Red Dragon

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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.

Tropes used in Red Dragon include:

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.
  • Shout-Out
    • 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.
  • 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.