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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Silent Rage (1982) review


Chuck Norris (Dan Stevens), Ron Silver (Dr. Tom Halman), Steven Keats (Dr. Philip Spires), Toni Kalem (Alison Halman), William Finley (Dr. Paul Vaughn), Brian Libby (John Kirby), Stephen Furst (Charlie)

Directed by Michael Miller

The Short Version: Karate master and all around Tough Guy Chuck Norris battles an invincible slasher in this martial arts-horror mash-up, one of the 80s most bizarre combos. Mad scientist machinations are mixed with Voorheesian style 'stalk and kill' shenanigans, and topped off with American style 'fist n' kick' action. Amazingly, the script manages to find room for romance between Chuck and actress Toni Kalem. Truly a one of a kind motion picture experience and the only Frankenstein Monster vs Karate movie ever made.

The mentally disturbed John Kirby finally goes off the deep end killing two people with an axe before being subdued by Texas sheriff, Dan Stevens. Managing to break free of his handcuffs, the psycho is gunned down after another scuffle with officers. Near death, three scientists decide to test a new healing serum on Kirby, but they get more than they bargained for when their creation comes off the operating table. Now an indestructible killer, Kirby goes about murdering anyone he comes across to get a rematch with sheriff Stevens.

In the annals of American action hero cinema few were as quirky as this 1982 number from the guy who directed the MACON COUNTY LINE style thriller JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976), and the horror spoof NATIONAL LAMPOONS CLASS REUNION (1982). Chuck Norris did another similar movie in 1988 entitled THE HERO AND THE TERROR. In that one, Norris tangled with a giant serial killer played by Jack O'Halloran (Non in SUPERMAN 2). An even kookier Karate Kop movie that also starred Chuck Norris came in 1994's HELLBOUND wherein Norris battled it out with demons from Hell led by Christopher Neame (Johnny Alucard in DRACULA AD 1972). For this 1982 excursion, Norris battles what amounts to the Frankenstein Monster with the personality of Michael Myers.

Horror movies were all the rage in the early 80s, particularly the slashers popularized by HALLOWEEN (1978) and the ensuing snowball effect caused by FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Both those franchises had very profitable sequels in 1981, a banner year for slashers. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Chuck Norris, arguably the quintessential American action star, was making major bank with his Tough Guy persona molded on western movie machismo. The big screen three-punch combo of GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978), A FORCE OF ONE (1979), and THE OCTAGON (1980) grossed approximately $20 million a piece, successfully putting Norris on the action movie map. An eventual Macho-Monster mash was a stroke of mad genius.

Written by Norris's friend Joseph Braley (who also scripted GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK), the plot has Chuck playing a Texas sheriff (the first of his cowboy roles) clashing with a trio of scientists who allegedly work for the betterment of mankind, but end up creating a literal monster in the process. Following the slasher template, Braley includes a few of the mainstays like the POV shots (as well as some steadicam), the unstoppable killer, and a shock ending. 

The script devotes a surprising amount of time to a romantic angle for Norris. Amazingly, it never disrupts the flow of what is essentially a horror movie with action cliches inserted into it. Defying the typical slasher machinations inherent in Braley's script, Chuck gets naked with the lovely Toni Kalem on a few occasions, so the 'have sex and die' motif doesn't apply considering Chuck's burgeoning superstar status. You also won't see Chuck impersonate Dr. Loomis by running around screaming "I shot him six times!" in between confrontations where the psycho is filled with bullets, thrown out upper story windows, run over, set on fire, and on the receiving end of Chuck's knuckles and boots.

This is arguably one of, if not Chuck's busiest movie. He's constantly preoccupied with something, yet his demeanor never changes. His facial expression is one of perpetual enlightenment. Even when he's called upon to throttle whatever obstacle is in his way, Norris goes right back to that confident, carefree look on his face. One of the highlights of SILENT RAGE is the sequence where Norris's expressionless style overcomes a bar full of obnoxious bikers. After earlier telling them to get out of town, Norris, evoking a less talkative John Wayne (a type of role he essayed in FORCED VENGEANCE from the same year, perfected in LONE WOLF MCQUADE in 1983, and expanded upon in the long running series, WALKER, TEXAS RANGER), enters a local bar to find the gang still hanging around; literally having noosed up the barkeep. The breaking of bones and bar stools follows. If there's one scene that hearkens back to the westerns of yesteryear, it's this one. A touch of comedy is provided in the form of Norris's deputy played by Stephen Furst.

Most everybody will remember Stephen Furst best as Kent "Flounder" Dorfman from the comedy classic, ANIMAL HOUSE (1978); a role he reprised in the short-lived TV series from 1979. Showcasing a penchant for comedy, Furst was fantastic as the devious blue team-leader in MIDNIGHT MADNESS (1980), a film role that capitalized on his fat boy film star status. THE UNSEEN (1980) was his first horror role where he had no room for comedy whatsoever. SILENT RAGE (1982) was another horror feature for him, but one that allowed Furst to play a comedic character, and one that was goofy, pitiable, and lovable all at the same time.

While Chuck coddles his ineffectual, yet likable deputy, sterilizes a bar infested with a biker gang all by his lonesome, and rekindles a relationship with his ex-girlfriend, science deems it necessary to test a revolutionary serum on a maniac. This serum, when perfected, could be the cure-all to any number of maladies. Unfortunately for the scientific minds involved, common sense never figures into the equation that turning a deranged madman into a deranged superman isn't the brightest of ideas.

Dr. Spires (Steven Keats) is the brains behind the project, and the Dr. Frankenstein of the trio (the other two played by Ron Silver and William Finley of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, EATEN ALIVE and THE FUNHOUSE). Braley's script, as enjoyably preposterous as it is, fine tunes all its wacky elements, giving them all time to breathe. Keats' character is given sufficient time to spiral down into madness--he may of already been there from the start, but it really begins to show about 40 minutes into the movie. 

John Kirby (played by Brian Libby, who previously worked with Norris in THE OCTAGON) is the monster. He only speaks a few lines at the beginning like, "Doc, I'm losin' it...", just before going outside, grabbing an axe, and using it for a purpose other than chopping wood. It's not explained why he never speaks for the rest of the movie, but that's where the title 'Silent Rage' comes in. He also spends the bulk of his silent rampage stalking victims while hunched over like a gorilla. Towards the end, he walks totally erect while stalking Toni Kalem in a hospital (shades of HALLOWEEN 2). Libby did most of his own stunts, as is extremely believable in the role. Often looking wild-eyed, the scenes where he kills with a total blank face are among the films chilling moments.

The unusual and unsettling score reinforces the horror motif. Curiously, there are no action-driven musical pieces; all action sequences have no musical accompaniment. The score is made up strictly of suspense cues. 

At the time, Norris was really excited about this movie. He was growing tired of doing martial arts movies and wanted more serious roles. That he was starring in a film about a Karate cowboy sheriff trying to stop an unstoppable maniac puts serious strains on that proclamation. Still, it's very polished and, despite capturing the feel, it never quite turns into a purely exploitation movie, which would have been very easy to do. Chuck Norris kicking ass in a full bore Drive-in style movie isn't a bad idea, though. Any movie with a tagline like "Science created him. Now, Chuck Norris must destroy him!" demands any action-exploitation fans undivided attention.

This review is representative of the Columbia DVD. Extras and Specs: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Trailers for other films.

1 comment:

The Flashback Fanatic said...

By keeping things simple SILENT RAGE maintains the proper balance of action and horror. It does not become a too busy mishmash of genres that won't please the fans of either one. The story benefits from a built in momentum heading toward the rematch between hero and monster that concludes the film.

With an indestructible maniac, topless biker babes, and some Chuck Norris ass-kicking, SILENT RAGE is as slick and entertaining as exploitation gets.

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