Zombos Says: Good
The integration of J-Horror's ghost-styling with American Gothic picks up steam in Dead Silence. With a vengeful spirit ready to rip your tongue out if you scream, a cast of 101 nattily-dressed vent dummies, a decrepit theater, a cursed town with a dark secret, and classically-creepy, Dark Shadows kind of art direction filled with stone gargoyles, swirling fog, rainy nights, and rustling curtains, director and co-writer James Wan almost pulls it off. Almost.
Little things are missing; like some good old common sense motivations in-between all the game-styled imagery, and better performances from Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Jim Lipton and Ryan Kwanten as Jamie Ashen. Wahlberg plays Lipton as the standard wise-ass, I've-got-my-eyes-on-you detective, and Kwanten should have staid home and let his wife go for the Chinese food.
Opening with a retro-styled Universal Studios logo, and a scratchy opening credits montage dramatically scored by Jonathan Goldsmith, the film hits all the right artistic notes. Sound, from the memorable music to the distortion and fadeout of all sound just before a supernatural event, is used to wonderful effect here. Like a William Castle gimmick, it heralds the arrival of Mary Shaw or Billy, her insufferable best-boy dummy. I half-expected to see a flashing "cover your mouth now" message at the bottom of the screen.
Then there's the little ditty about Mary Shaw that's repeated onscreen, reminiscent of Curt Siodmak's 1941 The Wolf Man pseudo folk saying. It doesn't quite have the roll-off-the-tongue rhyme of Siodmak's, but it's not too shabby.
All these elements combine to make a visually enjoyable, if not quite sensible story. It all begins with a rainy night and a large package delivered to Lisa and Jamie. When Jamie opens it, they find a really creepy dummy inside. Right, then. Jamie's soon off to get some take-out even after both of them recall that whole Mary Shaw legend thingy that was used to frighten little kids in their home town of Ravens Fair.
Queue the thunder and lightning now, please. Lisa tosses a cover over Billy the dummy, but soon the dead silence comes and he's tossing a cover over her — and, oops, she screams, so out comes her tongue in nicely done J-Horror fashion. When Jamie returns with the food, he suddenly remembers all about that Mary Shaw legend. Great timing there, Jamie.
With Detective Lipton not buying Jamie's story about the legend, Jamie heads back to Ravens Fair to look for answers. Of course, instead of tossing that hideous reminder of his wife's death in the trunk, he props the little guy up in the front passenger seat so Billy can enjoy the view. You just know that little creep's eyes are going to move, too.
When Jamie hits Main Street, Ravens Fair is obviously a town on the skids and a place Lovecraft would call home. Jamie's apple-red car stands out against the blue-tinted color that permeates the town — and the entire film — as he heads to his family's estate. Barnabas Collins should have it so good. His family home is a Gothic mansion, flanked by gargoyles, fog, and inclement weather.
The meeting with his dad is brief and not very warm, and he declines to stay. He heads to the local Motor Inn, props Billy on a chair by the window, and nods off to sleep. Swear to god. You know what's going to happen, right? Queue the dead silence as Mary Shaw's corpse-like countenance (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?) is glaring at him from behind a curtain.
He gathers his wits about him when the sound returns, and at the funeral for his wife, he meets the undertaker and his slightly daft wife Marion, who likes to hide from Mary Shaw in the crawlspace under the funeral parlor. She tells him to bury Billy pronto. Again. Apparently Mary Shaw had all of her dolls buried along with her. He drives to the cemetery, at night of course, and finds Billy's tombstone. A little dead silence doesn't stop him from burying Billy, but the little bugger refuses to stay buried.
Back at the Motor Inn, Lipton confronts Jamie and confiscates Billy, but in an incredible example of bad policing, Lipton, who took the room next to Jamie, leaves his door unlocked and Jamie takes Billy back and drives over to Henry, the undertaker, for a chat.
In a stylish flashback, we learn the story of how Mary Shaw performed at the old Guignol Theater on Lost Lake, got into a spat with an annoying kid at one of her performances, and was soon killed by angry townsfolk after the boy went missing. Judith Roberts as Mary Shaw is a classic monster in the making, and her Guignol Theater haunt is effectively imagined with lots of decay, cobwebs, and dark, secret places.
Henry's information sends Jamie to the abandoned theater on Lost Lake. While he's there, he discovers Mary Shaw's rooms, and more about the boy that dissed Mary Shaw's performance. Returning to his father's home for answers, a phone call from Henry sends Jamie back to the Guignol Theater with Lipton in hot pursuit. Or was it Henry?
Both men confront each other, and Mary Shaw, in the well-paced thunder and lightning climax at the top of the old Guignol Theater. Will Mary Shaw tongue-lash the both of them, or will she finally get her comeuppance? And whose hand is up whose back as Jamie comes to a horrifying realization about his part in all this?
Filled with classic imagery and moody set-design that is the hallmark of Universal Studios horror, Dead Silence is an effectively creepy and entertaining romp with a new and memorable monster. Hopefully, they'll put a little more commonsense storytelling in-between those imaginative scenes for the sequel and think of a more sensible ending, too.
But I'll hold my tongue until then.
Hi Emily! Lots of atmosphere in the film, and enough jumps to keep you on your toes. Looking forward to a sequel if they ever do one.
Posted by: ILoz Zoc | April 14, 2008 at 02:27 AM
hi i have watched Dead Silence loads of times with my mates. it is the best movie in the world
Posted by: emily | April 13, 2008 at 03:23 PM
Yes, it does have it's moments. The sets were pretty creepy. Sounds like you had more fun, though, as I went alone.
Posted by: ILoz Zoc | March 18, 2008 at 07:17 PM
I really liked this movie. It was awsome and tge best part is that my friend Melissa was peeing in her pants.lol, I love scary dolls....
Posted by: Flor De Luna | March 18, 2008 at 05:51 PM
You know, you're right. I can't find one either. SAW's got the market right now, but I hope they do a Billy. He'd be great for Halloween.
Posted by: IL | October 06, 2007 at 09:19 PM
I REALLY want a BILLY doll,
i keep looking everywhere but is like he never existed,
How can i get a billy puppet?
is there anyone out there that knows?
i love that doll so much
Posted by: jacksleepy | October 06, 2007 at 07:15 AM
i luv the movie its so scary and cool at the same time p.s. i hope that i dont get my toughng riped out at the seen lol
Posted by: michael | September 29, 2007 at 11:14 AM
Does anyone know the song playin....in the begning After the wife dies and the Jamie guy walks in and it's like Blarin on the Radio???? Thanks :)
Posted by: Sarah | August 05, 2007 at 08:11 PM
what kind of car is the shiny red one ?.. it loox like a mustang emblem on the front but its not a mustang cuz it says chevrolet on the grill... so what kinda chevy is it?? sry i benn really wantn 2 no.
sam sam, it's a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
Posted by: sam sam | August 03, 2007 at 04:46 PM
Hi Janna, thanks! I noticed you've got two blogs going. I find it hard to keep up with one, let alone two!
Posted by: Iloz Zoc | March 27, 2007 at 09:21 AM