Review Date: November 29, 2009
Released by: Scorpion Releasing
Release date: 11/23/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
There is no greater paradox, both in title and product, than Silent Scream
. A title like Gentle Mutilation would have made about as much sense, but that didn’t stop moviegoers in 1980 from flocking to the film. The other paradox is that the film found great success as a slasher, since when it was released in early 1980 there were really no other slashers in competition. Of course the flood gates would be dropped later on in the year with the genre-affirming success of Friday the 13th
, but at this point there was a demand without supply. Aside from a few bloody kills, though, it’s not a slasher. It’s indebted to Psycho
more than it is Halloween
¸ but the success of Carpenter’s flick is what made it its money and is why the film is still bunched into slasher lists still today. It was initially announced as a Code Red title, but upstart Scorpion Releasing has instead made Silent Scream
its inaugural release. Is this a new studio worth screaming about, or one better left in silence? Take a deep breath and get ready to clear your lungs.
The film begins with the aftermath of a brutal murder, with bodies and blood strewn all over a grand Victorian carpet. Determined to show the money in the production in the first frame, we get Cameron Mitchell looking stern as Lt. Sandy McGiver along with his partner, one half of the Burns & Schreiber 60s comedy duo, Avery Schreiber. With that out of the way, we go back into the past to see what grand chain of events could possibly have set this murderous rage into motion. It all started at a college housing line-up…
Reminding me too much of The Unseen, we get a young college student, the androgynously named Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding
, The Boogens
), taking up some cheap residence in a big old mansion with a couple cooky caretakers. There’s the stern matron, Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo
, The Munsters
, but looking more like she did in American Gothic
), and her awkward peeping tom of a son, Mason (Brad Rearden
, Bill Paxton’s punk buddy in The Terminator
). As a quick aside, Mason might just have the worst haircut in the history of cinema. Ever. Along with Scotty there are a few other twentysomethings taking residence in the seaside mansion, including a requisite love interest. Walls are thin and the heating vents carry sound, and the boarders quickly learn more about each other and about the people running the home.
When one of the boarders is found buried underneath a sandcastle (smooth, guys), our two cops from the prelude start to nose around in the house. Apparently Mrs. Engels also had a daughter, but Mason asserts that she’s been “gone” a long time. Deaths start happening closer to home, as another boarder is killed in the basement while Scotty is in mid-coitus. Getting offed while getting off? Pretty soon it’s down to Scotty and her lover, Jack (Steve Doubet
), and a house with a dark secret hidden behind the walls.
While there isn’t much story there, it’s amazed there’s any story at all given the film was really a reshoot of a failed project that did not make a whole lot of sense. The Wheat Brothers (who’d cut their teeth here before penning The Dream Master
, The Fly II
and The Birds II
among others) came in and pillaged what they could from the old footage and wrote an entirely new story. They brought in a few big names like Cameron Mitchell and Barbara Steele (Black Sunday
), a different tone and a deeper story, and somehow it all came together. The Silent Scream
is a modest but earnest little horror flick, one of those movies made by a bunch of inexperienced but passionate, and talented, youth. You get the sense that everyone, from the young actors to first time director Denny Harris, wanted to make a good movie. Maybe they wanted to make one a little too close to Hitchcock, but still, if you’re starting out it’s best to take a page from the masters.
While the performances are nice, including an entirely silent turn by Ms. Steele, and the story introduces a few nice twists and turns along the way, it’s really the cinematography that keeps this flick afloat. While half of the film was shot by someone else, it’s the new footage that really stands out, with tons of lurching dolly moves through the halls, focus pulls galore and a grand sense of visual composition. Many of the deaths have a formal, calculated shot structure, emphasizing close-ups and editing over visceral of-the-moment kind of attacks. It’s a great looking movie, shot on glorious 35mm, and it’s the elegance behind the lens that most earns the film’s comparisons with Hitchcock. Not worthy of screams, but neither silence, that’s how it is with this above average little L.A. slasher.
This is a good looking movie, and fortunately it’s been outfitted with a good looking transfer. Scorpion Releasing starts out with a bang with this sharp, vivid 1.78:1 progressive and anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are a lot of lush shots of bright Los Angeles greens throughout, and they really jump off the screen. The darker scenes that make up the corridors of the mansion hold up nearly as well, with a warm and saturated color palette. Some scenes may seem a touch dark, and some of the optical shots (faux-slow motion or fades) look softer than normal, but that’s a fault of the original printing. It’s apparently mastered from the interpositive, although right from the opening frame you see a cigarette burn. There are some intermittent bits of dust and debris that pop up, but other than that the print is in very solid shape. There were a couple of scenes where the skin tones didn’t entirely match up shot to shot, but hey, it’s an old indie, and it looks great all things considered.
Quite surprisingly, the film has been remastered into Dolby Digital 5.1. Setting the bar high for your first effort, aren’t you, Scorpion? While the track doesn’t entirely deliver on the added sound space, the film does sound crystal clear and very rich. There is no hiss to be heard, which is surprising considering most other films of the era, especially low budget ones, are plagued by such quality. Great job.
At their best, Code Red could assemble personal, candid and nostalgic histories of little movie s you’d never imagine to hear about. Extras that cut to the core of the subject matter, shedding light on the moviemaking process where Hollywood puff pieces would merely gloss. Although Walter Olsen has assured me Scorpion Releasing has no affiliation with Code Red, thankfully the extras here on Silent Scream
retain that similar thorough, amateur honesty. This double layer disc is packed with over three hours of supplemental content, from a commentary to many select interviews. First thing’s first with the commentary that assembles actress Rebecca Balding and writers Ken and Jim Wheat under moderation by Code Red regular Lee Christian and Scorpion Releasing head, Walter Olsen. The Wheats had such a paramount role in the restructuring of the film and thus have an immaculate recollection of all the scenes and crew members. Balding is bubbly and provides both levity and plenty of prodding questions to keep the Wheats on track. There’s plenty to reveal here about the low budget filmmaking process, and Balding reveals a special tale of her own about an actor who took her and the other actresses into the bathroom to show them how big his penis was(!) The lengths some actors will go to show a part…
We get much more of the Wheat brothers and Ms. Balding for some video interviews. The first, and longest, is the 40-minute “Scream of Success: 30 Years Later”. In it they talk about the genesis of the project, how before the Wheats came aboard it was a film already shot that didn’t cut together at all. The Wheats looked over the old footage and using as much as possible staged a number of reshoots to create the film we know and love today. They discuss getting the big actors aboard, working with director Denny Harris and his production studio, and the challenges in trying to match with older footage. The whole piece runs at a brisk pace and the Wheats really carry it with plenty of surprising stories.
Building on the revelation that the film is actually one giant reshoot, the brothers next discuss the original film in the 10-minute “Silent Scream
: The Original Script”. Since Rebecca Balding was one of the four actors in the finished film that partook in the original shoot, she has some observations to offer about the story and shoot, while the Wheats go through many of the significant alterations. Apparently the original film was a lot nastier, with more sex and as one of the brothers puts it “too many rapes”. If only Rob Zombie could get his hands on the outtakes.
The last piece with the Wheats is fittingly “The Wheat Bros: A Look Back”, a 12-minute retrospective on their film work. After Silent Scream
they went on to many significant productions, and dish out on everything from Freddy Krueger and Vin Diseal to Mel Brooks and George Lucas. This might be the best of a long line of solid extras here.
The worst extra, by comparison, is the poetically named “Rebecca Balding Interview”. In addition to working on The Boogens
, she also had a lot of guest work on high profile television shows, but sadly she really doesn’t touch on anything minus the former. She talks about how she met her husband and how the cast on The Boogens
rebelled against their nude contracts, but there’s sadly little else in this short 3-minute piece. Too bad, since she’s an engaging speaker.
Where’s the director in all this, you ask? Well, the Wheats sort of insinuate they directed most of the movie, since Denny Harris was often away making commercials to bankroll the piece, but by Harris’ account he definitely was there. Harris sadly passed away before the video interviews could be completed, so all that remains are a series of audio interviews over the phone conducted by Walter Olson. Despite a bad cough, Harris is still very vocal about his affection for the film and all the things they did right with the picture. He talks about how distributors cheated him and the crew out of a lot of cash, and how he even did some of the shots as a one man team. He has a real passion for filmmaking and for storytelling, and it’s nice to be able to just sit back and hear a veteran’s insights for 30-minutes. There’s no structure in the stream of consciousness delivery, and Scorpion even puts a disclaimer about the production value, but this piece still stands well on its own as a veteran’s tale of a bygone era. Great stuff.
Lastly in this fine set of extras are the promotional materials that helped make the film a surprising #1 hit at the box office the year of Friday the 13th. The trailer and TV spot included really sell the best parts of the film and it’s no wonder why the Wheats say those are responsible for the film’s business.
The Silent Scream
is a movie that almost never was, but saved by the Wheat brothers and a similarly young and ambitious cast and crew, it’s a movie that deserves to at least be seen. Seeing should be easy, given the standout low budget cinematography throughout. Scorpion Releasing has done a good job on the visuals themselves, too, with a vivid transfer. It’s the extras that make this release what it is, though, revealing a lot of meaty history to what on the surface seemed like a simple little film. A lot is revealed about the filmmaking process, and this is a perfect example of how a film can very much be shaped long after it is shot. The only thing that stings about this release is that Scorpion doesn’t have much more horror coming down the pipeline. Give it a look.
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A-
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Dolby mono
- Audio commentary with writer/producers Ken and Jim Wheat and star Rebecca Balding
- "Scream of Success: 30 Years Later" featurette
- "Silent Scream: The original script" featurette
- "The Wheat Bros: A look back" featurette
- Director Denny Harris audio interview
- Theatrical trailer
- TV spots