• Matt

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Updated: Apr 18


The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American psychological horror film directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally, adapted from Thomas Harris' 1988 novel. It stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who is hunting a serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims. To catch him, she seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.


The Silence of the Lambs is regularly cited by critics, film directors and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films. In 2018, Empire ranked it 48th on their list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. The American Film Institute ranked it the fifth-greatest and most influential thriller film while Starling and Lecter were ranked among the greatest film heroines and villains. The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2011. A sequel, Hannibal, was released in 2001, followed by the prequels Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007). The Silence of the Lambs itself is technically a sequel to Manhunter (1986).


Principal photography on The Silence of the Lambs began on November 15, 1989, and wrapped on March 1, 1990. Filming primarily took place in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with some scenes shot in nearby northern West Virginia. Director Jonathan Demme picked southwestern Pennsylvania where most of the movie was filmed because of its layout and topography: the rolling hills, the long and winding roads, the railroads and rivers. Most of the movie’s filming sites are within a 50-mile radius of the city of Pittsburgh.

 

CATHERINE MARTIN'S APARTMENT & ABDUCTION SCENE

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 4, 2022
LOCATION: PITTSBURGH, PA
MAP

This apartment complex has certainly not changed much over the years at all.


 

WESTINGHOUSE TURBINE FACTORY

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
LOCATION: EAST PITTSBURGH, PA
MAP


Now known as Keystone Commons, this old turbine factory was used for the many interior shots of the film, including Buffalo Bill's infamous basement which he imprisons Catherine Martin. The basement was built on a multi-level set and the pit could be entered via a trapdoor in the floor or hidden doors on the side. Actress Brooke Smith later stated that she found the whole experience difficult. “I think I really messed with my own head to do those scenes,” she said. “I remember being aware that the camera was there and thinking, ‘I’m in all this agony and not only is no one helping me, but they’re actually filming me.’ I literally felt it.”


 

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
LOCATION: PITTSBURGH, PA
MAP

On our visit, not only has the the dinosaur fossil remains display as seen in the movie since been changed, but the museum has also had some interior work done. During filming a T-Rex is visible in the corner along with various other dinosaurs, now there is just the one in their place. Also, where Clarice walks into shot from the left, a glass display case has now been built along the bottom of the balcony area.


 

MEMPHIS TOWN HALL

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 4, 2022
LOCATION: PITTSBURGH, PA
MAP

Memphis Town Hall, where Lecter escapes from his holding cell and borrows the face of his guard, is the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, which is part of the University of Pittsburgh. As you stand outside the main entrance, walk around the right side of the building as this was the set of doors and steps you see in the movie scene.


 

MOXLEY'S DRUG STORE

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
LOCATION: HOMESTEAD, PA
MAP

This was the site of Moxley's Drug Store, the last of the counter type drug stores in Homestead. Because this store remained in its original condition until it closed in the late 80's or early 90's, this became one of the sets in the movie.


 

THE WRONG HOUSE

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
LOCATION: PITTSBURGH, PA
MAP

It took a while to find this location due to some bad information on it's whereabouts, but we finally struck gold after relying on our own instinct and traversing some really bad snow covered roads.


 

JAME GUMB/BUFFALO BILL'S HOUSE

DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5/FEB 6, 2022
LOCATION: PERRYOPOLIS, PA
MAP

Wow! Just wow! We got to stay the night in THE Buffalo Bill House!


This 2,400-square-foot brick Queen Anne Victorian house sits on about two grassy acres and is located in the tiny town of Perryopolis, some 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. Built in 1910, it looks much as it did in the movie that swept the Academy Awards back in 1992. The location where this house sits is just so beautiful and peaceful, with only the rumble of the freight train that passes by at regular intervals.


Chris Rowan, a film industry art director and prop stylist whose love for horror movies is so great, he bought the riverside house for $290,000 when it went on the market back in October, 2020, and officially opened the house as a vacation rental on Labor Day weekend, 2021. The interior is brimming with The Silence of the Lambs paraphernalia and images of the sinister death’s-head hawkmoths can be found in almost every room, whilst a copy of the hardcover cookbook Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook is fittingly on display in the dining room.


Production scouts exploring the area spotted what became Buffalo Bill’s House and liked its riverfront location near the tracks. They also liked the interior layout, with its central corridor and windows at both ends, which had the feel of a spider luring prey into its web. The then-owners agreed to let the producers use it and thank you notes from Jodie Foster and crew members can be seen displayed on the wall.



A lot of the surrounding area has not changed and you can still see the old weathered bus on the other side of the railroad tracks. Apparently it's where the owner of the house opposite stores his fishing gear.


The garage has had some repairs done to it since filming and is now in a much better condition. The couple who built the house in 1910 first lived in this huge garage, which they also operated as a dry goods store and the town post office.


 

Clarice encounters Buffalo Bill and the chase ensues...



Only a small portion of the basement was used for filming which was the descent of the stairs by Clarice.


 

The basement lair of Buffalo Bill is somewhat there at the house. The scenes featuring the pit in which Buffalo Bill imprisoned his victims was filmed on a set, but plans to install a reproduction in the coal cellar is on the cards. Until then, you can witness the re-created basement room where Buffalo Bill practiced his macabre sewing skills, and where he dressed and danced in the mirror surrounded by his many mannequin friends.



There is also a nice surprise as you descend into the basement. On triggering a sensor it sets off a disco ball and the Q Lazzarus song Goodbye Horses... well played and kudos for such a wonderful and fun idea, such an immersive experience indeed.


Buffalo Bill’s memorable dance was not in the screenplay, but it was in the original book. Ted Levine, the actor who played Jame Gumb, insisted that the scene be included because it helped explain the character better. Levine apparently needed a little liquid courage before shooting the memorable scene and took a couple shots of tequila before the cameras started rolling.



Even though the head of Benjamin Raspail was from a different location and scene in the movie, a handmade prop has been placed in the basement to pay homage, pretty cool huh!?



The coal cellar that will be recreated into the infamous holding pit. Clarice picks up a shovel in the movie to barricade a door and we noticed a couple of shovels had already been placed in there. Whether to help dig the pit or as props, we thought it was appropriate.



The design for the basement and pit used by Buffalo Bill was inspired by the real-life kidnappings and murders performed by Gary M. Heidnik.


 

In the attic of the house you can chill out in Buffalo Bill’s Playhouse, which is outfitted with a giant TV, movies (some on old skool VHS), a pool table and retro video arcades.


 

Even though we only had a short amount of time to take in this adventure, and dealing with the snow and cold, we had an amazing time. We shall be heading back to Pittsburgh again in the future to find the other Lambs movie locations that we did not have time to check out this time around. And for even more photo's of our The Silence of the Lambs adventure go check out our Facebook page.

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