Movies & Television

Who is Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs? Is He Based on a Real Killer?

**Warning – The following content contains graphic descriptions of serial killer MO’s that may be disturbing for some readers**

With the Halloween season approaching, horror fans are digging out their favorite movies to binge during the month of October and The Silence of the Lambs is always a popular one. We focus on one of the antagonists of the movie, Buffalo Bill, and reveal if the character is based on a real-life serial killer.

The Silence of the Lambs was a 1991 psychological horror directed by Jonathan Demme, adapting the 1988 novel of the same name by Thomas Harris. The feature has remained one of the most critically-acclaimed horrors and starred Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling.

Demme’s movie paved the way for many other Hannibal Lecter adaptations and spin-offs which we will also outline below.

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Who is Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs?

Jame Gumb, known by his alias Buffalo Bill, was a character and main antagonist of Harris’ novel, portrayed by Ted Levine in the movie adaptation.

Gumb’s childhood was penned to be traumatic, with Lecter himself stating that his descent into crime was a product of “years of systematic abuse.”

The killer’s modus operandi included luring women by pretending to be injured and knocking them out, before taking them home to starve in a basement well. Once the victim’s skin became loose from the weight loss, he would skin them in order to make a “woman suit.”

The nickname Buffalo Bill was issued by the homicide police after American soldier and showman Buffalo Bill Cody, who was known to have scalped a Cheyenne Warrior.

Gumb is not transexual, however, the killer struggled with his own identity and showed signs of gender dysphoria, aiming to complete his “transformation” into a woman.

Silence of the Lambs – Cr. MGM, YouTube.

Is Buffalo Bill Based on a Real Killer?

No, Buffalo Bill is a fictional character created by Harris, however, various parts of Gumb’s MO were inspired by real-life serial killers.

Ed Gein, the killer who inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, was the most notorious figure to inspire Buffalo Bill, known for keeping trophies of his victims and fashioning suits, masks, and objects from the flesh of his abductees.

Another killer who influenced Buffalo Bill’s creation is Gary Heidnik, who had a similar penchant for capturing women and holding them in a house of horrors to Buffalo Bill’s. 

Hannibal Lecter’s Live-Action Timeline

There are five live-action movies portraying the life and crimes of the cannibal Hannibal Lecter, spanning from 1986 to 2007.

Below, we list these films in chronological order to lay out the linear events surrounding Lecter:

  1. Hannibal Rising (2007)
  2. Red Dragon (2002)
  3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  4. Hannibal (2001)
  5. Manhunter (1986)

Additional Hannibal Lecter content includes the popular 2013 series Hannibal starring Mads Mikkelsen and the 2021 series Clarice.

Furthermore, Harris’ books include Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2006).

By Jo Craig – [email protected]

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Jo Craig
@shingeekyjo

Being a pop culture writer and a proud geek of all trades, Jo loves to dissect fandoms and marvel at their insides. The entirety of The Lord of the Rings, superhero origins, the Ghost of Tsushima score, the Wings of Freedom, and the endless search for a sleepy Tyranitar are but a few of Jo's passions, with a penchant for contributing to the geek culture community.

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