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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

“Hannibal”: Ranking the 10 Most Gruesome Death Tableaus

For many of us, Netflix’s recent addition of Hannibal means an easy binge of one of horror’s best television shows of all time. The three-season run pushed the envelope far on what could be shown on network TV. It’s a stunning amalgam of drama, psychological horror, a crime procedural, and a meticulously crafted work of art based on Thomas Harris’s popular novel series.

The push and pull between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and the cunning Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) provided the heartbeat of the series. The grisly “death tableaus,” or graphic corpse works of art that provided the centerpieces to disturbing crime scenes, appeased gorehounds and tested the boundaries of what network television could air. They offered visceral visuals to enhance the twisted cat and mouse game between the show’s leads. As fans of the series are well aware, there’s no shortage of gruesome death tableaus either.

To whet your appetite for a rewatch, we rank the ten best death tableaus.

10) Large Heart – “Primavera” 

With Hannibal on the run in season three, the death tableaus tapered a bit. In the second episode of the season, Hannibal leaves Will a gift in the form of a giant heart propped up on swords. At first glance, it’s not nearly as elaborate or gruesome as many of the crime scenes featured on the show. But that’s before you realize that it’s the folded-up, contorted, and sewn corpse of Antony Dimmond (Tom Wisdom). Origami has never been quite as gory as it is here.  

9) Saber-tooth – “Naka-Choko” 

Featured in the second season’s tenth episode, Hannibal’s sway over Will meant things got dark. Very dark. Randall Tier, who fancied himself a saber-toothed beast, hunted and slaughtered his victims in a mechanical suit he created. Then he came after Will, and Will’s little dog. Will killed him in self-defense, but then he granted Randall his wish of becoming an animal: by merging his corpse with a cave bear skeleton.  

8) Human Cello – “Fromage”

The episode that demonstrated just how much killers sensed and sought each other out, “Fromage,” features a musically inclined serial killer that wanted to know what it’d be like to turn a human into a cello. The result? A victim with his throat torn out, the neck of a cello wedged into its gaping hole through the mouth. Yet another creatively unpleasant way to die.

7) Mushroom Garden – “Amuse-Bouche” 

This series wastes no time letting the audience know just how gnarly the murders will get. The second episode of the inaugural season introduces a serial killer that uses the corpses of his victims as fertilizer for his mushroom garden. As disturbing as that sounds, what’s worse is that Will Graham and the gang find one of the victims decaying yet still alive. Sort of alive. It’s gross.

6) Guardian Angels – “Coquilles” 

The death tableau in this season one episode was the first to truly showcase how beautiful they could be in an extremely morbid way. The bodies of a man and a woman are found positioned at the foot of a bed, kneeling and praying, with the skins of their back flayed out and hung like guardian angel wings. What makes this so artistic and moving is the reason behind it. The killer, Elliot Buddish, suffers from brain tumors and is afraid of dying in his sleep. So, he seeks out criminals and transforms them into angels to watch over him while he sleeps. It’s as tragic as it is warped.

5) Dragonfly – “Secondo”

In season three, Will heads to Hannibal’s family home in his search for the sophisticated cannibal. There he finds Chiyo (Tao Okamoto), a woman tasked by Hannibal years ago to watch over the man responsible for murdering Hannibal’s sister. Fulfilling his request makes Chiyo a prisoner there. To free her, Will sets loose the murderer who then attacks Chiyo, and she kills him in self-defense. Channeling the mind of the man he’s trying to catch, perhaps, Will transforms the body into a human firefly. The look on his face as he admires his work is as creepy as it is heartbreaking.

4) Horse – “Su-zakana” 

This work of art bends the rules a little, as it’s not the murderer responsible for it. Social worker Clark Ingram is the stereotypical mean psychopath, likely the most straightforward killer on the show. His crimes are discovered, however, when stable worker Peter (Jeremy Davies) symbolically tries to revive one of Clark’s victims by putting her body inside a dead horse, with a live bird sewn up inside her chest in place of a beating heart. Think Hannibal-style Turducken. This death tableau is a touching tribute by an off-kilter, sympathetic soul. That doesn’t make it any less morose.

3) The Human Eye – “Sakizuke” 

Though strange, nothing seems particularly grotesque about this tableau. Not from a distance at least. It’s so intricate and the composition so well thought out that it would earn critical praise if not for being a crime scene. Looking down from the peak of a silo, the killer has arranged his nude victims in the shape of a human eye, carefully coordinating them by skin color. Even the deaths aren’t as violent; the killer overdoses his victims with heroin. Yet, seeing a victim with a high tolerance to heroin rip himself away from the flesh of fellow victims he’d been sewn into is cringe-inducing. The visuals that burn into your mind about the rest of the corpses in the tableau are equally demented.

2) Damien Hirst Tribute – “Mukōzuke” 

Death is a central theme in artist Damien Hirst’s works. He rose to fame with a series of dead animals dissected numerous times lengthwise, with each piece preserved in glass. The precise type of art that exemplifies Hannibal. It’s no surprise that art would imitate life here, and it’s a gruesome sight to behold when taking into consideration just how painstaking the process was for the killer to display his victim in this way. The real kicker, though, and what makes it rank so high among the most gruesome death tableaus is that it’s personal. For the first time in the series, this victim is someone both the characters and the audience knew quite well- Beverly Katz. This one stung.

1) Totem Pole – “Trou Normand” 

For sheer effort, season one’s totem pole made out of human bodies is a winner. The spectacle of it all, and the imposing height, makes a solid case for the number one spot on this list. Also refreshing is that the killer behind it isn’t aiming for some artistic endeavor, but petty revenge. Most of the bodies were dug up; only one was a recent murder. That doesn’t make it any less impressive. Major bonus points: horror stalwart Lance Henriksen plays the killer. Be still our horror-loving hearts; this death tableau wins the top prize.


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