The Silent Scream (1979)

All the warning signs were there. The crabby old woman who owns the house but hides in the attic. Mason, the high school kid who handles the actual renting out of the rooms who is so creepy you hope he is only a perverted peeper. The room for rent that he ominously announces used to be his sister’s. Based on the available data there’s at least a 75% chance anyone staying at that house is going to be either skinned alive, eaten or held prisoner to be some inbred mutant’s sex toy.

So why would sexy college girl Scotty still rent a room there? Because it’s $50 a month! That’s a damn good deal in any housing market, let alone a university town with a shortage of housing!

But Scotty isn’t completely oblivious to the crazy storm swirling around her. After one of her roommates is found slashed to death on the beach just below the house buried in a sandcastle, she only reluctantly agrees to go swimming a few days later at the same beach with her boyfriend! Sure it feels a bit weird what with poor old Peter’s blood icking up the sand, but he wouldn’t want this banging bikini to go to waste, would he?

And besides after she’s done frolicking in the surf/crime scene and later screwing the hell out of her boyfriend back at the house (they aren’t going to be any help in solving Peter’s murder if they’re distracted by how freaking horny they are, right?), Scotty shifts into Nancy Drew mode once she goes looking for another roommate in the basement and notices a door leading to a secret passage.

With one murdered roommate and another missing, the only thing that keeps the discovery of a cobweb-filled passageway that runs through the house from being promptly reported to the police could only be chalked up to some really, really good reason.  A really, really good reason like like not wanting to jeopardize your $50 monthly dream rental! So what if you end up bound, gagged and menaced by an entire family of psychos! At least it isn’t costing you $200 a month!

Peter’s death is being investigated by a pair of local cops and they have no leads, but are getting pressure from the chief because Peter’s dad is a big shot and he wants answers! There is one loose end that came up when they interviewed Mason, the son of the house’s owner. He said it was just him and his mother living there, but his sister used to live there, too. Where is she now? Oh, she’s back east he says vaguely and unconvincingly. Damn dude, why don’t you also wink at the cop while saying it just to make sure he’s completely tipped off!

The records on the sister come back and it’s strictly Horror Movie Psycho 101 stuff. Years ago she was jilted by a boy, attacked him with a knife, institutionalized, lobotomized, taken home by mother and never seen again.

But then the mother starts renting rooms to college kids! Even the dippy Mason calls his mother out on what a dumb idea that turned out to be, asking her why she didn’t sell the house if they needed money so badly. The proceeds from the sale of an oceanfront property in a college town could surely have paid for a full time nurse for the sister! Or at least sturdier walls that she can’t rip apart with her bare hands to escape her locked room!

This was Mason’s only true moment of insight though as he was the sort of guy who tolerated (with some whining) the sister’s murders, but then got a dose of full psychotic break when the truth about his parentage is revealed. Really Mason? Your complicity in murders and kidnapping have you at most griping to your mom about the unfairness of it all, but when you get told so and so isn’t your real dad, that’s when you put on grandpa’s World War II army uniform on and start shooting everyone?

The Silent Scream is competently shot, the music is appropriately jolting, and once Peter is dead, none of the remaining characters are terribly obnoxious, if not that bright, but the “insane sister getting out and murdering the boarders” story is underwhelming since the mother just seems stupid for getting everyone into a he situation in the first place for no good reason.

The additional reveal about Mason added a little bit of the expected twistedness to things, but his deranged response felt rushed and forced solely so that the movie had more of an explosive ending, rather than earned by anything that had previously occurred. There is a nicely done sequence where Scotty is being held by the family and her boyfriend is in the next room but doesn’t know she’s there, but we soon forget about the threat to Scotty once the family argument breaks out.

Fans of Italian horror classics will likely enjoy the presence of the legendary Barbara Steele as the wide eyed mute sister at the center of things. She certainly looks nuts. Cameron Mitchell, another vet of these sorts of things is also on hand as one of the police officers investigating the murder though he doesn’t get to do much more than show up at the crime scene a few times and see dead bodies.

Nothing new or memorable here and there’s very little in the way of building tension (Scotty just follows the passageway to the killer’s room and gets caught) which a movie needs to rely on if it is going to skimp on the killings, like The Silent Scream does.

Despite the flashback that reveals what went on in this family, the film doesn’t really bother coming up with any motivation for any of this other than “they’re all crazy” that explains why the sister wants to kill these strangers all of a sudden, even going so far as to track down Peter at the beach. If I was her mother, I would demand a refund on that lobotomy she got all those years ago. She surely thought getting her crazy brain chopped would make her daughter manageable and allow her landlord career to flourish, but instead she just ended up with a lot bodies and broken leases.

© 2017 MonsterHunter

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