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John’s Horror Corner: Dead Silence (2007), James Wan’s jumpy-fun killer ventriloquist flick.

March 17, 2021

MY CALL: Often regarded as silly or even bad, I feel this film gets a bad rap for the wrong reasons. It’s quietly creeper with the occasional jumpscare and shocking gore gag. Nothing high brow to be found here. But it’s still a damn fun movie! Strong recommendations for a fun Friday night popcorn flick. MORE MOVIES LIKE Dead Silence: Well, for more ventriloquism in horror, check out Magic (1978), Tales from the Crypt S2 “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”(1990) and that police station scene from Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988).

Shortly after the mysterious delivery of an unnerving antique ventriloquist dummy, Jamie (Ryan Kwanten; Flight 7500, True Blood) finds his wife (Laura Regan; They, Hollow Man II) horrifically murdered with her disturbingly disfigured face reminiscent of such horrors as Mirrors (2008) or The Ring (2002). Recalling the local folklore of his childhood—Mary Shaw, a ghastly old woman who obsessed over her dolls and ventriloquist dummies—Jamie returns to his hometown of Raven’s Fair to try and solve his wife’s murder. Meanwhile Detective Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg; Dreamcatcher, Saw 2-4) stays close behind with Jamie as the top suspect of the murder.

To fill in the gaps of the local history, Jamie visits his father (Bob Gunton; Bats, The Shawshank Redemption) and stepmother Ella (Amber Valletta; What Lies Beneath, Premonition, Gamer). Truly the stuff of folklore, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts; Eraserhead, Death Sentence) and the townspeople of Raven’s fair have a story like Freddy Krueger and the parents and teenagers of Springwood. This film holds up really well and, despite its slower pacing, it remains interesting enough during it slow points to keep my attention. This is especially aided by the on-screen dynamic between Kwanten and Wahlberg, and the curious relationship between Jamie’s father and stepmother.

The gore is not so abundant since this is not a body count style horror, but more a jumpy scary popcorn flick. But what gore we do see is jolting. These slack-jawed deathly images are meant to disturb, and they succeed! Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious 1-2, The Conjuring 1-2) and his co-writer Leigh Whannell (Saw 1-3, Insidious 1-4, Cooties, Upgrade, The Invisible Man) are regarded as modern horror visionaries, and we can see them finding their quiet footing in Raven’s Fair. You’ll definitely find the DNA of Saw (2004) and The Conjuring (2013) series here.

Employing silence in horror is a common filmmaking tool. However, Wan  gives an other-worldly twist to this device as his characters react to the unnatural silencing of everyday sounds in an almost meta aspect. Other tropes such as the “horror drag” or dolls that only move when unobserved are played wisely and blatantly for thrills. Because that’s what this movie is: a dreadful carnival ride with the occasional fun thrill. Some imagery could almost be considered hokey were it not so harrowingly presented. Capturing this style and pseudo-fantasy atmosphere most recently was the wraparound story from The Mortuary Collection (2019) and NOS4A2 (2019-2020).

Often regarded as silly or even bad, I feel this film gets a bad rap for the wrong reasons. It’s supposed to be a quiet creeper with the occasional jumpscare and gory shock gag. There’s no reason to think this was being passed as high brow film. But it’s still good filmmaking and a damn fun movie! Strong recommendations for a fun Friday night popcorn flick.

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