Entertainment

We Interviewed the Realtor Who Sold the 'Silence of the Lambs' House

The western Pennsylvania house is for sale again, and it's less terrifying than you may think.
October 7, 2020, 3:12pm
buffalo bill's house from silence of the lambs
Photos by Alexis Fatalsky 

Shortly after Ted Levine was cast as Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb, The Silence of the Lambs' terrifying moth importer-slash-murderer, he met with the film's location scouts to see where his character would be living. "Everything was going to be shot near Pittsburgh, and they're showing me these houses," he told the Chicago Reader just before the flick's 1991 theatrical release.

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"They say, 'This house may be Gumb's house.' I'm thinking, this house looks really familiar. They told me, 'We found this really awful, godforsaken coal-mining town on the Ohio River.' And I said, 'Bellaire, Ohio'? And they said yes. I grew up in Bellaire [and] I didn't want to come back to my hometown, presenting it as this lair of serial killers."

In the end, the filmmakers put Gumb in a Queen Anne-style house 70 miles to the west of Bellaire, in Perryopolis, Pennsylvania. The three-story house sat on almost two acres of land, and it was nondescript enough to pass for small-town Ohio. Now that same place can be yours, for just over $298,000.

The 2,334 square foot, 110-year-old property is on the market again, just four years after its current owner purchased it. It doesn't have a dry well or a pulley-operated lotion basket, but it does have one horrifying feature: only one bathroom, despite having four bedrooms and a finished attic. (No, it's not in the basement, nor does it have what's left of Mrs. Lippman in it.)

When the house was put up for sale in 2015, its association with the five-time Academy Award-winning film made it the second most popular listing on Realtor.com—but all of those curiosity-driven clicks didn't translate into a lot of real interest.

"I did not have a lot of buyers. I had a lot of reporters," Dianne Wilk, the RE/MAX agent who previously sold the house told VICE. Wilks is not selling the house this time around—Eileen Allen and Shannon Assad from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, who provided the images in this story, are responsible for that—but Wilks had quite an experience selling the property before. "I put it on the market on a Thursday, and my family and I went on vacation. The phone immediately started ringing and I got all excited… but it was literally over 100 calls from reporters, or people from Germany, or somebody from Brazil. People would say. 'I saw it on the internet, cool house, thumbs up, best of luck!'"

The sellers at that time were Scott and Barbara Lloyd, who had lived in the house since 1976, and were the owners when they temporarily turned the place over to Buffalo Bill. "[The location scouts] wanted a house where they could look from the front door all the way into the kitchen. That's the way the book is written, and there were certain things that they needed," Wilk said.

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"They hired college students to go out and find what they wanted, and they literally knocked on the Lloyds' door and said who they represented and asked if they could take a look around. Barbara Lloyd always joked that it was like a clown car because they just opened the door and everybody came rolling into the house."

Wilk said that the couple was "thrown out" during filming, and the set designers started to work making the place look like a killer's filthy, neglected lair. "They painted the kitchen this unusual green color and put up wallpaper that was more era-specific, and then they destroyed it to make it look like somebody had smoked for years and years," she said.

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"They tried to make the house look very isolated and like everything was overgrown. It was just after the Christmas holiday, and they found Christmas trees that weren't sold. They brought them down, stacked them around the house and Scott [Lloyd] helped them figure out how to get these Christmas trees to stand up so it looked like there were all of these overgrown bushes around the house."

The interior of the house is seen near the end of the film, when FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) knocks on the door and asks Gumb a few questions about a murder victim. She walks inside while Gumb looks for a business card, and you can see the home's real—if artificially disheveled—foyer, dining room, and kitchen. Then Starling sees a death's head hawkmoth and realizes that she probably has bigger problems than this dude's inefficient filing system.

"The Lloyds painted the kitchen back with a normal color because it was a putrid green," Wilks said. "But they did leave a little sliver of that green on the door jamb going down to the basement." (Although all of the lotion-slicked basement scenes were filmed on a soundstage, there is a set of train tracks that run crazy-close to the front yard. Those are visible in the flick too.)

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Wilks eventually sold the house for $195,000, which was significantly lower than its original $300,000 listing price. "Back then, when we priced the home, we didn't know if the movie would have an effect on its value," she said. "The area is beautiful but a little out of the way, and it does only have one bathroom. I'm sure if you took that home and put it in a Pittsburgh neighborhood like Shadyside, it would be worth a million dollars. It's a great home, a great old lady."

Silence of the Lambs wasn't even in wide-release when Levine vowed that he'd never play a man like Buffalo Bill again. "I drove myself nuts with this character," he said. "I lived with this son of a bitch."

And for under $300 grand, you can kind of live with him too.