The October Diaries: Dead Silence


 Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean and Christof

October 2nd, 2014:
Dead Silence

Year: 2007
Director: James Wan
Vehicle: Netflix
From IMDB: A widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.

Sean’s Take:

In our house, we are typically very reluctant to watch horror movies that were made within the last ten or fifteen years. We almost always prefer an 80’s vintage — peak season for the genre. It’s not so much a hard rule as it is a general guiding principle to follow. We made an exception with Dead Silence because the villain, the source of fright for the evening, was to be a ventriloquist dummy. This made me cease my reluctance, as I’ve always had a soft spot for the killer doll/toy/usually-inanimate-object-now-a-killer-thing sub-genre.

Dead Silence starts off strong, establishing a ventriloquism-as-spirituality mythology that I was easily able to get behind (I’m a viewer who is very liberal with his willing suspension of disbelief). When the inanimate becomes animate enough to kill, director James Wan utilizes a nifty bit of sound design to help indicate when a ventril-a-killing is about to go down. He makes all extraneous noises fade out, leaving only the breath of the hunted and the tormenting audible assaults of the hunter. During these moments of maruading vaudevillainy, if the victim finally screams, that’s when they’ll die. If they aren’t capable of suppressing their primal terror, the dummy/spirit will start by ripping out your tongue, then it’ll finish you up with a gross-face kill scenario.

When a movie like this manages to make an earnest attempt at world-building I tend to give it a pass. Even if this one falls victim to several exhibitions of bland, handsome-face-style, acting. I’m not saying the horror films of the 80’s featured a wealth of award-caliber performances (though, I could easily make that argument), but contemporary horror films don’t cast as many interesting faces as their 80’s counterparts — instead, they attempt to shoehorn hunks and babes into roles that don’t feel right to be played by a hunk or a babe. That philosophical difference aside, I did enjoy the casting of Judith Roberts as Mary Shaw (you might remember Roberts as “Beautiful Woman Across the Hall” in Eraserhead). The character of Shaw was a lynchpin for the mythology of the whole thing and she evoked just the right type of creepy to keep it all together.

Not a hidden classic, but worth the watch.


Christof’s Take:

I was pretty on board as soon as I saw the Universal Pictures logo. It is a widescreen recreation of the 1927 Universal logo with new clouds that are creepier, quicker-moving, and higher-contrast, which looks to have been nabbed from 2005’s Land of the Dead, but this version is heavy with faux-degradation/distortion: film scratches, fade flickers, and projection wobble. Right from the start, the movie lets you know, in an eerie fashion, that you will be seeing something both new and old. Beyond the pastiche of the logo, the movie itself is not an emulation of older movies in the sense that Ti West’s The House of the Devil is an honest attempt to make an 80’s horror flick 20-ish years after the fact. Instead, Dead Silence still has the high-gloss, blue-pushed desaturation, jump-cut-panning, and many of the other technical trappings of modern horror movies, but the content does not belong to the gritty slasher “torture porn” trend.

It’s more of an all-things-spooky kind of horror, employing classic horror elements that haunt houses on hills and make Vincent Price’s eyebrows raise. So what it ends up being is sort of an older movie’s skeleton wearing a newer movie’s clothes and make-up. (A skeleton in drag – now that’s a SpOoKy metaphor!)

The plot is a little too complicated, but not difficult to follow. I think it could have shined brighter if it had stayed simpler, but as it is, the movie has some pretty good sequences and some pretty, sinister images. As should be the case for any movie about an evil ventriloquist’s dummy, this is a movie about autonomy. For a somewhat shallow movie, it hits the symbolic implications of a dummy with some potential for deep-ish irony from a few different angles, but the symbols are less of a road map to an epiphany and more of a garnish to a cheap steak. The main thing holding this movie down is the lead actor, who is not bad, but he’s just not providing an interesting character after the first 10 minutes. Modern horror often casts a lead who is magazine-sexy and not horrible, but these attributes seem to take priority over someone who makes interesting choices on screen. It’s a screenplay issue as well, but you can be sure an 80’s Jeff Goldblum or Peter Weller would have found the interesting character in the same script.

But, hey, it’s a movie about a dummy who rips people’s tongues out! So what am I complaining about?

If you like Halloween for the decorations, this might be a good horror movie for you.



One Comment on “The October Diaries: Dead Silence”

  1. 1 Da said at 4:16 pm on October 11th, 2014:


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