Dead Silence (USA, 2007) - Color, Director(s): James Wan
MPAA Rating: R
Approx. 89 min.
Z-rating: 3 stars out of 5
Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5
With all the evil doll movies coming out lately, this seemed like an appropriate time to review this movie. Between Curse of Chucky, the Annabelle spin-off of The Conjuring, Slappy from the Goosebumps movie, and next year's The Inhabitant a.k.a. The Boy, creepy dolls seem to be making a comeback. Director James Wan proved himself to be a tour de force in the Horror genre after knocking it out of the park with The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 in 2013. Wan is perhaps best known for creating the Saw franchise along with writer Leigh Whannell, with Wan only directing the first installment before taking an executive producer role for the remaining films. In 2007, Wan would once again team with Whannell for Dead Silence which received mostly negative reviews from critics and was barely able to earn back its production cost at the box office. You rarely hear this movie mentioned in the same breath as the others and it's almost as if everyone wants to sweep it under the rug like a dirty secret. But is it really that bad?
The movie opens with the origin of the word 'ventriloquist' followed by a haunting music box-like score playing over the intro credits, effectively setting a creepy atmosphere. Cut to a couple, Jamie and Lisa Ashen, who receive a mysterious package containing an old ventriloquist dummy. They comment on an old urban legend from their hometown before Jamie heads out to pick up some Chinese take out.
|Seriously? Ka Ka Seafood? Whatever you do, don't eat at Yummy Du Du down the street!|
While he's out, Lisa plays around with the puppet before getting creeped-out and covers it with a sheet. (anyone that watches horror movies knows this is definitely a bad idea!) Suddenly everything goes silent, from the whistling kettle to the clock, signifying that something bad is about to happen. She's attacked by the sheet covering the dummy, the camera shakes violently as if the person holding it was having a seizure, and the sound effects imply she's being attacked with a knife or blade. When the camera finally stops shaking, something knocks her 10-feet across the room like she got kicked by Bruce Lee's ghost. After coughing up a pool of blood, she's dragged screaming back into the bedroom. There weren't any cuts resulting from the knife sounds, so I can only assume that nothing was actually happening when the camera was shaking and the only damage she took was from the dragon kick. Jamie comes back to find her with Ring-face and her tongue ripped out. The police obviously suspect Jamie but he believes the answers are related to the urban legend from his hometown.
So the story goes that Mary Shaw was a famous ventriloquist who was heckled during a performance by a little boy claiming to see her lips moving. Although it's never explained whether the dummy was actually possessed and it was offended or she personally took offense to the accusation but the little boy disappeared. A few weeks later, Mary Shaw was murdered and she asked to be buried with all 101 of her dolls. Mary's final request was to be turned into a doll herself and after she was buried, "death plagued the town." Whenever she appears, everything gets silent like someone hit mute and she'll rip out your tongue if you scream. She can also steal your voice and pretend to be you. Basically, everyone could survive if they just shut the hell up. I will admit the movie is filled with clichés but it sets a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. A hearse pulling up on a foggy night, a crazy old lady has important information but gets pulled away before she can pass it on, walking through a foggy cemetery at night, cobwebs everywhere, spirits passing by in the mirror, doors closing behind someone, and the "we don't say her name around here" cliché. They're all here, even a clown puppet for good measure! Call me old-fashioned but a fog machine at the cemetery is the perfect setting for ANY horror movie. That's something I don't think I could ever tire of seeing. Easter Egg: The puppet, also named "Billy", from Saw can be seen on the ground near all the other puppets.
Gore: There are a couple scenes with some blood, the aftermath of the tongue ripping is shown (with Ring-face!), and some people are hollowed out and turned into puppets. Actually a pretty tame movie overall and didn't really deserve an R-rating
Awesome: Alright... this isn't the most original movie, but it feels like a horror movie. In fact, Mary Shaw's origins are similar to that of Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. She's a child murderer who was killed by the parents of Ravens Fair and now the children are paying for their sins. Shaw even has her own poem like Freddy's nursery rhyme:
"Beware the stare of Mary Shaw,
She had no children, only dolls.
And if you see her in your dreams,
Be sure you never, ever scream."
(Although I like the one from the trailers better!) In fact, her story technically makes a little more sense than Freddy's because she's a spirit that possesses her own ventriloquist dummies. Freddy was a child molester and after being burned alive, he can haunt your dreams because reasons? I'm not trying to sell anyone on how groundbreaking this movie was or praise it as an underrated gem. I just think this movie is often overlooked because it didn't perform as well in theaters and has less-than-spectacular reviews. Just because it uses clichés, that doesn't mean the movie is ineffective. The reason they're clichés to begin with is because they worked so well at one point that everyone started using them. And I don't think they're unaware of how old-fashioned it may seem because at the beginning of the movie, they use the old black-and-white Universal logo as if they were letting audiences know they're in for some old school horror. Fog machines, cemeteries, cobwebs, creepy dolls, all of those things represent horror and even Halloween to me. While it might not stand out as anything special right now, I think this is a future cult film. This movie also has Donnie Wahlberg instead of Mark and he's constantly shaving for no damn reason.