Scorpion Releasing // 1980 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // November 13th, 2009
Terror so sudden there is no time to scream.
Pretty co-ed Scotty (Rebecca Balding, The Boogens) rents a room in the picturesque but creepy seaside home of the Engels family. Mother Engels (Yvonne DeCarlo, Criss Cross) doesn't say much, so business is conducted with edgy teen son Mason (Brad Rearden). Three other college kids have also rented rooms: the obnoxious Peter (John Widelock), the friendly Doris (Juli Andelman), and the good looking Jack (Steve Doubet), who seems as happy to meet Scotty as she is to meet him.
Like all affordable beachfront boarding houses filled with horny and attractive students, the Engel home houses secrets. The secret here creeps around with a big knife, looking for victims -- and what better victims than a quartet of none-too-bright yet oversexed college kids?
The Silent Scream predates the '80s slasher glut by a couple of years, though it was released after Halloween. Not as graphic or consistently suspenseful as the John Carpenter classic, The Silent Scream seems spun more of the atmospheric stuff that created Black Christmas, with a low body count, high suspense quotient, and a mystery at its core.
This is one of those films that takes its time to get where it's going. It takes more than 20 minutes to introduce us to the notion of danger lurking at the Engels house, and around half an hour before the first victim is skewered. After that, we get the police investigation -- which uncovers a few clues -- as well as a glimpse at some Engel family secrets, a little college romance between Scotty and Jack, and finally, another murder. When the mystery actually begins unraveling in the film's final third, The Silent Scream becomes far creepier and more compelling than it has a right to, helped greatly by DeCarlo, Rearden, and the "mystery member" of the Engels family. A few skittish turns into over-the-top land help solidify this one's status as a cult oddity.
Director Denny Harris had actually shot a completely different script. The original Silent Scream contained many similar plot elements, but just didn't work as well. There were extraneous characters, red herrings, and bits of comic relief that were at odds with the story and just dragged down the proceedings. So producers Jim and Ken Wheat stepped in and helped develop a new script that would incorporate some of the existing footage. The actors playing the college students shot some new takes, and DeCarlo, Reardon, Cameron Mitchell (The Toolbox Murders), and Avery Schreiber (Galaxina) joined the cast. The producers retained what they could from the first shoot and then did a series of reshoots with the new material; all told, it took a few years from the time Rebecca Balding was hired to when this film was finally completed.
All this is documented in the special features on this new release from Scorpion. Brothers Ken and Jim Wheat, along with actress Rebecca Balding, sat for an extensive interview, which has been edited into a series of featurettes. "Scream of Success: 30 Years Later" is an extensive overview of making the film, while "Silent Scream: The Original Script" focuses on what changed from Harris' first attempt and this one. There are also separate interviews with Balding and the Wheats, as well as a commentary featuring all three. We also get an audio interview with Denny Harris, conducted through a series of phone calls to the director in the days before he died. A trailer and TV spot for The Silent Scream round out the extras.
As far as the tech, while there are no subtitles, we get the choice of 2.0 or 5.1 soundtracks, both of which sound very good. The image is 1.78 anamorphic, and while there's some softness and speckling here and there, overall it's clear and fine.
The Silent Scream is a fun little pre-'80s slasher/mystery, and Scorpion has done an excellent job on this disc. If you're a fan of the genre, pick this one up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* TV Spot