Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dead Silence

"Dead Silence" (2006, Universal Studios, Burg/Koules/Hoffman, James Wan) is quite a classic style ghost story with a nicely added creep factor from an old favourite: The Ventriloquist's Dummy! If you read the "Goosebumps" story about 'Slappy' the dummy as a kid or have seen 'Magic' starring Anthony Hopkins, you may enjoy this film for that fact alone.

Jamie (Ryan Kwanten - aka Jason Stackhouse from "True Blood") comes home to his wife, Lisa (Laura Regan) to find that a strange package has arrived for him containing a Ventriloquist dummy called Billy. Perplexed, he sits it aside and goes to get some Chinese food for dinner. When he returns Lisa has been murdered, her tongue ripped from her mouth. The dummy is lying on the floor.

Naturally, Jamie is suspected to have murdered Lisa, but since there is no clear evidence, they can't hold him. And against the wishes of Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), Jamie returns to he and Lisa's small hometown of Raven's Fair. In Raven's Fair there is a local ghost story about the once famous lady ventriloquist, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), who was suspected to have murdered a young boy and had been brutally murdered by several local men. The tale states that she hunts down relations of her killers and will kill anyone who screams in the presence of her ghost, taking both their life and their voice to add to her repertoire...

There is also, of course, the obligatory creepy child's rhyme.

Jamie goes on the hunt to uncover the truth behind the tale and stop the murderous ghost and her 101 creepy wooden 'children'.

A good yarn with some classic charm. The tale is slightly cheesy, but in the horror world this is no negative thing. Often films attempting to break the mould wind up falling flat on their face. "Dead Silence" exploits the creepy, traditional surroundings perfectly, making an obvious but effective situation for the story. The large old, carefully unlit house, the mortuary, the cellars, the abandoned theatre, the river, ghostly reflections, flowing raggedy curtains, creepy woods, graveyards with dead trees, cobwebs and fog; this film has it all!

Considering that this film is from the people behind "Saw", I was pleasantly surprised to see such a classically styled plot. "Saw" broke into some new settings horror-wise, when it was released and was creative, twisted and gory. The rest of the franchise, however, I have little time for, as they helped create and enter into the 'horror porn' arena and lost their sense of purpose and plot. "Dead Silence", although not particularly creative, keeps the horror coming and well placed gore to a conventional and very effective pace.

The ghost is scary and unrelenting, in a way that is almost from a mind similar to Sam Raimi. The dummies are creepy and effectively used, with surprisingly little overall movement, keeping things creepy and not delving into the ludicrous world of "Puppet Master".

The makeup is good, the special effects are satisfying and I enjoyed the performances of the actors, in particular heartbroken and determined Kwanten and confused and serious Wahlberg. People have complained that the characters are boring, but remember that this film is set in a small town and the people are scared shitless of a homicidal ghost... considering all that the characters are quite lifelike, really...

The addition of the mortician, Henry (Michael Fairman), was a good plot device, similar to the character of Mr. Bentley in "The Woman In Black". Other side characters seemed slightly unnecessary and didn't add much to the plot.

Overall, a fun little nail biter, that may give you a jump or two. Nothing too creative, but unworthy of all the negative comments it has received in the past. Especially considering that most of the complainers probably rate "Hostel" as an excellent horror... Tasteless idiots! I see nothing wrong with some charming old fashioned story telling, in today's modern world of cheap remakes and terrible plotless bloodfests.

Screenwriter Leigh Whannell has all but disowned this film, feeling it to be a bad effort and a blot on his CV. As much as it's certainly no "Poltergeist", I'm glad he has come to terms with the fact that this film mainly 'failed' due to the Corporate machine treading all over the creativity.

There are an alternative beginning and ending, and I feel the alternative ending may have been better than that actually selected for the film. But that's just me.

Again, this a film of many names including "Shhh..." which has got to be one of the worst names ever!

The twist can be seen coming by weathered horror fans and anyone paying really any attention to the scenes, but may surprise a few young teens new to the wonderful world of horror or any non-careful watchers.

Worth a try on a dark night with someone who hates dolls! But remember not to scream!

 [Picture: Universal Pictures &]