Tuesday, February 09, 2010

There Is No Time To Scream

Kudos to Scorpion Releasing for making 1980's THE SILENT SCREAM (the onscreen title) available in a Special Edition DVD, but it’s not really worth it. As was often the case with low-budget exploitation movies, the story behind its making is more interesting than THE SILENT SCREAM itself. It was a big hit, however—probably due to its exciting marketing campaign and its over-the-hill name stars—but commercial director Denny Harris never made another feature.

Four numbskull college students—including Dorothy Hamill-haircutted Scotty (Rebecca Balding, just fired from LOU GRANT)—move into a spooky old beachside mansion owned by the reclusive Mrs. Engels (Yvonne DeCarlo) and her creepy, bespectacled teen son Mason (Brad Rearden). After one of the youths is brutally stabbed to death on the beach, detective Paul (Cameron Mitchell) and his unlikely frizzy-headed partner Manny (Doritos pitchman Avery Schreiber) are summoned to the house to investigate. This plot is slightly different from what was originally shot, but Harris’ original film was deemed unreleaseable, and writer/producers Jim and Ken Wheat (PITCH BLACK) were brought in to supervise more than an hour of new footage.

While Mitchell is always a welcome sight in a cheap horror movie, his scenes exist only to stretch the running time to 87 minutes, since all he and Schreiber do is piece together a mystery we already know. As anyone who’s ever seen one of these movies can predict, the cops figure out what’s going on just in time to be too late for the bloody climax. Hell, their characters are only given first names, not last names or ranks, and Mitchell’s character has a different name in the credits (Sandy) than he’s called in the movie. Mitchell and TV comic Schreiber work pretty well together, the way old pros do when forced to tread water with mediocre material, and though their scenes are irrelevant to the plot, they aren’t unentertaining.

Besides the appearances of Mitchell, DeCarlo, and Steele (whose performance is completely silent), THE SILENT SCREAM doesn’t hold much interest for genre fans. The body count is relatively low, and only the first two killings contain any visceral thrills. The drippy male leads are too repugnant to root for, while belly-shirted Balding fails to impress as the heroine. To be applauded is composer Roger Kellaway, whose score believes it’s in a much classier movie, pounding away in an effort to fool us into thinking important stuff is happening onscreen.

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