After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
What could possibly make an 80s sorority slasher flick better? 3D, of course! They had to do something to save this rather mundane flick and a cardboard-glasses-wearing gimmick hit just the spot. Coming near the end of the big 3D kick, and in the height of slasher insanity, this film didn’t really succeed in either area. Save for a couple of great cast members, Silent Madness is nothing more than a mediocre entry into the genre.
Due to an administrative error, a very dangerous mental patient is released from the Cresthaven Asylum. Seems there is a John Howard who was ready to be re-introduced to society, while Howard Johns (Solly Marx) takes his place and heads right back to the small college where he murdered a group of sorority girls years earlier. Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery) takes it upon herself to find the maniac when no one at the facility wants to admit fault and heads to the college. There she meets a local newspaper reporter named Mark, who is quite warm for her form. The two devise a plan to get her to stay over in the sorority house posing as an ex-sister from another charter allowing her the time for find out all she needs on the infamous sorority slashings from the home’s past.
I’m not quite sure how such a horrible computer error could happen that would cause the release of a homicidal maniac from a ward for the criminally insane, when the real releasee is harmless. Then the powers-that-be at the asylum figure out the mistake and try to cover it up instead of fixing the error. Ok… that I kind of believe. We all know companies don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. Guessing that goes double when their fuck-up could cost quite a few lives – and it does.
Instead of handling things the right way it takes a rogue doc with a heart of gold to go all Nancy Drew on the Johns’ ass. She sticks her nose anywhere she can and even goes undercover! I was never involved in any kind of Greek system during my stint in college, always thought they were lame and a waste of money, but do alumni really do this? Is it acceptable to go to any town and stay with that school’s charter of your old sorority or fraternity? Sounds weird to me. Why would an adult want to slum it with some obnoxious college kids? Of course, this could all be my issue. Since I didn’t like the frat guys when they were my peers, I sure as hell wouldn’t like them now as I inch closer and closer to being a full on curmudgeon. Then again, it worked for the guys in Old School, so what the hell do I know?
At least along the way we get to meet a few interesting characters. Joan is nothing too exciting except for the fact that she would later go on to play Doogie Howser’s mom on TV, and her journalist beau looks creepily like the baby of Robert Carradine and Michael Bay. Shudder. Once the asylum figures out the mistake they decide to send their two most discreet, and vile, orderlies to retrieve Johns. This Laurel and Hardy of the damned try to run who they think is Joan off the road in their ambulance, beat-up and tie-up Mark, and ultimately try to rape Joan while waiting for Howard to show his face. These are some pretty harsh secondary villains to throw into the mix, but at least they get what’s coming to them and one of them has a bitchin’ evil guy laugh.
The best thing about the film, except for the brief scene of one of the girls playing an arcade cabinet of Dragon’s Lair they have in the sorority house’s exercise room (!), is the town’s sheriff. With a name like Liggett you just know you’re in for a good time. The first time we see the man, he’s asleep in his office and his police work never gets much better. The actor behind the man is Sydney Lassick and he had quite a career. He was in everything from Alligator to Carrie to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I’m quite certain none of those roles were nearly as special as Liggett. He’s short, round, and always a little angry. Here’s a sample of dialogue that is sure to bring a smile to your face. “Why don’t you just get the fuck out of here and let me eat in peace, huh? Just because a goddamn broad is so good looking don’t mean we all have to think with our dicks!” Ah, that’s some classic Liggett.
The really fun thing about this movie is that the 3D elements are still intact without the gimmick to support them. If you’ve ever watched a 3D flick from the 70s or 80s, and I’m sure most of you have, you no doubt know all of those cheesy little tricks to show off what this special bit of technology can do. Was it really necessary for there to be a seemingly endless reverse POV shot of a yo-yo in Friday the 13th Part 3? No, but it was there because theaters full of moviegoers would “ooh” and “ahh” at this spectacle as they grasped the air in front of them in attempt to grab the object. This is a practice that, unfortunately, still exists today. Sigh. We did not get a yo-yo here or even the old stand-by, a paddle ball, but we did get plenty of objects thrust at the screen during the moments of heightened suspense, and without the effect of 3D they just look ridiculous. Who are we kidding? They looked ridiculous before. Either way we get a good laugh out of the deal.
This is not a very easy-to-find film for anyone wanting to relive the magic. There has been no region 1 DVD release and I’m sure the VHS tape isn’t sitting in every pawn shop or flea market across the country like a copy of The Blair Witch Project. I wouldn’t say this is all that interesting or important, but if you find it, give it a go. There are some decent kills, a couple cast members from Sleepaway Camp, and a sorority house with the most insane underground tunnels you’ll ever see. Oh, and prepare yourself for an odd epilogue with Joan and Mark just before the credits roll. They really deserve each other.
Until next week – always double check your mental patients’ records before release.
Body Count: 15
First Death: 8:08
Best Death: Sorority girl hanging upside down exercising strangled by a rope tied to a weight that’s thrown out the window.
Number of Obvious 3D Gags: 15
Number of Vans with Furry Interior Resembling a Skinned Cookie Monster: 1
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/7/12: Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)
-3/14/12: BYE Week for SXSW
-3/21/12: Frankenhooker (1990)
-3/28/12: Fatal Games (1984)