in the 6th century B.C. it was believed that the spirits of the dead would speak through the stomach regions of the living.
From the latin VENTER for "belly" and LOQUI "to speak"
hence the term VENTRILIQUIST
--opening scroll from "Dead Silence"
Chalk that up as ONE thing I did not know. I didn't check it out on google or wikipedia either so I'll have to take their word for it.
This was not exactly what I expected. After having suffered through the Saw trilogy, I expected an unofficial sequel starring the creepy doll on the tricycle. What I got, instead, was more in the vein of Japanese horror, such as Ju-On (or The Grudge) and Ringu (or The Ring). It was a pleasant surprise because, as I'm sure you can tell from the above sentence, I didn't enjoy the Saw pictures. I have no problem with excessive gore (I actually thought some of the Rube Goldberg torture devices were pretty clever), but I am not a fan of gore without a sense of fun. Those movies were neither scary or fun. Worse, they were kinda boring. Of course, I'm in the minority here because they probably made over a billion dollars combined. So, what do I know?
Do not go into this thing expecting Saw. I actually expected something along the lines of Saw meets Child's Play or Saw meets Dollman or Saw meets The Puppetmaster vs. Demonic Toys. Or, Saw meets the creepy clown hiding under the bed in Poltergeist. Actually, it's not that far off from the last one, minus the Saw elements. In fact, the gore is pretty minimal in this picture. I actually would have been very pleased if this was a Child's Play rip off with Saw level gore. I wasn't THAT pleased, but I wasn't exactly dissatisfied either.
How's the story? It's pretty ridiculous when you break it down, so let's not break it down too much. I wasn't that thrilled with the opening. A young, recently married couple, Jamie and Lisa, receive a large box in the mail with no return address. Inside the box is a ventriliquist dummy named Billy. It looks like a little dracula inside a coffin laid out on top of velvet bedding. Now, I don't know, it's pretty fucking creepy. I would probably wrap it back up and return it to the post office (or, at the very least, chuck it in the basement incinerator), but then again, WHAT do I know? I just watch these movies, I don't live in them. Jamie leaves his wife home alone to go pick up dinner. He comes back to find Lisa on the bed sitting upright and covered with a sheet. He pulls the sheet off to reveal his wife with a pretty horrific expression on her face. Oh. She's also missing her tongue. Even worse than that, she's dead.
This is one of those dream state movies where nothing seems to make much sense. If you've seen a Dario Argento movie, or say...Hellraiser 2, then you are familiar with a dream state film. See, when you are in the business of making dream state pictures you can dispense with such things as logic and plotting, while instead throwing all of your money and time into atmosphere and special effects. Jamie is the obvious #1 suspect, but Detective Lipton (played very well by Donnie Wahlberg) let's him go. Lipton let's him know he'll be watching him, however, when he says "I've never arrested a dummy for murder, but I have arrested a few husbands". Jamie then flees to his home town of Raven's Fair (uh huh) where there is a local legend involving a dead Ventriliquist named Mary Shaw. The movie is actually pretty strong on the creep factor. They even chose a score that seems lifted right out of Halloween. The town of Raven's Fair is a typical ghost town. As far as I can tell it consists of a deserted main street, a mansion (home to Jamie's estranged father and his new step-mom), a mortuary (home to the mortician and his insane wife), and a brilliantly constructed theatre called the Guignol Theatre (located in a quarry and accessible only by boat). Again, only in a dream (or movie) would you ever find a theatre located in such a place. This isn't a little rinky dink theatre either, but the kind you might find in early 20th century Paris.
I really did find myself liking the set design of this film. It was clearly lovingly constructed. The theatre's facade is simply stunning. Fog machines also worked overtime on this film. They even used the old black and white Universal logo at the film's beginning. Again, this all contributes to the vintage, dreamy atmosphere intended by James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannel (screenwriter).
The movie also has more humor than the Saw movies, mostly due to Donnie Wahlberg (New Kids On The Block). There is a great scene where he follows Jamie to his hotel room in Raven's Fair and proceeds to interrogate him while "performing" with Billy the doll. Wahlberg delivers all the funny lines and his reaction when he finally comes to believe Jamie's ghost story is priceless.
One more thing about this film. I have a suspician that this is one right out of the ol' twist factory. You know, the place that was officially open for business in 1995. "We'll come up with a twist, you come up with a crappy story. The idiots (you, ok AND me) won't even notice the story because all they'll talk about is the twist!" That's their motto...or perhaps I'm paraphrasing. This movie did not need the twist. Argento never needed a ridiculous twist (ok, I haven't seen EVERY Argento film, but I'm sure if he used one he had good reason). This movie was creepy and scary enough without it. It was unneccessary. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised. Wan and Whannel have a history involving terrible twists. The twist at the end of the original Saw is one of the worst offenders. I actually blame The Sixth Sense more than the Usual Suspects (that film from 1995), a film I actually like. If you take the twist out of Sixth Sense, what are you left with? A dreadful and dreary film.
Alas, I've written way more than I intended to about this particular film. I liked it. The climactic scene set at the Guignal theatre (before the awful twist) is terrific. The ending even features a cameo from that loveable SAW doll. Sadly, he left the trikey at home. You'll be creeped out and maybe even jump out of your seat once or twice. You might even laugh. Just don't go in expecting lots of entrails and detached limbs. Be sure to turn it off after the final theatre scene. You'll thank me.