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Review: Silent Scream (1980)

Writer: Lance Vaughan


Silent ScreamProcrastinator Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding, she who survived The Boogens) finds herself homeless after registering late for college. After a montage of unsuitable housing complete with lecherous landlords, she settles with a room inside a dwelling only Norman Bates would call home. In fact, the cliff-top gothic home comes complete with it's own momma's boy (Brad Rearden, The Haunted) and creepy shut-in matriarch (Yvonne DeCarlo, American Gothic). Luckily the place is also filled with enough potential victims to insure Scotty's rightful place as Final girl. There is a wacky, zoftig new best pal, A spoiled rich guy begging for a comeuppance and an often shirtless instant boyfriend. The group gets along fine, that is until one of them ends up slashed to death and buried under a sandcastle.

Enter two police police detectives, Cameron Mitchell of Thee Toolbox Murders fame and Avery Shrieber who's best known for an an onslaught of seventies era Dorrito commercials. Many a slasher fan might find themselves checking their collective watches during the so-called investigation scenes, many of which take place behind a desk. In fact, the biggest revelation takes place off camera entirely. Perhaps this cutting back and forth from the kids in the house (intriguing) to the police station (not so much) are meant to echo the efforts of Donald Pleasance's Sam Loomis character in Halloween. Unfortunately they mostly read as filler. Suffice to say there's some family secrets up at the old homestead that would make V.C Andrews cringe. There's a psychotic murderous sister who's unaccounted for and it's rightfully concluded that she's pulling a Bad Ronald from within the walls of the house. Will the police get there in time? Well, not for Scotty's chubby new gal pal, she getting hacked up in the basement.

The sister in question, Victoria is none other than horror legend Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) and from her first appearance the film's suspense level advances by leaps and bounds. Although the part is without Dialogue, Steele brings every fiber of herself to the performance. With her raven hair and haunting saucer eyes she brings true goth charm to the proceedings. Clutching a grotesque doll (not to mention a butcher knife) and staring at an old photo of herself that's covering a mirror, she is the personification of madness and desperation. She's in actuality the sulky lad's real mother and their sordid tale is told in vivid flashbacks. It's at this point that the film's leisurely build up begins to pay off in spades. Whatever dominoes the director has set up over the last hour, Steele has the honor of tipping them over. The following scenes are ripe with a wince inducing claustrophobic tension.

Director Denny Harris does a fine job creating likable characters in fact, the crazed family ( including the murderous sister) are equally if not more sympathetic than their would- be victims. I'm rather shocked to find this is his only feature to date. His use of the interiors and his command of atmosphere are impressive. An early scene that depicts two people drunkenly stumbling home on the beach and being trapped by the incoming tide astounds with it's simplicity. One character, crosses without fail and the other due to follow, does not. Suddenly, the old cliche of imagining worse than what is shown is validated. He does so much with so little you can't help but be impressed. It could even be said that the detective scenes, lackluster as they are, add to the suspense by forcing you away from the action at annoying intervals.

Silent Scream is dressed up like a slasher flick but like it's madwoman in the attic, it's heart belongs to a previous era. In fact, the entire affair has more in common with Jame's Whale's Old Dark House than any of it's teen horror contemporaries. Don't get me wrong, if you are a fan of Psycho, Black Christmas or the aforementioned Halloween you will find much to admire here, but if your slasher world begins and ends in Crystal Lake (a fine place to loiter) you may find your plate a couple beheadings short of a satisfying meal. But unlike the slew of contemporary PG-13 horror flicks, excised of their gore like a boned fish, Silent Scream has something in it's place, well orchestrated suspense scenes and vivid characterization.



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