Psihopatski serijski morilec Buffalo Bill se hoče preko svojih ženskih žrtev spremeniti v žensko.V tem z oskarjem nagrajenim filmom Jodie Foster igra Clarice Starling, eno najboljših študentk Akademije FBI, ki si je z bistroumnimi analizami serijskih morilcev priborila status strokovnjakinje na tem področju. FBI jo zato povabi k raziskovanju primera izprijenega morilca z vzdevkom Buffalo Bill. Toda ta primer lahko pomaga razjasniti tudi briljantni psihiater dr. Hannibal Lecter, ki je obenem tudi nasilni psihopat in kanibal, hermetično zaprt in posebej varovan.
FBI trainee Clarice Starling works hard to advance her career, including trying to hide or put behind her West Virginia roots, of which if some knew would automatically classify her as being backward or white trash. After graduation, she aspires to work in the agency's Behavioral Science Unit under the leadership of Jack Crawford. While she is still a trainee, Crawford does ask her to question Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist imprisoned thus far for eight years in maximum security isolation for being a serial killer, he who cannibalized his victims. Clarice is able to figure out the assignment is to pick Lecter's brains to help them solve another serial murder case, that of someone coined by the media as Buffalo Bill who has so far killed five victims, all located in the eastern US, all young women who are slightly overweight especially around the hips, all who were drowned in natural bodies of water, and all who were stripped of large swaths of skin. She also figures that Crawford chose her as a woman to be able to trigger some emotional response from Lecter. After speaking to Lecter for the first time, she realizes that everything with him will be a psychological game with her having often to read between the very cryptic lines he provides. She has to decide how much she will play along as his request in return for talking to him is to expose herself emotionally to him. The case takes more dire turns when a sixth victim is discovered, this one from who they are able to retrieve a key piece of evidence if Lecter is being forthright as to its meaning. A potential seventh victim is high profile Catherine Martin, the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin, which places greater scrutiny on the case as they search for a hopefully still alive Catherine. Who may factor into what happens is Dr. Frederick Chilton, the warden at the prison, he an opportunist who sees the higher profile with Catherine, meaning a higher profile for himself if he can insert himself successfully int