‘Hannibal’: 1 Crime Scene Featured Actual Human Bodies

Hannibal — starring Mads Mikkelsen as the eponymous villain and Hugh Dancy as an FBI special investigator — premiered on NBC in 2013.

By the time its third and final season aired, the psychological horror-thriller TV show had received widespread critical acclaim and picked up an Emmy nomination, along with nominations for Satellite Awards, Saturn Awards, and numerous other accolades.

Critics and audiences alike were drawn to the drama’s intricate storylines and realistic depiction of gore. But in some cases, the realism of the show’s bloody scenes was because the show’s director and writers chose to use real human bodies.

‘Hannibal’ is based on the original novels, not the blockbuster movie adaptations

NBC’s drama is based on a set of three novels by author Thomas Harris, and not the series of Hollywood adaptations that began with 2001’s Silence of the Lambs starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.

Mikkelsen stars as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a forensic psychiatrist. Meanwhile, Dancy is Will Graham, an FBI agent working on a serial killer case. Graham finds the case psychologically taxing, so his FBI boss Jack Crawford (played by Laurence Fishburne) has him supervised by Dr. Lecter. There was just one catch: Dr. Lecter is a cannibal and a serial killer himself.

The show follows Graham’s journey as he falls under the influence of the sadistic doctor.

‘Hannibal’ was canceled after three seasons

Mads Mikkelsen
Mads Mikkelsen | Luca Carlino/NurPhoto

When Hannibal premiered, critics praised it. For example, Variety reviewed it and said that Hannibal was “the tastiest drama the network has introduced in awhile.” The magazine went on to specifically highlight the show’s “unsettling atmosphere” and “creepy tone.”

Similarly, CBR called it “one of network television’s most acclaimed shows of the past decade.” Thus, fans were shocked when NBC killed the show after only three seasons.

CBR reports that the reason for Hannibal‘s cancellation are complex, in part due to low ratings. “Even though the show proved that a great Hannibal story could be told without Hopkins’ Lecter or Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, their absence didn’t help draw in audiences,” notes the outlet. “What also didn’t help was the alleged piracy of the show, according to producer Martha De Laurentiis, who believes around one-third of the audience was illegally watching the show, hurting ratings in the long run.”

Despite its short run, critics’ praise of Hannibal‘s gore and realism had a surprising twist. 

The gore that critics praised was more real than audiences realized

Variety said that Hannibal was “visually arresting” with “[the director’s] preoccupation with death…put on comic display.” And CBR called out the show’s “gruesome cannibalistic stories combined with stylish visuals.”

It turns out that there was more truth to what was on screen than first meets the eye. 

In the second season of Hannibal, a serial killer kills numerous victims and creates a giant mural of dead bodies. It was one of the biggest crime scenes in the show’s three-season arc. And there’s a reason why the crime scene looked so realistic: All the bodies on display were real humans.

“While the production used a computer program…to design the layout of the bodies beforehand, when it came time to actually film the scene there was no substitute for the real thing,” reports Mental Floss. The site explains that dozens of people were stripped down, arranged in a pattern on the ground, and painted.

“They warmed the bottom of the floor…so they wouldn’t succumb to the cold,” Fishburne is quoted by Mental Floss. “And you walk into that room and you’re hit immediately with all the scent of human flesh.”

RELATED: After ‘Hannibal’: What’s Next For the Cast?

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