There doesn’t seem to be much love in the world for killer doll movie Dead Silence. The film-makers (Leigh Whannell, James Wan) went on to bigger and better things, and disowned this early effort as mangled by studio interference, but while the creative forces may not have been satisfied with the end product, Dead Silence is one of these B movies that lend themselves to a cult following. The ventriloquist’s dummy horror movie is an ancient but venerable trope, via Dead of Night and Magic, but this neat little shocker does the business.
Ryan Kwanten plays Jamie Ashen, whose wife, Lisa, dies horribly after they take delivery of a doll called Billy. Jamie discovers her tongue-less body as he enters her apartment, but if she was already dead, how was he able to have a conversation with her in the seconds before he found her corpse? That’s a cool jumping off point for a mystery, even though Donnie Wahlberg’s cop is having none of it. ’The mystery doll department is down the hall…’ he sarcastically tells Jamie, so out protagonist heads home to his home-town of Raven’s Fair to start his own investigation. His father is no help, but Jamie starts to trace the history of one Mary Shaw, a doll-master ventriloquist who may be responsible for a series of murders. She’s dead, but her influence doesn’t seem to have been curtailed, and Jamie soon finds himself dealing with a sinister supernatural force that uses the ancient art of ventriloquism to influence events from beyond the grave…
Dead Silence builds to a twist that’s obvious on a second viewing, but escaped me the first time; I won’t spoil it here. But the shocks keep coming, the atmosphere of Shaw’s abandoned theatre is creepy, and the flashbacks to Shaw’s actual show have a great sense of vaudevillian Gothic. And unlike the Saw and Insidious movies, the story is self-contained; the result plays like a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits short story, and one with a punch-line.
Kids often want to see horror movies, and Dead Silence would work as an introduction to horror for the young and curious; it’s small in scope, but as neat as an EC Comics’ tale; all it lacks is a Crypt-keeper to set the scene. The gore isn’t excessive, and the language and sexual content mainly PG. But the ghost-train thrills are there, and Dead Silence is one of the most underrated items worth exhuming during the endless horror show Halloween of 2020.