For the past couple of weeks, we have been investigating moths. We have explored the symbolism of moths and found examples of moths in poetry and literature. Today we are going to look at how moths have infiltrated the movies.
The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs was released in 1991 and tells the story of an F.B.I. cadet who enlists the help of an incarcerated cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, to help catch another serial killer. (1) This other killer, who goes by the name Buffalo Bill, is the reason behind the moth on the movie poster.
To learn about this moth, I turned to the Butterfly Conservation website for more information. In a post titled “Just What is Hannibal Lecter’s Link With Moths” Les Hill explains,
“The species featured on the film’s famous poster appears on first glance to be a Death’s Head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos – the main identification clue being the white discal spot. In Archerontia styx, (one of three species of Death’s Head), which it is widely accepted is the featured species in the film, the discal spot is orange. The skull-like marking is also darker in A. styx; but, this feature is obscured by superimposing a copy of a photograph entitled In Voluptas Mors by Philippe Halsman; the original photo features surrealist artist Salvador Dalí with seven women posing to make a skull, itself inspired by a Dalí drawing – Human Skull Consisting of Seven Naked Women’s Bodies.”(2)
Although the movie poster uses a Death’s Head Hawkmoth, the original book written by Thomas Harris uses the Black Witch Moth.
In the original story, Buffalo Bill uses the pupa of the Black Witch Moth as his calling card. He places the pupa in the mouth of his victims. The moth was changed from Black Witch Moth to Death’s Head Hawkmoth during the production of the film.
An interesting side note about the Death’s Head Hawkmoth is that they squeak when they are threatened. They make this noise by inflating and deflating a chamber in their head called the pharynx.(3)
Godzilla vs. Mothra
In 1992, Godzilla vs Mothra was released. In this film Japan is caught in the middle of a three-way battle between Godzilla, the divine Mothra, and her dark counterpart Battra.(4)
The writers at Monster Fandom explain that Mothra “is a giant moth goddess and the most common recurring monster in the Godzilla series besides Godzilla himself. Unlike most other monsters in the series, Mothra is always on the side of good.”(5) Monster Fandom further explains Mothra’s legacy by stating:
Mothra is an ancient moth goddess that resides on the tropical paradise Infant Island. She serves as the guardian of a group of natives on the island. . . Mothra is an immortal deity, and despite having died multiple times she is always reborn through her egg. Mothra has protected the planet many times from monsters like King Ghidorah and sometimes has been put in conflict with Godzilla. Other times, Mothra has worked alongside Godzilla in order to fight off alien invasions.
Mothra has appeared in 16 films since 1961 and her most recent appearance was in the 2019 film Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
The Mothman Prophecies
The Mothman Prophecies film is based on a 1975 book written by parapsychologist John Keel. In this book, Keel recounts the strange events that occurred in 1966 at Points Pleasant West Virginia. As the story goes, Point Pleasant was visited by a tall dark man who was seen “prowling outside houses with his red eyes or flying overhead on leathery wings” (6) After multiple reports of sighting is this “man”, local reporter Mary Haye “consolidated all of these various reports into a single perpetrator that she dubbed the Mothman.”(6)
Mothman’s most notable interaction involves 4 kids in a car. Below is a retelling of this story by Skeptoid.com:
They lived in the tiny town of Point Pleasant, WV, and drove late at night to the local “lovers’ lane” called the TNT plant, a deserted explosives manufacturing and storage facility seven miles outside of Point Pleasant in the woods. While driving they passed a pair of red eyes by the roadside. They panicked and tried to get away, but the red eyes followed them, at speeds they reported of 100 mph. They reported to the local police, who said they knew the kids to be trustworthy witnesses, that the eyes belonged to a man up to seven feet tall, with wings folded on his back.
Keel’s book was turned into a movie in 2002. In this movie, Richard Gere plays John Klein, a reporter who is researching the legend of Mothman. The basic plot of the film is as follows:
“Still shaken by the death of his wife two years earlier in a mysterious accident, Klein is sent to cover a news piece and ends up inexplicably finding himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where there have been sightings of an unusual creature and other unexplained phenomena. As he becomes increasingly drawn into mysterious forces at work, he hopes they can reconnect him to his wife, while the local sheriff (Linney) becomes concerned about his obsessions.” (7)
Unfortunately, this movie received mixed reviews from critics.
These three moth-related films all tap into the human fascination with moths and create memorable characters that have stood the test of time. The Silence of the Lambs film poster is iconic and it is in part because of the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Mothra was introduced to moviegoers in 1961 and continues to be a part of the Godzilla narrative, and The Mothman captured the imagination of the people of Point Pleasant so much that they even created a statue to memorialize the stories.
Even though only one of these moths is a “real” moth, I think they all have the potential to inspire curiosity and interest in these wonderful insects.
- IMDB: Silence of the Lambs
- ButterflyConservation.org: Just What is Hannibal Lecter’s Link with Moths.
- BBC-Earth: The Sinister Moth From Silence of the Lambs can Squeak
- IMBD: Godzilla vs. Mothra
- Monster Fandom: Mothra
- Skeptoid: The Mothman Cometh
- Wikipedia: Mothman Prophecies
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I remember an old grade-B sci fi movie that feature aliens who had killer moths. They would send the moths through the window to the unsuspecting victim. It put me off from moths for a number of years.
Oh yes, I can see how that could happen! Hopefully, you have been able work through that experience a bit. Thanks for sharing!
What a fun post, Mark! I was reading about a moth last week that was larger than our local bats, but I already forgot what it was. It made me think of you and all your moth posts recently. I was going to link back to it for you, but it got orphaned at some random waystation and my brain of a train just keeps moving full steam ahead.
Hi Melanie, I totally understand that! I often end up down going down some obscure research path and forget what I am supposed to be doing. That is cool that there is a large moth in the Pacific northwest. Thanks for the comment.
Perhaps we can carry some edited highlights from your moth articles, Mark, and link back to your site to the full articles? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoyed these!
Hi Andrew, I will reach out later on today. Talk soon.
When I saw the title of your post, the moth from The Silence of the Lambs immediately came to mind. That film has, up till now, remained the scariest film I’ve ever seen. The Death’s Head Hawkmoth is impressive!
Hi Lesley, It is a disturbing film! I am always fascinated about the process behind the film development. Like why did they change to the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, other than it makes a really great poster.
I can only think that they used the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, with its skull marking, because it would have more obvious implications to the general public. The marketing people maybe believe that not many of us are clever enough to work anything else out no matter how brilliant the poster is. 😂
Absolutely fascinating, thank you for sharing ☺️ I never questioned the significance of The Silence of the Lambs image but I’m so glad you explained it 👌
Hi Sunra, I am glad you enjoyed it! Definitely an interesting story.