When “The Silence of the Lambs” was released in 1991, viewers gathered in theaters around the world and watched in horror as Hannibal Lecter escaped the captivity of his massive one-man cage.
Pittsburgh moviegoers might have recognized this scene’s setting as the ballroom in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. John McCabe, Soldiers and Sailors’ president and CEO, said that the film gave the museum more exposure than expected.
“This put on us the map for some folks,” McCabe said.
That’s why for its third Over-21 Night at Soldiers and Sailors, the museum will reimagine the terror of the famous cage scene right where it was originally filmed, using both a life-size reconstruction of Lecter’s cage as well as a team of actors playing roles from the legendary thriller.
The film’s 25th anniversary celebration will be hosted at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum on Thursday, Oct. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event costs $10 in advance and $15 at the door and will also include a psychic medium and a tarot card reader to add to the Halloween theme. There will also be caricature sketches for sale.
McCabe said that the museum’s Over-21 Nights exist to let visitors “see the museum in a different way” than they may be used to. These special night events include a cash bar and hors d’oeuvres, and for Thursday’s “The Silence of the Lambs” tribute, guests are even invited to sport their Halloween costumes. A DJ will be in attendance to run a dance floor, which will be open to the event goers.
Stand-ins for film characters Hannibal Lecter and Detective Starling will mingle with the crowd and attendees will be able to approach Lecter in his model cage to take selfies with the crazed maniac himself.
Actors will also portray Anthony Hopkins’ and Jodie Foster’s lead roles and smaller parts including the military men from the film. Lisa Petitta, a historian from the Soldiers and Sailors staff, attracted the attention of one the original actors from the film through an open casting call on Facebook.
“We’re so excited to have him. He’ll be wearing a military uniform similar to the one he actually wore in the film,” said Pettita.
In preparation for the event, McCabe reached out to the staff of the well-known Hundred Acres Manor haunted house in Pittsburgh’s South Park to see if they would be interested in building a replica of Hannibal’s cage. The team at Hundred Acres Manor got on board with McCabe’s idea and agreed to reproduce the set.
Tyler Kozar, artistic director of promotion and design at Hundred Acres Manor, said that when building the cage, their team did as much research as possible to make their replica true to the original design. They studied movie shots, photos and trailers until they felt they had firm grasp on all of the cage’s minute details.
“We studied really anything we could get our hands on,” Kozar said, “even if there’s a big mark or scratch, we [tried] to reproduce it.”
Kozar added that the cage had to be constructed very carefully. Since the structure has to be set up and broken down before and after the event, it was built in over 30 distinct pieces. The Hundred Acres Manor team was surprised to find in its research, however, that the cage may have actually been built as one piece onsite at Soldiers and Sailors during the original filming.
Examples of the film being modified to fit its environment can be found all around Pittsburgh. Scott Lloyd, homeowner of Buffalo Bill’s house in the film, said the pit in which the sinister villain kept his victims was actually based on a pit that filmmakers found after production had begun.
“That infamous pit is a copy of an old well that was out on my property,” said Lloyd. The filmmakers were looking for a pit, and Lloyd exclaimed, “‘Hey, I got one right out there.’”
At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where the moth research scene was filmed, entomologist John Rawlins recalls how director Jonathan Demme first approached him, asking for help with the script and stage direction.
“I had a number of corrections and changes to the script and set directions which would not have been obvious to someone else,” said Rawlins. He earned an accredited role as Scientific Advisor.
Rawlins had one gripe with the script that went unchanged.
“In the book, there was a little flirtation between Jodie Foster’s character and the entomologists,” said Rawlins. Filmmakers cut that from the film adaptation.
In addition to “The Silence of the Lambs” theme, Soldiers and Sailors will also stay true to its mission of honoring US service members. They will be housing multiple storytellers from both the Civil War and World War II eras for the attendees to interact with throughout the night. The Civil War storyteller will tell Civil War ghost stories, and the World War II storyteller will show off his spine-chilling medical equipment, both in Halloween spirit.
This is Soldiers and Sailors third Over-21 Night. The first was American History-themed and the second was 1941 Hawaii-themed. They plan to keep the events running, McCabe said, because they add a live-action element to the traditional museum experience.
“It’s like an artifact that comes to life,” McCabe said.