The Silent Scream (1980) poster

The Silent Scream (1979)


USA. 1979.


Director – Denny Harris, Screenplay – Wallace C. Bennett, Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat, Producers – Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat, Photography – Michael D. Murphy & David Shore, Music – Roger Kellaway, Special Effects – Steve Karkus, Production Design – Christopher Henry.


Rebecca Balding (Scotty Parker), Brad Marden (Mason Engles), Steve Doubet (Jack Towne), Barbara Steele (Virginia Engles), Juli Andelman (Doris Pritchard), John Widelock (Peter Ransom III), Yvonne De Carlo (Mrs Engles), Cameron Mitchell (Lieutenant Sandy McGiver), Avery Schreiber (Sergeant Manny Ruggin)


Scotty Parker enrols at university late and as a result is unable to find a place in a dormitory. Eventually she finds a room in a large, old seaside mansion boarding house run by teenager Mason Engels and his reclusive mother. Someone then starts killing the other students at the house. Scotty starts to uncover the Engels’ family’s twisted background and meets the crazed sister Virginia whom they keep locked away in the cellar.

The Silent Scream was made just when the slasher film cycle was kicking into gear with the twin success of Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The Silent Scream seems to be a horror film that is caught between two cycles – on one hand, it is a combination of the leftovers from the Old Dark House genre with its family secrets in the cellar of a big old mansion (and a little of the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) sub-genre of aging actresses going around the bend) and of the modern slasher film, setting up a group of faceless teen victims to be dispatched.

As it goes, The Silent Scream has moments of effectiveness and several flashes of style that stand it above the thorough dross that constitutes the bulk of the slasher cycle. There is one subtly effective shot on a beach after one victim is attacked where the camera lingers and it takes a moment before one realizes that the sandcastle in the foreground has a bloody hand emerging from it; or the scene where Rebecca Balding is being gagged on one side of a wall while boyfriend Steve Doubet searches for her on the other side and she struggles to try and pull a cord and knock a record player over to alert him.

Barbara Steele in The Silent Scream (1980)
The return of the great Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele, the wide-eyed actress who became a cult figure as a result of the Italian Gothic cycle of the 1960s beginnings with Black Sunday (1960), makes a welcome return to the genre for the first time in several years and proves on fine form. There are appearances from other genre regulars like Cameron Mitchell and Yvonne de Carlo. While not pretending that The Silent Scream is a great film, it is made with a reasonable degree of competence.

This was the only film ever directed by Denny Harris. The co-writers, brothers Ken and Jim Wheat, went onto a number of other genre works including the alien visitor film The Return (1981), The Fly II (1989), The Birds II: Land’s End (tv movie, 1994), It Came from Outer Space II (1995), the killer snake movie Rattled (1996), The Stepford Husbands (tv movie, 1996) and Pitch Black (2000). They also directed the psycho-thriller Lies (1983), the. Star Wars spinoff Ewoks and the Marauders of Endor (1986) and the horror anthology After Midnight (1989).

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