Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Omega Woman

Year: 1984
Director: Simon Nuchtern
Cast: Belinda Montgomery, Solly Marx, David Greenan
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Silent Madness begins with the scariest of all horror movie plot developments: a clerical error. When homicidal maniac Howard Johns (Solly Marx, a stunt performer from Death Spa) is accidentally released from Manhattan's Cresthaven Hospital rather than the mild-mannered John Howard, he instantly returns to the scene of his famous sorority girl murders: Barrington, New Jersey. Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery) decides to chase him down, because nobody at her hospital, especially the slimy maximum security wing director Dr. Kruger (Roderick Cook), seems to much care about the situation. She finds herself teaming up with local reporter Mark McGowan (David Greenan) to infiltrate the Delta Omega sorority and try to catch this killer once and for all, protecting the sorority girls including the prudish Jane (Katherine Kamhi of Sleepaway Camp), all while facing naysayers and nonbelievers like the lazy Sheriff Liggett (Sydney Lassick of Pandemonium and The Unseen) at every turn.

Analysis: I don't really understand why Silent Madness doesn't have a huge reputation, even within the slasher community. If nothing else, it's the only other slasher movie released in 3-D during the boom in the early '80s, other than Friday the 13th Part 3-D. It's also, after The Mutilator, the only other slasher I've ever heard of to be set explicitly during Fall Break. Those two factors should be enough to get Silent Madness circulating, even if the film wasn't good at all. And it's kind of good! Color me surprised!

Notice I didn't say great, however. It certainly has its faults both as a slasher and a 3-D film. For one thing, it lacks a clear organizing principle to guide the body count. For a film that is largely set in a sorority house, it spends far too little time establishing young co-eds and letting them get stabbed with sharp implements. Instead, it heavily weights scenes of hospital intrigue as Dr. Gilmore attempts to uncover a conspiracy, scenes that are dialogue rich and interest poor, especially considering how goddamn obvious it is that Dr. Kruger is lying, even on the page (there are multiple moments where he and another doctor trip over themselves trying to correct a blatant contradiction in their stories).

It also doesn't really make sense why they thought this film would be interesting in 3-D, as most of the kills aren't particularly geared to shine within that visual format. However, the 3-D of it all results in a variety of incredibly appealing deep focus compositions that show off the detailed production design. It's not an atmospheric movie by an stretch of the imagination. It's cheerily lit and full of bright colors that pop off the screen, even in 2-D. However, it not only visually legible (which is not a quality to overrate in a mid-80's slasher) but absolutely aesthetically pleasurable from top to bottom. The Americana designs of the buildings of Barrington are put to full use, and the interiors are excellent and lively spaces that the 3-D allows viewers to explore in full force.

The kills don't reflect the same level of care and attention that the rest of the film does, unfortunately. They're not very bloody (the MPAA crackdowns of previous years had really come to a fore here), they're frequently awkwardly framed (try as he might, Solly Marx does not nail a scene where he's asked to swing a sledge directly into the camera without breaking it), and in one of them, the 3-D effect is created by literally turning the midair axe into a cartoon. The killer is also pretty boring to behold, looking like nothing in the world other than a man who didn't apply enough sunscreen and fell asleep on the beach.

However, the third act Final Girl chase sequence has enough energy to allow the film to claw its way back toward being interesting. Belinda Montgomery is a low urgency runner at the best of times, but the sequences where she is trapped by the killer - and especially the moment where he is menacing her while she is at the bottom of a vertical air duct - are quite tense. There is also an added wrinkle in this sequence of having the threat come from multiple directions, as men from the institution have arrived to silence her right as the killer begins his rampage. 

Silent Madness is a hard movie to love, perhaps, but it's an even harder movie to hate. It's a perfectly charming slasher romp that is worth checking out if you haven't seen it, which you probably haven't, even if it can't quite earn the coveted title of "hidden gem."

Killer: Howard Johns (Solly Marx)
Final Girl: Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery)
Best Kill: The most elaborate and thus most exciting kill involves Pam hanging upside down from a pull-up bar and having a rope attached to a weight tied around her neck, at which point the weight is tossed nonchalantly out the window. Ouchie.
Sign of the Times: One sorority girl dies while playing a Dragon's Lair stand-up video game.
Scariest Moment: After Virgil kicks Dr. Gilmore out of Ward L, he stares at her through the opaque glass of the ward door.
Weirdest Moment: In the morning, one of the sorority sisters pours a can of Coke on her cereal.
Champion Dialogue: "That worm would crawl his way back here if you dropped him on the far side of the Moon."
Body Count: 14
    1. Susan's Boyfriend is sledgehammered in the face.
    2. Susan has an axe thrown into her back.
    3. Barbara is crushed in a vise.
    4. Lorraine has her face blasted with steam.
    5. Flashback Sorority Sister #1 is shot between the boobs with a nail gun.
    6. Flashback Sorority Sister #2 is shot in the neck with a nail gun.
    7. Flashback Sorority Sister #3 is shot in the forehead with a nail gun.
    8. Flashback Sorority Sister #14 is shot in the back with a nail gun.
    9. Cheryl is stabbed in the back.
    10. Pam has a rope tied to her neck that is attached to a weight, which is thrown out the window.
    11. Jesse is drilled in the back of the head.
    12. Virgil is impaled in the chest with a crowbar.
    13. Mr. Hackler is stabbed in the back with an awl offscreen.
    14. Howard Johns is stabbed through the neck with a shard of mirror.
TL;DR: Silent Madness has its weaknesses, but it's a totally pleasant slasher that deserves more of a reputation than it has.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1096

No comments:

Post a Comment