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eighties horror you might have missed

Silent Scream (1980)

During the seventies, actress Barbara Steele appeared in Piranha (1978), Caged Heat (1974), and most notably David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975) (or "They Came From Within", if you prefer). During the eighties, she only appeared in a single film: Silent Scream, directed by Denny Harris and written by Jim and Ken Wheat (who would later write screenplays for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Fly II, and…Ewoks: Battle for Endor). Interestingly, the credit sequence shows the title as "The Silent Scream", which I prefer.

The film begins with a slow-motion, dialogue-free sequence wherein police rush into an old house, guns drawn, soon discovering a serious of bodies scattered about. I can think of few horror films that begin at the end in this way and it works really well here. There are many other unusual elements like that throughout the film. One particular section that I really enjoyed was a series of long, exploratory tracking shots (free of characters) that takes you behind the house's walls and along the ductwork, revealing some additional information. I was reminded of those long tracking shots of the empty hotel corridors in The Shining (also released in 1980), and how effectively they built tension.

Surprisingly, there's some good character development, too. The relationships between each of the characters is pretty well fleshed-out by the time the blood starts to spill; even the relationship between the detective characters is well-established, which is a nice detail. At a certain point in the film, the perspective shifts from the students who are being killed off, to the family who owns the house and begins to tell their back-story. The family's teenage caretaker is particularly awkward and creepy.

It's not obvious what's going to happen next and that's very refreshing. Although characters are killed off, there isn't a great deal of gore - it's not really a slasher film. It could be that it started out differently, though, since a large portion of the film was re-shot (and presumably rewritten) during post-production. It's unfortunate (and incredible) that this was the only film that Denny Harris's directed or worked on - i would love to have seen more from him. I haven't had the opportunity to listen to the commentary track yet, but hopefully it touches on that.