Hannibal, the long-awaited sequel to the grisly 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs is cooking up the hottest Internet and media buzz since the 1999 Star Wars "prequel".
Some $80 million and 18 months in the making, the film returns to the silver screen on February 9 for what promises to be a tale more stomach churning than ever. As in its predecessor, this film will feature spine-chilling serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
The movie, directed by Ridley Scott, director of Alien, and starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as the soft-spoken embodiment of evil charm, has not yet been reviewed.
But movie trailers and rave notices on the Internet after a handful of test screenings have left fans expecting a gourmet feast from the psychopathic murderer with a taste for human flesh.
The closely guarded ending "is better left to be experienced on the big screen than in print," wrote one fan on the Ain't It Cool Web site. "But I'll give you these words to think about; 'wild boars', 'alive guy with exposed brain' and 'guts'."
"The girl next to me was freaking out and covering her eyes. These guys are serious," wrote another impressed Internet fan. "It cannot get here soon enough."
Sources at MGM studios say that Hannibal may post the most lucrative opening of any film in the company's history, topping the $35 million of the last James Bond movie.
And just to ensure the "must see" factor, the movie's stars and director have been making serial appearances on television, newspapers and magazines.
As Hopkins, using his eerie new catch phrase might say, "goody-goody".
"It's a bit of a gamble doing a sequel," the Oscar-winning actor told Time magazine last week. "I don't want to think about it. I learn my lines, show up, make sure the check is in the mail."
Most of the plot is already well known from the 1999 best-selling book by Thomas Harris, which is set 10 years after Hannibal Lecter escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.
Producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had blundered by passing on the script for Silence of the Lambs a decade ago, quickly bought the book rights for the sequel for a record $10 million.
But both Lambs director Jonathan Demme and Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster declined to sign up for the sequel because it was too grisly, and David Mamet's script was handed over for a rewrite by Steve Zaillian.
Julianne Moore plays FBI agent Clarice Starling - who does not fall in love with Hannibal and run off with him for a new life in South America, as happened in the book.
After a 10-year wait, some tantalizing hints and a barrage of hype - journalists have been sent tapes of Hannibal's hissing voice and copies of the Joy of Cooking with a 'bon appetit' from Lecter - the silence will finally be brken on Feb. 9.
Written By Jill Serjeant ©MMI Reuters Limited. All Rights Reserved