Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beware the Stare of Mary Shaw

The Only Thing Creepier Than a Clown
After the success of Saw, writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan collaborated on a very different movie, the underrated 2007 ghost story, Dead Silence.

"True Blood" star Ryan Kwanten plays Jamie Ashton, whose wife Ella ("Revenge" alum and Mia Farrow  look-alike Amber Ashton) receives a strange package one day, containing a ventriloquist dummy named Billy. While Jamie is out getting Chinese food, Ella is murdered by the doll and Jamie returns to his hometown of Ravens Fair, famous for a theatre which featured a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw, who was murdered and supposedly buried with all her dummies. Jamie pays a visit to his estranged father Edward ("24" alum Bob Gunton) who is remarried to a hot young blonde named Lisa (They star Laura Regan). Edward offers little comfort and even less explanation for Ella's murder. Meanwhile, police Detective Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) has followed Jamie, convinced he is responsible for his wife's death.

As Jamie digs deeper into the mystery of Mary Shaw, more and more people turn up dead with their tongues missing. It seems that Jamie's great-uncle called Mary out as a fraud in the 1940's, claiming he saw her lips move. After she showed him up, the boy went missing and was later found murdered with his tongue cut out. The town blamed Mary and killed her, cutting her tongue out, as well. Jamie eventually visits the old theatre where he finds Mary's workshop and a book with the plans to build a perfect puppet. Eventually Jamie and Lipton realize that Mary is possessing her puppets in her efforts to take revenge on the family that caused her to be murdered, and attempt to destroy them. Thinking the nightmare is over (SPOILER ALERT) Jamie returns to his father's house only to discover that Lisa is actually Mary's ghost and that his father has long ago been turned into a corpse puppet and that Mary had planned the whole thing to get to Jamie, the last surviving member of the Ashton family.

While Dead Silence (originally called just Silence) has loads of atmosphere and plenty of creepy visuals, Whannell's overly-complicated plot turned off most critics and audiences, who found the movie confusing. I've seen Dead Silence several times and always enjoy it, often spotting new Easter Eggs every time (one of Mary's dolls is the tricycle-riding puppet - also named "Billy" - from the Saw movies, while another is the famous Charlie McCarthy). It also features one of Whannell's unforeseeable twist endings (he's much better at that Shyamalan ever was) which I just spoiled, above. Of course, Whannell and Wan hit pay-dirt again with 2010's Insidious, yet another ghost movie I'll be covering later this month. If you're looking for atmospheric creepiness in a ghost story, you can't go wrong with Dead Silence. If you've never seen it, give it a chance. If you have and dismissed it, take another look. 

And if you want an even creepier ventriloquism movie, check out 1978's Magic, starring a young Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret. While it's not a ghost story, it is plenty creepy!

More, anon.

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