I don’t know if any one movie can satisfy all of my horror needs. Sometimes I want scares, sometimes I want gore and sometimes I just desire a moderately creepy old dark house flick. 1980’s SILENT SCREAM falls into that last category, it won’t satiate anybody’s desire for bloodshed but its slinking, reluctant pace, haunting imagery and exceptional use of locale make it go-to horror comfort food for yours truly. I’d probably love it a little bit more if somebody’s head was chopped off but you can’t have everything. SILENT SCREAM is like the last gasp of traditional old school horror right before the great age of slashers really got under way. You can almost sense the genre as a whole transforming before your eyes, kicking off classic cobwebs and lunging for the sharpest butcher knife in the drawer.
REBECCA “BOOGENS bait” BALDING plays Scotty Parker (add that name to the gender-neutral “final girl” moniker list) a gal with a Twiki meets Tootie mushroom-do who is looking for college lodging. Lucky for me she selects the most foreboding place she can find overlooking the sea and moves right in. As if the house were not off putting enough, her landlady is YVONNE DeCARLO who is the mother of a blatantly nerdy (i.e. potential psycho) son. Scotty is joined by some other young room renters including a potential beau, a brassy gal pal and a wealthy douche, all of who appear put on this planet in order to die before she. To all my friends out there hiding horrible family secrets within their home, please take my simple advice and never rent rooms to anybody. I don’t care how much you need the money; it’s just not worth the risk!
Now I’m going to give away a major plot point because it is also a major selling point as well! Do not read further if you have not had time in the past thirty years to watch this movie! The big secret in the creaky old spooky house is that mom and son are hiding someone special in the walls and that mystery guest is the one and only BARBARA STEELE! For me, this is the best news ever! I can’t think of anybody I’d rather find hiding in my house except CHRISTINA RICCI or maybe MORRISSEY! This is when the movie gets really good because BABS plays a tragic, lost-in-time figure and those are my peeps! I think it’s nifty that she’s just as much a fly caught in amber as the film itself! Who cares if she is a murderer? She has the most beautiful eyes. I love this character because she plays the same song over and over again on a red record player and has placed an old picture of herself in her mirror so that she doesn’t have to worry about aging. I think that’s a fine idea. Her situation is very sad and I’m so jealous!
One of the reasons I really dug TI WEST’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is because it so reminded me of SILENT SCREAM. Both movies have a nearly identical structure and a “keep your shirt on” pace. Maybe some viewers have something better to do, I sure as hell don’t. I guess my biggest complaint about SILENT is that there is a slightly snorey side story which involves the police investigation and that is something I don’t care about even if the officers are THE TOOLBOX MURDER’s CAMERON MITCHELL and Dorito dude AVERY SCHRIEBER. It’s a small price to pay for the good stuff though.
Believe it or not SILENT SCREAM was a big hit back in its day landing just in time to reap the post HALLOWEEN benefits. I did not encounter it myself until the mid nineties when it jumped out at me at a used video shop. I wasn’t expecting much but I thoroughly enjoyed it as a potent punch of nostalgia and a semi-soothing mood piece with a couple good chills. Part of the reason may be personal; my first year of college I rented a room in a big old house on the coast of Massachusetts and it really brings back strong memories for me. I never witnessed any gruesome murders but I did find a giant rat staring back at me from my closet. Who can say which is worse?
NOTE: SILENT SCREAM was filmed in a joint called “The Smith Estate” in Los Angeles. Strangely enough it is the exact same beautiful Victorian home you’ll find in 1964’s SPIDER BABY (also available on Netflix streaming.) Stranger still, the two movies share almost the exact same shot of a character climbing up the front stairs, knocking on the front door and then checking out the window to the left! Wha!? ( I have not been this excited since I found out that Garth Manor from HELL NIGHT is the same pad as the mansion from FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Big Love” video!) It doesn’t look like much has changed at the Smith Estate between 1964 and 1980 (SILENT actually began filming in 1977!), it’s almost as if time has stood still. How appropriate is that?