Silent Madness (1984)

MARCH 9, 2021


As I've said before, someday my quest to see every slasher movie produced in the early '80s will come to an end. But when something like Silent Madness comes along it gives me hope that day will be later rather than sooner, because I never even heard of it! And while that's nothing out of the ordinary for random regional movies like Blood Beat or Satan's Blade, this film was shot in 3D, features a handful of recognizable actors, and even some Friday the 13th connections, all of which suggests it would have come up enough for me to remember hearing of it. If even this sort of thing can escape my attention, there's bound to be dozens more under-the-radar types waiting to be uncovered.

But in my defense, it was never properly released on disc (Amazon has a PAL release that seems... bootlegy), so it makes sense that it never got that same kind of rediscovery that has benefited so many other independently made efforts of the time. When Vinegar Syndrome teased a "3D slasher" as part of their Black Friday sale a few months back, I honestly didn't even have a guess that would make sense (the distributor almost never releases any big studio titles, so something like F13 3 would be silly to guess at; my closest thing to a reasonable answer was the not-great Scar from 2007). I know I sound like a broken record, but I'll keep repeating it until I no longer worry about it: this sort of release is exactly why we need physical media to not only survive, but be a profitable venture for boutique outfits like VS. While people will always be asking (and then buying) the big guns, it's these kind of things that offer the sort of win win situations that expand fans' horizons while also ensuring these films aren't lost to time.

As for the movie itself, it's kind of a weird one. After a delirious first reel that sees the obligatory escaped mental patient killing four teens (including a pair of Sleepaway Camp vets: Katherine "Meg" Kamhi and Paul "Ronnie" DeAngelo) in glorious 3D, the movie basically twiddles its thumbs for the next half hour or so, which means it would be an ideal midnight movie (start strong to give us the jolt we need to stay awake thru the soggy middle, then bring it home for the finale) but can try one's patience when watching alone at home. The script (by director Simon Nuchtern, an adult film screenwriter named Bill Milling, and - of all people - airport thriller extraordinaire Nelson DeMille) curiously spends more time not with the sorority girls our mute maniac is targeting, but a doctor at the hospital he escaped from trying to get to the bottom of the clerical error that set him free in the first place.

I'm not joking, by the way. The switcheroo is easy enough to understand - they were supposed to release a patient named John Howard and accidentally grabbed one named Howard Johns - but for some reason Nuchtern and co felt this simple explanation needed more than half the screentime to be explored. The heroine (Belinda Montgomery) becomes aware of the mistake and brings it to her (male) superiors, who dismiss her findings and then cover up their mistake by claiming the man wasn't released but actually died, prompting her to head to another town to track down the death certificate they claim they have for the man, first to the police station and then to the local newspaper who should have it on file as well.

And all that would be fine if she was pulling a Loomis, trying to find and help her patient, but no! When she finally encounters the killer late in the film the first thing she does is run and ask for help from a security guard. So none of this stuff is particularly involving, as she's trying to solve a non-mystery, taking up time we could be spending with the sorority girls (who get short thrift as a result) or even on random kill scenes that take advantage of the 3D format. The body count is pretty low for a post Friday the 13th slasher like this (and, goes without saying, lower than F13 3D), which would be fine if they were spread out more evenly, but when they're mostly confined to the first twenty and last fifteen minutes it's bothersome.

Luckily those parts are a lot of fun, even in 2D. To be clear, the set actually offers both types of 3D, both the digital kind for those with 3DTVs and the kind requiring the old school cardboard glasses (two pairs included), but I watched most of it in 2D. I have never been able to successfully enjoy watching anything with the cardboard glasses, so I didn't even bother with that, but I do have the Playstation VR system, which allows you to watch movies in 3D even if your TV isn't capable (because your TV is no longer part of the equation, really). And it looked quite good, but it's just not a comfortable way to watch a movie, with the helmet on your head and (in my case at least) sitting awkwardly on the couch because the cord wasn't long enough to get into my preferred position.

That said, for those who can get comfortable, it's a pretty great way to experience 3D at home, especially now that 3DTV's are basically extinct (and were far more expensive than the PSVR, though of course only one person can enjoy it). It also has a little bonus: (relative) total immersion the way a theater can provide, as the helmet covers your peripheral and blackens everything around the screen, just like you were in a theater. So that's pretty cool, especially now when theatergoing is such a risky (and in my case, not even possible) proposition. Nuchtern keeps "Comin at ya!" shots to a minimum (basically just the kill scenes; no yo-yos and popcorn here) and instead plays up the depth, constantly putting things right near the camera (books on a desk, for example) to show off how far away the subject is in the shot. It almost makes me wish he directed Friday 3 himself, as he'd have a more robust script to deal with but also some of the restraint that Steve Miner lacked. Watching F13 3 in 2D can be obnoxious at times due to all the "In 3D!" moments that have zero point when viewed flat, something that rarely occurs here (basically just the weapons flying at you).

And even with its pacing issues (which continue even when the action picks up; the final chase goes on forever), there's a lot to like here. Some of the stuff with the institute staff is so strange you almost wish this was simply an asylum set movie without any of the slasher stuff, particularly when it comes to a pair of attendants who are tasked with hunting down both the killer AND the heroine, and are clearly more deranged than the antagonist. The killer's motivation (which leads to a minor twist) is also one of the weirder ones I can recall, where our guy was humiliated in a spanking ritual by the sorority girls. Also, the house mother is a drunk named Ms. Collins, which (bias alert!) is the greatest thing ever.

In addition to the 3D options, the disc has a pair of commentaries as well as an intro from Nuchtern (which itself is in 3D!) where he thanks the fans for keeping the film alive and expresses his gratitude that it's finally available properly. He also provides one of the commentaries, moderated by the great Michael Gingold, who keeps him talking about the cast, the locations, etc while also offering some of his own observations (including an anecdote about going to see the film at a theater that put "IN 3D!" on its marquee despite showing the film flat), which is an ideal moderator approach in my opinion - it's annoying when they just ask canned questions and make no attempt at an actual conversation. Hopefully Gingold will continue to perform this duty on more releases, as he does a much better job than some others I shan't name here. The other track is from the Hysteria Continues folks, who do the same thing they usually do; if you've heard any of their tracks you've kind of heard them all, at least to my ears. That said, if you're a slasher newcomer they'll certainly leave you with a full list of titles to check out, and they also opine on 3D horror (plus some outliers; one goes to bat for Spy Kids 3-D, of all things), if that's another blind spot for you. So ultimately it's kind of hard to qualify; at times it feels like a "for completists only" affair, but on the other hand, the solid use of 3D and strange quirks in the storytelling make it an ideal film to watch for people who think slashers are sloppily made and/or all the same. I can't say it would exactly change anyone's mind about the subgenre, but it'll at least get them to begrudgingly admit that the people who make them do indeed have to know what they're doing. Long story short: it passes my own unique version of the binary thumbs up/down system: I will keep the disc instead of trading it in! That's gotta be worth something, right?

What say you?


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