Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Film Appreciation - Martial Arts vs. Bionic Killing Machine


Cody Hamman has had Film Appreciation for 1982's Silent Rage since he was a child.


Silent Rage has been my favorite Chuck Norris movie ever since I was a little kid, because it has everything you'd want to see in the average Norris vehicle - the action star plays a Texas lawman who uses his martial arts skills on rowdy criminals - while also being a slasher movie with elements of a mad scientist film. Apparently Silent Rage is referred to as "Chuck Norris vs. Michael Myers" by some fans, and it's a fitting description, even if the killer in the film is no Michael Myers at the end of the day.

Directed by Michael Miller from a screenplay by Joseph Fraley, the movie starts off with a man named John Kirby (Brian Libby) having a mental breakdown while staying in a house occupied by rambunctious, noisy children and trashy parents. It's never clear who these people he's staying with are, but that doesn't matter. They're not in the movie for long. After making a desperate phone call to his psychiatrist Tom Halman (Ron Silver) to notify the doctor that he's "losing it", he goes outside, grabs an axe, and proceeds to use that axe to hack up the parents of the household.


The police are called and Sheriff Dan Stevens (Norris) arrives on the scene with his bumbling, dim-witted deputy Charlie (Stephen Furst of Animal House). After a brawl, Stevens manages to cuff Kirby and get him into the back of a squad car... but "losing it" has also given Kirby superhuman strength. He's able to break the cuff chain, kick the door off the squad car, and would get back to killing right then if Stevens' fellow officers didn't gun him down.

Halman used to be a surgeon, and he dives back into it in an attempt to save Kirby's life. Enter the mad scientist part of the film: the hospital Halman works at specializes in genetic engineering and a couple of his fellow doctors (played by Steven Keats and William Finley) propose giving their patient an experimental formula to help him recover quicker. Halman strongly objects, but others go ahead with their experiment.

The formula works. Very well. So well that the doctors are able to make Kirby's healing process so fast that it's almost immediately. His gunshot wounds heal completely in less than a day. Cuts will heal in seconds right before your eyes. They couldn't have made a much worse choice of patient to make their test subject.


Thinking Kirby is dead, Stevens has put his focus on engaging in some relationship drama, trying to get back together with his former flame Alison (Toni Kalem), who he bumped into at the hospital and who happens to be Halman's sister. When he and Alison aren't busy having sex all over his awesome house with its beautiful view, he also finds some time to do some run-of-the-mill police work, which for him means knocking the hell out of some disagreeable bikers. It's a good thing he did, because the sex scenes in this movie were so poorly received that Norris chose not to do such scenes in his future movies.

The movie drags its feet a bit, but you know where it's going. Before Stevens and Alison can head off to his cabin in the mountains (being the sheriff in this town must pay very well!), Kirby has regained consciousness and resumed his killing spree - now fully evolved into a silent, unstoppable slasher wearing a silver jumpsuit. Skulls are crushed, necks are broken, and Stevens has to put a stop to it.


It's interesting the personal associations different viewers will have with certain films. For example, I may well be the only viewer who strongly associates the movie The Wraith with Donald Duck grapefruit juice. Similarly, this is probably the only Silent Rage write-up that would include a picture of Vanson's Restaurant in Monroeville, Ohio. For me, Silent Rage will always be associated with Vanson's, because when I was a little kid I could never remember the name "Vanson's" - in fact, that name never cemented itself in my memory until now. Now I know what to call the place, but to find a picture of it on Google I just had to type in "restaurant Monroeville Ohio" and hope that little red building would show up. When I was child, I would call Vanson's "that place with the boy I don't like". "The boy" was one of restaurant's employees, and I was wary of him because he looked like John Kirby to me.

My parents would take me out to eat at Vanson's from time to time, and I liked the place even though John Kirby worked there. So sometimes I would ask if we could go eat at "that place with the boy I don't like". Unfortunately, Vanson's doesn't exist anymore, but the restaurant was there for decades, and every time I saw that red building I would think of Silent Rage - just like every time I would watch Silent Rage, I would think of that restaurant.


I couldn't even tell you how young I was when I was watching Silent Rage and going to Vanson's. I wasn't very old at all; Silent Rage seems like a movie that has always been in my head. It probably has, since it would have been making the cable movie channel rounds by the time I was born.

When I was watching Silent Rage at that young age, there were parts of that movie that deeply disturbed me, like that opening sequence when Kirby first snaps and gets his axe. The unpleasantness of the living situation in that house made it even more troubling to me, and the concept of Kirby taking an axe to these people he knew (was he related to them?) got to me. That's why I was bothered by that kid who resembled him; Kirby is creepy guy.

 

The most troubling about Silent Rage to me, though, is a story that's told by Charlie. We're supposed to find his idiocy amusing, Stevens has a smirk on his face while he's listening to it, but the idea of a kid giving his dog a bath and then trying to dry it off in the freezer - that gets to me even more than Kirby's antics.

Silent Rage isn't great, the action could have been better and it could have gone further with the slasher sequences (and could have pulled back on those relationship scenes), but it's entertaining and remains my favorite Chuck Norris movie. This film was an important piece of my childhood, and I will always appreciate it for the memories it has given me.

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