Control Nathan and Clint: Dead Silence (2007)
Welcome to the latest installment in Control Nathan and Clint, the column where we give the 40 living saints who donate to the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast an opportunity to choose between which of two dreadful looking movies Clint and I must watch, then talk about on the podcast.
Our page brings in about about 174 dollars a month before Patreon takes their cut and since our podcast was solely designed as a get rich quick scheme to make Clint and myself millionaires within days of releasing our first episode, I’ve gotta admit that’s a little less than we were hoping for. Clint recently asked if there was something that maybe we could do to rake in more dough, and the truth is that there’s only one way for people like Clint and myself to make money in Donald Trump’s America: use our podcast to sell cocaine.
We’ll need to be discreet about it, of course, but don’t be surprised if you’re listening to the new call-in section of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast and you hear “patrons” say things “Yeah, my nose is fucked up REAL bad. I’m gonna need three grams of Dr. Rabin’s Magical Miracle Bolivian Nose Powder and Happy Dust delivered to me over at 4706 Maple Drive. Here’s my credit card information and also my social security number Also, I’m cheating on my wife and my taxes.”
What you won’t know, or maybe you will, is that the “Nose Powder” they’re referring to is actually incredibly potent, expensive cocaine! There are some kinks to the scheme, however. I’m worried that the “pigs” will be able to catch us and use our past episodes against us, and that people will be, I dunno, squeamish about buying hard drugs over the phone from podcasters in front of a podcasting audience of at least several people, at least some of whom might be snitches.
Selling cocaine over internet radio is, now that I think of it, perhaps a flawed get rich quick scheme but it’s got to be less injurious to the dignity of the human spirit than doing things like watch Saw duo James Wan and Leigh Wannell’s 2007 evil ventriloquist dummy shocker Dead Silence for this website and podcast.
When I call Dead Silence a shocker it’s because I was shocked to discover that any one movie could be so excruciatingly, unforgivably dull, let alone one about an evil ventriloquist. The stinkeroo was pitted against the duo’s slightly more successful Saw, which also featured a stupid puppety oddball, in honor of Wannell’s new directorial effort Upgrade, which is a whole lot of fun and infinitely better than this snoozer of a loser, which is so bad it might as well be the product of noted hateful moron Dinesh D'Souza.
Y’all chose Dead Silence and I stupidly allowed a cruel spark of hope to flicker in my weary soul. Maybe this one would be way better than its reputation suggested! It had a ventriloquist dummy and an evil ventriloquist, after all, and I am morbidly fascinated by the idea of ventriloquism, if predictably underwhelmed by the reality.
Then again, my most recent flirtations with this darkest of arts came from writing up the Achmed the Dead Terrorist Jeff Dunham animated movie (animated ventriloquism? What a country!) and watching a corporate ventriloquist try to entertain a very different audience at the Gathering of the Juggalos, so I am perhaps not experiencing ventriloquism in its highest form.
That continues with the god-awful Dead Silence, which comes up short in every department, particularly when it comes to ventriloquism. Oh sure, there is a ventriloquist dummy at the film’s center that’s ten percent creepier and more sinister than most, and consequently a figure of Lovecraftian, almost inconceivable terror, and her demonic master Mary Shaw, about whom a poem posits, “Beware of the stare of Mary Shaw, she had no children, only dolls, and if you see her in your dreams, be sure to never, ever scream”, but Dead Silence simply does not have the hot ventriloquism action I not only crave but angrily demand.
I don’t think it’s asking too much for every ventriloquism-based movie to contain all of the following sequences:
*Ventriloquist fucks their dummy
*Awkward, mostly silent brunch following sex
*Ventriloquist suicide attempt
*Ventriloquist’s dummy suicide attempt
*Upbeat closing dancing number set to a fun pop song, possibly by Smash Mouth
Dead Silence has none of those things. It has one scene of moderately spooky ventriloquism but other than that it might as well be about any kind of spooky doll or puppet, or puppety oddballs including the ones prominently featured in the Dead Silence team’s slightly more successful franchises, Saw and Annabelle.
Ah, but let’s get to this stupid, stupid, piece of shit boring-ass movie that I wasted 89 minutes of my life watching out of a Joe DiMaggio like sense of duty, even though my real calling is slanging that china white on my podcast. Pretty soon we're going to have to change the name of the podcast from Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast to the Snowman and Son White Powder Hour.
The unforgivably boring Ryan Kwanten, who is like Dead Man on Campus star Lochlyn Munro, minus the raw, Marlon Brando-like sexuality, stars as Jamie Ashen, a handsome young man who is considered the primary suspect when his wife is found butchered with her tongue cut out after they receive a mysterious package containing “Billy” the ventriloquist dummy.
It’s crazy to think that the same sick, twisted minds could be behind Saw’s Billy the Puppet and Dead Silence’s Billy the Ventriloquist dummy and the Conjuring and Annabelle franchise’s Annabelle the Doll (who I imagine began life as Billy the Spooky Doll before they figured that might be pushing it a little) but the fright masters of Hollywood are some imaginative motherfuckers, and that’s why they not only get but deserve the big bucks. Hollywood was so blown away by Wan’s ability to make horror movies about everything from a puppet to a doll to ventriloquist dummy that they gave him hundreds of millions of dollars to make the seventh film in the Fast and the Furious series (which he unsuccessfully tried to make about a racing sock puppet named Billy) and Aquaman.
Donnie Wahlberg costars as Detective Jim Lipton, a character so astonishingly ill-conceived, derivative and poorly acted that he deserves to be singled out not just as a blight on this terrible movie but on the whole genre. Wahlberg is of course best known for being the “bad boy” in New Kids on the Block, Jenny McCarthy’s husband, the freaky skinny kid in The Sixth Sense and the inspiration for Johnny Drama.
The strange beauty of Wahlberg’s wonderfully terrible performance here is that it really does seem like we’re watching Johnny Drama woefully overact his way through the nothing part of a suspicious shamus in a god-awful evil ventriloquist movie more than Wahlberg.
Throughout the film Detective Lipton will pull out his trusty electric razor and attend to his hypnotically horrible mustache despite being in the company of other people. It’s the kind of annoying quirk terrible screenwriters like to give characters to make them seem less generic. Alternately, it’s the kind of eccentricity actors love.
Now I don’t know whether Wahlberg or Whannell is responsible for the presence of an electric razor in multiple scenes, or if it’s some manner of ill-conceived product placement for Gillette but I will give it props for being at once the stupidest and most distracting element of the film, the most memorable element and the closest the movie comes to being legitimately good-bad and campily entertaining instead of a complete bore.
If I remember anything about Dead Silence, and it is 100 percent the kind of movie I will almost certainly completely forget seeing, let alone writing about and talking about on the podcast, it will be that Donnie Wahlberg, for some fucking reason, kept pulling out an electric razor and trimming his hideous ‘stache.
Is it some weird power move? Is he establishing dominance by blatantly grooming himself while interrogating people whose freedom of movement is severely limited? Or did Wahlberg’s eyes light up when he was reading the script and when he went in for the audition, he excitedly told the casting people, “So this guy, he’s very vain, very obsessed with his appearances. WHAT if he was constantly shaving himself in front of other people? That could, be, you know, his thing.”
Wahlberg’s insistence on irritatingly injecting “character” and “personality” into his nothing role would be more annoying if any other element of the movie possessed even a modicum of color. But nope, it’s all just grey and dreary and dull and depressing.
Jamie’s wife is brutally murdered and her tongue ripped out. That’s not great for Jamie, since his alibi comes down to, “Yes, I was the only one there when my pregnant wife was brutally murdered but honestly, what probably happened was the sinister ventriloquist dummy we received mere hours earlier came to life and murdered her. If I were a betting man, I’d say it probably has something to do with a poem about an evil, childless ventriloquist named Mary Shaw that was popular among the children in the spooky small town where my family is from.”
Granted, Detective Razor never actually says, “That checks out. You’re free to leave” but when Jamie immediately leaves town with Billy the Dummy in search of answers about his late wife’s brutal execution and the mustachioed crime-stopper catches up with him, he barely even bothers making him feel guilty for skipping town.
Jamie’s incredibly boring search for answers leads, predictably, to the haunted legacy of Mary Shaw and her obsession with occupying the bodies of human beings the same way her voice and personality once seemed to inhabit the bodies of her lifeless wooden collaborators.
Nothing much happens in Dead Silence. Watching it, I was reminded of when Elliott Kalan guested on the Happy Cast and he observed that even in their prime, Tales from the Crypt episodes tended to linger on about five minutes longer than they should.
That’s even truer of Dead Silence, which feels like a sub-par episode of the beloved horror anthology that didn’t just last five or six or seven minutes longer than it should but seventy or eighty minutes. Then again, if Dead Silence were an episode of Tales from the Crypt, it’d be full of humor and sex and gleeful, unabashed vulgarity whereas Wan’s film is strangely dour and solemn, equally devoid of humor and life.
On the kill front in particular, the movie is a goddamn embarrassment. Matthew Broderick has a higher body count in real life than Dead Silence does .
Yes, nothing much happens in Dead Silence and I do not mean that in a good way. Plot-wise, House of the Devil is relatively spare but there’s a whole lot going on underneath in terms of atmosphere and dread and tension and world-building. Plot-wise, Dead Silence is similarly minimalist but there’s nothing to fill the emptiness, no atmosphere, no dread, no tension, no world building, just a whole bunch of nothing.
I almost never regret watching a movie. No matter how terrible it is, I always get something out of it. Well, usually. I honestly regret having watching Dead Silence. It added nothing to my life or frame of reference or base of knowledge. I did not get anything out of the 89 minutes I spent watching it—with my even more bored and unimpressed wife—and I will not remember anything about it going forward, except, of course for a certain shitty mustache and a certain rusty electric razor.
That idiocy will probably stick with me to my dying breath because I am a very silly man who has led a very silly life.
Y’all know the deal: I make my living killing sharks and watching movies like Dead Silence. I make most of my income through Patreon so if you would consider donating even a dollar to https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace that would be super.