Color, 1980, 87m.
Directed by Denny Harris
Starring Rebecca Balding, Cameron Mitchell, Avery Schreiber, Barbara Steele, Steve Doubet, Brad Rearden, Yvonne De Carlo
Scorpion (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A police call brings two cops (Mitchell and Schreiber) to the sprawling beachside boarding house of Mrs. Engels (De Carlo) and her son Mason (Rearden) where, in slow motion, they make their way to the attic and recoil in horror. What did they find, you may ask? Well, you don't get to find out until the climax as we jump back in time to meet the Engels' newest boarders including perky Scotty (The Boogens' Balding, sporting an amusing Debbie Boone haircut) who joins three other college students already settling in. While Mrs. Engels tends to disappear upstairs for long stretches, the jittery Mason helps make them at home -- at least until one of them ends up knifed on the beach and another in the basement while doing the laundry. The police investigation uncovers some odd mysteries about the old place, and it's only a matter of time before the remaining guests find their names next on the chopping list.

Made during the initial spate of slasher films in the wake of Halloween, this independent chiller (billed as The Silent Scream on the title card and nowhere else) aims for a combination of modern thrills (including intercutting a knife murder with a sex scene) and tried-and-true old dark house shudders, with the two colliding head on for a memorable climax featuring a mute but quite unforgettable scene-stealing turn by scream queen Barbara Steele. De Carlo is basically wasted in her few minutes of screen time and the extensive cop footage is obviously padding that adds nothing to the story, but the rest of the cast (Balding in particular) does a fine job of creating interesting, sympathetic characters, while the skillful construction pulls off some nifty jolts including one marvelous shock scene unfortunately spoiled in the theatrical trailer. Modern horror fans might not warm up to this one right away, but it's worth the effort on a dark, spooky night and delivers the goods if you're in the right mood.

Eagle-eyed viewers could spot some signs of edited used to spackle over a disjointed production, and the excellent DVD release courtesy of Scorpion finally explains exactly how the whole affair came to pass. One-shot director Denny Harris originally directed the film in 1977 with a mostly different cast (including a familiar face from Jaws in the Steele role), but most of the footage was scrapped producing/writing brothers Jim and Ken Wheat (Pitch Black, The Fly II). After much recasting and the creation of a new set, the story went before the cameras again and emerged as the padded but spookily effect minor gem we now have. The HD transfer is miles and miles ahead of the past video edition from the '80s (first from Media, then a bargain version from the notorious Video Treasures); colors are rich and accurate, while the framing and detail look quite satisfying. Dolby stereo and 5.1 mixes are offered (the former very close to the original theatrical mono mix). The Wheats and Balding contribute the lion's share of the supplemental material including an audio commentary and a new featurette, "The Scream of Success," which recount the history of both versions of the film, the various locations, and working with the impressive cast of veterans. Shorter separate video pieces discuss the Wheats' other projects (which also include The Birds II: Lands End and an Ewok film), Baldwin's other beloved horror title, and a discussion of the original screenplay, while Harris appears solely in an audio interview via telephone shortly before his death. The effective trailer and TV spots close out the disc, a highly recommended edition of a film that has languished in utter neglect for far too long.


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