By Hanna Kim
Walking out of a movie theater or turning off the TV after watching a horror or thriller movie can be a frightening experience. Suddenly, dark corners are potential hiding spaces for serial killers and every footstep is the sound of an ominous and deadly clown. More often than not, this fright is forgotten when one accepts that these horror stories are merely the brainchilds of some freaky, yet creative screenwriter.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Villains in many horror movies are based on actual people or events in history. The cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter in the “Silence of the Lambs,” the clown Pennywise from the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s book “It,” and Count Dracula from Bram Stoker’s book are some prime examples.
“Silence of the Lambs,” released in 1991, was a huge success, gathering praise from both its audience and critics everywhere. The movie earned five major Academy Awards, including an Oscar for Best Movie, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. Anthony Hopkins earned the Oscar for Best Actor for his depiction of the psychotic psychiatrist Hannibal. All of that proves what a good movie “Silence of the Lambs” is, but the character is far from Hollywood magic.
The character Hannibal Lecter is based on a 1960’s surgeon named Alfredo Balli Trevino. He was reported to have fought with his boyfriend and fellow doctor, Jesus Castillo Rangel, for unknown reasons. The police report states that Trevino used anesthetic to sedate his lover before taking him to the bathtub and slitting his throat with a scalpel and then expertly chopping his body into tiny pieces. Trevino was caught by his suspicious uncle when he attempted to bury the box that held the remains.
What sets this surgeon apart from the other psychopaths, however, was his unnaturally calm personality that Hopkins portrays so well with Hannibal Lecter. Thomas Harris, the author of the book that inspired the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” claimed that Trevino was very elegant and almost cordial upon interviewing him, despite what is to be expected from a cruel murderer.
Trevino was far from being the only inspiration to horror novel authors. Stephen King, renowned for his bloodcurdling stories, wrote the book “It” that many assume ignited the on-going clown-phobia phase. In the book, a clown named Pennywise rips off a child’s arm after coaxing the boy to reach for his paper boat in the drain. No one would doubt King’s ability to inspire nightmares, yet, upon deeper research, we can see that clowns started scaring the public five years before the book was published.
The 1981 Phantom Clown Scare began in May when parents in Boston complained about mysterious clowns trying to lure children into their vans with candy. The situation became out of hand once these disguised stranger-dangers started spreading to nearby cities and states, sometimes as far as Nebraska and Colorado.
The most extreme case, and what probably inspired the creation of Pennywise, was in Kansas City, Kansas, where a menacing clown chased and threatened groups of children while carrying a large knife. Although the police chased this dangerous figure, the clown was never captured.
Last but not least is the notorious Count Dracula, known as the cruel and heartless vampire from Bram Stoker’s well-known classic novel “Dracula.” He was based off of a 15th century ruler of Wallachia, or current-day Romania, named Vlad the Impaler, who was nicknamed as Dracula.
Vlad sought to defeat his opponents, the Ottomans, during war by using guerrilla tactics or otherwise savage approaches. He poisoned their wells and spread diseases among the soldiers. What truly solidified his reputation, however, was when he impaled 20,000 defeated Ottomans on wooden stakes, leaving the bodies at the mercy of hungry birds and the stares of horrified visitors. Despite the lack of blood drinking, many have no doubt that this man proved himself to be worthy of the villainous title he later earned.
It is a tricky balance between loathing these people for the horrible deeds they committed and feeling fear that there might be even more villains around us than we realized. What we need to realize, however, is that these villains are real people, and, psychopath or not, each has a story that the movies and books have not covered. The homicidal surgeon that inspired Hannibal ended up treating the poor with what remaining time he had left after he was released, and Vlad the Impaler was held hostage for five years when he was a child by the Ottomans to pay the price for some of his father’s debts.