Release Date(s)2007 (March 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Twisted Pictures/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
It had been some time since a mainstream horror film centered around a ventriloquist dummy, the most prominent example being Magic from 1978, but after the success of 2004’s Saw, James Wan and Leigh Whannell returned to horror three years later with Dead Silence, which utilized that very idea. It turned out to be a critical and commercial failure, but in light both of filmmakers’ continued success in their respective careers, its gained a cult following since.
Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) finds himself a suspect in the murder of his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) after the arrival of an unmarked package containing a wooden ventriloquist dummy. The lead detective on the case, Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), is convinced that Jamie did it, but lacks the evidence to prove it, and follows Jamie as he quests to find out who and why Lisa was murdered. His search leads him back to his hometown of Raven’s Fair, where his sister Ella (Amber Valletta) and estranged father (Bob Gunton) continue to reside. As he talks to the local townspeople, including the local mortician Henry (Michael Fairman) and his senile wife Marion (Joan Heney), he uncovers the truth behind the legend of Mary Shaw, a long-dead ventriloquist whom children’s stories put forth would take your voice and kill you if you screamed in her presence, and the only way to stop her is to stay completely silent. As Jamie continues to investigate with Lipton hounding his every move, it becomes clear that something supernatural is at work.
One of the biggest issues with Dead Silence is its clash of styles. It wants to be an old school, slow burn horror film with a dark and moody atmosphere set within a Gothic aesthetic. On the other hand, it also wants to be a slick, mainstream horror film complete with jump scares and quick cuts. The latter isn’t a prevalent feature of the film, but it immediately ruins the overall aesthetic when it occurs. Nevermind that the lead is boring, the dialogue is awful, and the ending is less than satisfactory, not to mention obvious. That all said, Dead Silence manages to have some mild charm to it. There are occasionally spooky, atmospheric moments, as well as a couple of genuinely creepy visuals. If you’re someone that’s deathly afraid of dolls or dummies, you’ll get no relief since this film is stuffed with them, no pun intended. The score is not half bad either, but unfortunately, there’s a little too much of it in areas where silence would have been a better choice.
Dead Silence later premiered on home video in an unrated version with a couple of deleted moments cut back in, as well as a tad bit more blood, and as a detraction, a gigantic CGI tongue coming from Mary Shaw’s ghostly mouth, which is just bizarre and unnecessary. None of these things improve the film by any stretch, and it’s already a troubled film to begin with. Many likely appreciate it for its stylistic touches, but it winds up being style over substance. It’s not a terrible film, by any means, but some tweaking would have made something a little more substantial.
Dead Silence was shot by director of photography John R. Leonetti on 35 mm film using Panavision and Arriflex cameras and anamorphic lenses, and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate with the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Scream Factory debuts the theatrical version of the film on Ultra HD from a new 4K master (presumably from the original camera negative), graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are provided). The unrated version is included on the accompanying Blu-ray. As Dead Silence is an intentionally desaturated film, with an an overall dark, bluish, grayish appearance for the majority of its running time, the higher definition is definitely kind to it. Its UHD debut offers crisp images, a high bitrate, and a well-attenuated sheen of fine grain. The HDR grades blow open the gamut in terms of color and contrast, soaking up the darkness with solid blacks and impressive shadow detail, but also wringing every bit of detail out of what little color is available, including Jamie’s gorgeous red Cutlass Supreme. The CGI, which is fairly tame in the theatrical version (the CGI tongue in the unrated version doesn’t hold up at all), stands out the most, and I suspect will appear even less organic on much larger displays. Regardless, this is still a dynamic presentation of the film.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 option offers fine support for the film’s score and sound effects, though dialogue is mixed a little too low at times, specifically from Donnie Wahlberg who sounds like he’s whispering in many scenes. Otherwise, it’s a fine track with plenty of movement from speaker to speaker, as well as decent low end.
Dead Silence on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray containing both cuts of the film with extras. The insert and slipcover feature the original theatrical artwork. The following is included on the Blu-ray only:
- Masters of Puppets: Director James Wan on Dead Silence (HD – 15:45)
- Dead Assignment: Writer Leigh Whannell on Dead Silence (HD – 12:26)
- No Children, Only Dolls: Ventriloquist Dummy Creator Tim Selberg on Dead Silence (HD – 12:15)
- Alternate Opening (SD – 1:37)
- Alternate Ending (SD – 3:42)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 3 in all – 3:50)
- The Making of Dead Silence (SD – 11:55)
- Mary Shaw’s Secrets (SD – 6:41)
- Evolution of a Visual Effect (SD – 3:59)
- Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:15)
Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment provides three new interviews for this release. James Wan discusses ghost stories, making films at an early age, his influences, working with Leigh Whannell, developing the script, his fascination with scary dolls, getting away from being known as the Saw guy, creating an experience for the audience, and his feelings on the film today. Leigh Whannell talks about learning about filmmaking, working with James Wan, how Dead Silence came to be, why scary dolls work, other ideas that didn’t make it into the film, and the film’s second life. Ventriloquist dummy creator Tim Selberg discusses getting into making dummies, getting involved with the project, the Billy dummy design, and seeing the finished film. The Alternate Opening, Alternate Ending, and Deleted Scenes add more meat to the bone, explaining the backstory of Ella, while also featuring a deleted character, groundskeeper Boz. The Making of Dead Silence, Mary Shaw’s Secrets, and Evolution of a Visual Effect were created for the film’s original home video releases. Also included is the theatrical trailer. Missing from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases is the music video We Sleep Forever by Aiden.
Dead Silence owes much of its existence to William Castle, Dead and Buried, and The Fall of the House of Usher as it seems to be a pastiche of those various influences. For whatever faults the film itself carries, its UHD presentation can’t be faulted all that much because it’s excellent. The extras are a tad thin, but for fans of the film, this is still an upgrade worth pursuing.
- Tim Salmons