Have you ever wanted to see what it would look like if you tried to turn a corpse into a playable musical instrument? What about making a beehive out of a human skull, or using comatose bodies to fertilize a mushroom garden? If your answer is no, absolutely not, to all of these questions, I want to congratulate you on being of sound body and mind. If your answer is yes, you’re in luck.
The NBC TV show Hannibal, canceled in 2015 after just three seasons, is coming to Netflix in June. And I’m here to recommend that you watch it if horror is your bag. The series is loosely based on Thomas Harris’s novels like the Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, focusing on FBI investigator Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy. Graham is gifted at identifying psychopaths, with episodes focusing on trying to capture some bizarre serial killer. He enlists the help of forensic psychologist Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen), who is, surprise, a cannibal and serial killer himself! Graham’s job gets more difficult when a copycat killer begins to replicate the very murders he’s trying to solve, and I don’t think I’m spoiling much by saying that Lecter doesn’t help the situation.
Let me be clear: Hannibal is batshit. Created by Pushing Daisies’ Bryan Fuller, the show has a distinctive, darkly baroque visual style that feels rare for television. It’s also funny, winking at itself often, and brimming with intense sexual tension between Graham and Lecter. But what’s most incredible about Hannibal is how insanely disgusting and ambitious it was for an NBC show. The crimes Graham has to investigate get increasingly crazier, not to mention the elaborate cannibal meals Lector cooks up every episode, and the show starts to feel like Law & Order: SVU as directed by David Cronenberg. It’s a hard show to stomach, but its body horror can be more poetic than shocking. Every episode you’ll ask, how the hell did this ever air?
Hannibal’s inspired gore, whether it’s your cup of tea or not, feels rare these days. In the years since Hannibal aired, gruesome crime shows have proliferated; True Detective, Sharp Objects, Mindhunter. You can open up any streaming app today and find dozens of documentaries and podcasts dedicated to murderers famous and obscure. But there’s absolutely nothing realistic about Hannibal’s violence. It doesn’t have the same cheap, blinding effect as so many shows that mine real human cruelty for entertainment value as if all that makes for great horror is a cold replication of a crime scene. It’s how beautiful Hannibal can be, from shots of Lecter’s decadent meat-based meals to its cinematic crime scenes, that makes it so scary.