The Abyss Stares Back At You: Manhunter

The Abyss Stares Back At You: Manhunter

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Optimum Home Entertainment

Release date: September 26th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 115 minutes

Year of production: 1986

Writer and director: Michael Mann
Producer: Richard Roth
Music: Michel Rubini, The Reds

Cast: William L. Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, David Seaman, Michael Talbott, Benjamin Hendrickson

I’ve always felt that the blueprint for Mulder and Scully in Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993-2002) could be found in Manhunter with Will Graham (William Petersen) and then a few years later with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs (1992).

Whether or not those similarities arose as a conscious decision by Carter is beside the point, they’re all great characters created by both writers (Carter and Thomas Harris) but with one thing in common – their commitment to their work.


As a profiler, Graham is able to step out of himself and into the minds of the killers he’s tracking. Sometimes this ability frightens him and he wonders if there’ll come a point when he’ll no longer be able to separate the killer from the profiler when he goes home to his family.

After helping to successfully put away Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox), Graham retires but a new spate of killings draw him out of the comfortable seaside life he shares with his wife and young son. A new killer, dubbed “The Tooth Fairy” by the media, has been slaying entire families and his M.O. is so bizarre that it’s leaving local law enforcement scratching their heads.


Graham realises that if he’s to catch the killer, he needs the help of his old nemesis Dr. Lecter, and so a dangerous game ensues where everyone – cops, media, innocent bystanders – play right into the killer’s hands… Whichever killer that might be.

The first time I saw Manhunter, I was at an impressionable age and while I found utterly terrifying I came to fall in love with the idea of becoming a profiler just like Graham, and then later on like Mulder. That ability to look at a piece of evidence and to then map out an entire sketch of that person’s life, motives and next possible actions was something that came across very well here… [un]fortunately I never followed it through.


Cinematographer Dante Spinotti heightens the mood with his lighting and offtempo/staccato style of filming achieved by using various cameras shooting at different speeds for the final battle while Mann’s direction aids the actors to give some amazing performances here.

While it’s hard to imagine Lecter being played by anyone else but Hopkins, Cox’s early version is not bad but it’s overshadowed by the film’s two main leads, Petersen and Noonan.

Another aspect of Manhunter that really stands out is the film’s music. With its score by Michel Rubini and The Reds, it’s reminiscent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream yet there’s something much edgier to its dreamlike quality and synth-driven soundscapes. It underscores the suspense and horror of what’s happening perfectly but it also makes its quieter moments a serene experience.


  • Audio Commentary
  • Trailer (02:06)
  • Inside Manhunter (17:23)
  • The Manhunter Look (10:11)

Manhunter has inspired me in so many ways in the years that passed since I first saw it, and while I might not have become profiler, the film was certainly at the forefront of my mind when I began writing music and learning how to set up scenes with regard to lighting and editing in post.

Visually and audibly, it’s one of the best thrillers to have come out of the 80’s and as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this Blu-ray release from Optimum Home Entertainment makes good uses of some of the available featurettes while offering a sharp, clear, full colour palette that capitalises on Spinotti’s luscious use of saturated tones for its HD conversion.

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.