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The Silent Scream (Denny Harris, 1980)
An early, somewhat obscure, entry in the seemingly unending cycle of 1980s slasher films, The Silent Scream has a few memorable aspects, which is more than can be said about many of its contemporaries. Credited to director Denny Harris, this film mines familiar territory, to be certain. In its opening scenes, the heroine (Rebecca Balding) moves into a gothic seaside mansion where we find that a series of murders have taken place. After establishing this sordid history, though, the film takes its time before advancing the plot any further. Essentially a rip-off of Psycho that uses with a boarding house instead of a hotel, The Silent Scream lacks the psychological plausibility, symbolic power or excellent performances of Hitchcock’s classic.
The old dark house here is inhabited by a nebbish young boy and his mysterious mother (horror icon Barbara Steele). Steele makes peripheral appearances early on, and once her role in the house’s past becomes clear, the creepiness ratchets considerably. Treading the line between police procedural and slasher film (a la When a Stranger Calls), The Silent Scream builds slowly toward a third act revelation that is relatively underwhelming, although the film, in its defense, is less sensational in general than many of its ilk. A thriller without many thrills, it is noteworthy mostly due to its oddball acting turns and its few inspired murder scenes. The most memorable of these involves what seems to be homage to Psycho’s shower murder intercut with what is supposed to be a romantic sex scene (!).
The Silent Scream was reportedly extensively reshot, after the film was removed from Harris’ control. Few signs of its troubled production are apparent in the finished product, however. The resulting movie feels surprisingly economical at times, letting many scenes, including the opening credits sequence, unfold without any dialogue. This might be the result of a post-production scramble to salvage some footage, but it works well in practice. Ultimately The Silent Scream is something less than a classic of its genre, but still manages to be worth a look for aficionados of the era’s horror films.