Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Census Bloodbath: Silence Is Not Golden

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Year: 1980
Director: Denny Harris
Cast: Rebecca Balding, Barbara Steele, Brad Rearden
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Oh man, where do I even start with this one?

Silent Scream was not an easy film to make. Nor is it an easy film to watch, but I'll get to that in a bit. Principal photography began in 1977 (making the initial scripting of this movie take place long before Friday the 13th and it shows), but after a year it was plagued with endless reshoots, several recastings to incorporate big names, short production schedules, and multiple rewrites. Many shots are filmed with stand-ins (at several points a male crew member poses as several of the female characters) and the director had to pay for the rough cut out of pocket, only twelve minutes of which can actually be seen in the completed film.

After such a traumatic production, it would be such a relief if the film was actually good, but you know where I'm going with this, don't you?

She knows.

Silent Scream follows the escapades of young college student Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding), whose bowl haircut and androgynous name instantly let us know she's the Final Girl before the film hits the two minute mark. Evidently she didn't think to make sure she had a place to live and the dorms have all filled up by the time she comes to register.

She finds a last-minute room for rent in a house owned by the mysterious Engels family. Mason Engels (Brad Rearden) is a high school boy and with his chunky brown hair and dead eyes I can't decide whether he reminds me more of the Log Lady from Twin Peaks or the log itself. He takes care of the business because his mother (Yvonne De Carlo) is much too sick to work.

Mason's sister Victoria (Barbara Steele, who should not be in this movie. How this happened I'll never know) is said with a knowing glance to be off in the East Coast and Scotty is given her room. Without further ado we get to Meet the Meat, and man, there just is not a lot of meat to go around these days.

There's Doris (Julie Andelman), a chunky and spunky sweetheart; Peter Ransom III (John Widelock), a privileged young heir wearing a windbreaker that wouldn't be out of place at a Village People concert; and Jack (Steve Doubet), a motorcycle-riding dreamboat - one of those "only hot in the 80's" types.

Mason tells Scotty to be quiet when she passes his mother's room, for fear of disturbing her. I feel shades of Psycho but the movie throws up a massive twist when it turns out his mom isn't actually dead. Oh well.

Honestly, a Psycho retread is the best I could've hoped for.

Doris matchmakes the hell out of their little group and she and Peter and Jack and Scotty go on a double date. When night falls, the real terror begins. 

Oh, sorry, did you think I meant it was scary? No, I was referring to the cinematography. Every set is swathed in a thick blanket of darkness to ensure that we don't see anything unsavory. Or... anything. Ever again. 

At one point there is a solid seven seconds of total blackness and a good five minutes of the film are not much better, featuring one point of light or, if you're lucky, the dim outline of a dress. Most of the time all I could see was my own reflection in the computer screen.

An artist's rendering of the film.

Peter gets killed on the beach at knifepoint and I get the bit of Psycho I was so yearning for a couple paragraphs ago. Knife goes up and down, score shrieks shrilly. Check and mate. Now that's all fine and dandy for Psycho. Hitchcock didn't need to show a lot of blood. His raw talent allowed him to imbue the scene with terror without resorting to gore. 

This movie is not Psycho. Where most slasher films compensate for their lack of true scariness by throwing buckets of blood on set, Silent Scream is downright parsimonious, as if they bought a thimble of stage blood and were determined to make it last.

Accompanying the tidal waves of darkness and the inexplicable absence of tidal waves of viscera is a tremendously ugly VHS transfer. At one point my DVD's frame was so fuzzy, I thought I was watching Poltergeist for a second.

So, back to the movie. Jack and Scotty go for a swim at the exact same beach where Peter died. Nothing happens.

Mason watches a TV show depicting a woman being raped. This is weird, but nothing happens.

Mason and his mom share intense staircase glances after the cops come by to investigate. Nothing happens.

In case you haven't picked up on the pattern, Silent Scream is exceedingly dull affair.

Its three major movie sins (poor video quality, lack of gore, and monotony) form a triumvirate of torture and pain from which the movie can not break free.

This is what I felt like by the 45 minute mark.

The most notable scene in the film is when Scotty and Jack have sex, if only because it's so uncommon for a Final Girl to be involved in such lecherous activity. So after meandering around for a little bit, the movie finds a foothold when Doris is killed in the basement and Scotty is kidnapped by Victoria, who it turns out has been hiding in the attic this whole time.

What could've been an OK Final Girl sequence is instead superseded by weird family drama as a series of revelations shows that Victoria once attempted suicide after attempting to murder a cheating boyfriend. She was institutionalized and lobotomized, leaving her mute. Also she's Mason's mom.

Yeah, I don't know either. It's weird.

Silent Scream is really not much of a slasher. Only two of the killings count as true body count deaths (they were perpetrated by the killer with a sharp weapon), two more people are killed by gun (come on! This is a slasher! Let's get real), there is absolutely no even semi-reasonable motive, and the title and tagline don't make any sense. There's nothing quiet about any of this.

Mad Brennan is mad he spent money on this DVD.

On a more positive note, the acting really doesn't suck. Balding is a likable lead and Steele isn't exactly turning in her best work but in a film of this magnitude she's an obvious shining star.

Fun Fact: I watched the first minute and a half of this film on mute accidentally and I didn't notice because I figured it was supposed to be "Silent."

Killer: Victoria Engels (Barbara Steele)
Final Girl: Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding)
Best Kill: Doris dies at the exact moment that Scotty orgasms, her moans masking her friend's screams.
Sign of the Times: $75 a month for rent is much too high. Scotty practically has a heart attack when she finds out.
Scariest Moment: Scotty is pulled through a hole into a secret room in the attic.
Weirdest Moment: Mason dresses in his father's army uniform and takes on his persona. Also he shoots his mom.
Champion Dialogue: "How about a small orgy?"
Body Count: 5; 2 killed by Victoria, 2 killed by Mason, and Victoria herself. Weaksauce.
  1. Peter is stabbed to death.
  2. Doris is stabbed to death.
  3. Mrs. Engels is shot to death.
  4. Victoria is pushed onto her own knife.
  5. Mason is shot to death. 
TL;DR: Silent Scream is tedious at best with murky cinematography and no real plot to speak of.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1287

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