of friends,you're the one who is the movie fanatic.So this usually brings up the challenge of being asked: "So,what's your favorite movie?"and I have defaulted to Manhunter.The portrayal of Reba by Joan Allen is just ONE of the reasons why Manhunter is worth the top rank.

August 20,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPancake Bacon

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