I've been called a "soft touch" where certain horror movies are concerned, which might help to explain why I quite enjoyed the old-school-style horror flick Dead Silence. The movie pretty much died at the box office and vanished after about a week, and I suppose the hardcore horror fans were expecting something a little more harsh and dark from the two guys who created the original Saw -- but I'm of the opinion that director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell deserve some credit for trying to go in a completely different direction for their second "official" collaboration (not counting the Saw sequels).
The movie opens with the old-fashioned Universal logo, which pretty much sets the stage right there. Far from being a torture-laden gore-fest, Dead Silence seems inspired by everything from William Castle to James Whale. It's a broad and pulpy little chiller, one that's jam-packed with unhappy spirits, creepy dolls, deserted mansions and haunted theaters. Gloom and doom are around every turn, the lightning always crashes at the exact right time, and things get creepy pretty often -- even if Dead Silence is never really all that scary.
The plot is a mixture of Silent Hill and Dead of Night: A young man returns to his creepy hometown of Raven's Fair following the mysterious (not to mention nasty) demise of his lovely young wife. Poor Jamie Ashen (yes, Ashen) is convinced that a local curse has somehow caused his wife's death, and he's not going to stop poking around until he gets some answers from his estranged father, his icy new stepmother, and a frazzled mortician who (clearly) knows more than he's telling. Plus there's a pesky cop on Jamie's tail, and let's just say he's not buying into Jamie's "the dummy did it" story.
Ah yes, the dummies. Raven's Fair, you see, is haunted by the ghost of a dead ventriliquist, a creepy old broad who made over a hundred freaky-faced dummies -- and not all of 'em from wood.
To say much more would rob you of some of the fun, but the whole thing feels like a dusty old Universal thriller that'd more than suitably entertain you should you happen to catch it on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Certainly nothing brilliant or revolutionary, but well-shot, appreciably pulpy, and just short enough to keep you from getting bored. Special mention is due to Charlie Clouser's very cool score and to supporting actor Donnie Wahlberg for playing the cop as both skeptical and witty. Even if the rest of the material bores you silly, the flick really picks up when Wahlberg's involved.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer is just lovely. The flick is awash in dark colors and shadows, and it looks very solid in DVD form.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
This "unrated" version runs less than one minute longer than the theatrical cut ... which you probably didn't see in the first place so it makes no difference at all that a few extra frames of gore have been added back in. (I have seen the theatrical cut, and I couldn't even tell you what the "new" stuff is.)
Extras include four minutes of deleted scenes, an alternate opening and an alternate ending (meh), a basic-yet-entertaining 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, another 7-minute featurette that focuses on the villain created for the flick, a 4-minute FX comparison for one rather nifty establishing shot, and a music video for Aiden's "We Sleep Forever."
Not a great collection of extras, but considering how the movie fared during its theatrical run, I was half-expecting a totally bare-bones affair.
Not an overlooked gem, not an underappreciated masterpiece, and probably not even a minor cult item, Dead Silence is simply a workmanlike thriller that gets a lot of mileage out of being a comfortable little "throwback." The Saw purists might not appreciate it, but those of us who enjoy the '50s-era gothic horror tales should be suitably entertained.