Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
I mentioned that we would be looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, the 1982 film Silent Rage is a perfect choice to kick this segment off with because it manages to check all three of those boxes. Read on for all the gory details.
In addition to action and exploitation, many of the motifs from this film incorporate elements belonging to the horror genre. The antagonist has qualities similar to Michael Myers in terms of being a silent stalker and a villain that cannot really be killed. It plays out something like Chuck Norris versus The Shape. The film takes the idea of an indestructible Frankenstein-type monster who decides to go on a rampage killing everyone he meets.
The film opens with Mr. Norris playing Sheriff Dan Stevens. The sheriff arrives too late to a boarding house where borderline psychotic John Kirby (Brian Libby) has finally slipped into full madness and murdered everyone living there. Kirby had been desperately trying to get a hold of his psychiatrist (Ron Silver) for help and his failure to do so sets up the main motivation for his revenge. After demonstrating his strength in a fight with Dan, Kirby is shot down and taken to the local institute. While there, morally corrupt scientists decide to keep Kirby alive for their own endeavors. Ron Silver’s character, Tom, questions the ethics of the situation but is fascinated in his own right. This fateful decision will eventually lead to the downfall of each of the scientists.
The beginning of the film is a little uneven and the dialogue is at times a bit clunky. However, these faults all lead up to a signature Chuck Norris scene involving the local bikers. Accompanying Norris’s Dan is rookie sidekick, Deputy Charlie (Stephen Furst). Charlie tends to act haphazardly and this often leads Dan into one tough situation after another. The two eventually end up at a biker bar where all the patrons are out of control. The occupants of the bar decide to take on Dan while Charlie runs out for backup. Unfortunately, Charlie was distracted by one of the biker ladies and is delayed. Luckily, Dan is played by Chuck Norris and everyone knows what happens when you mess with Chuck Norris. Suffice to say, Sheriff Dan comes out victorious with little help from Charlie. These first two acts are interspersed with moments surrounding the scientists bringing Kirby back to life and displaying his ability to heal from all wounds.
While the first half of the film is uneven and used to introduce characters, the second half is a surprisingly well crafted horror feature. The soundtrack is used in a suspenseful and gripping way. Like most slasher films of the 1980s, Silent Rage gives us a series of shots through the killer’s POV. While Kirby resembles an early Michael Myers, he adds an extra physicality to the character which can be quite chilling. He has a sort of panther-like quality when circling his victims and the audience can see the joy in his eyes when he’s about to pounce.
This film differs from most horror films of the time in the fact that it features more mature characters. These are not teenagers dropped into a situation where a masked killer stalks them one by one. Instead, the killer’s rage is directed at a married couple, the sheriff, and his lady friend (Toni Kalem), all of whom are in their late twenties or early thirties. Kalem plays Alison Halman and easily gives one of the strongest performances of the picture. She is set up in the final girl role and could easily compete with any of the reigning scream queens of the day. Ultimately, everything leads to a showdown between Dan and Kirby. A fight in which Kirby’s indestructible strength goes up against Dan’s martial arts prowess.
When looking at films from the 1980s, contemporary audiences will usually look back and find a mixture of comedy and terror. Sometimes the comedy is deliberate while at other times clearly unplanned. Yet, that is part of the joy in watching these now classic films. Silent Rage is recommended based on the novel idea of seeing Chuck Norris in a horror film. The cheesy 1980s factor is definitely there for the first half of the film with the biker bar, as well as the love scenes between Chuck Norris and Toni Kalem. However, horror audiences will not be let down by the unexpectedly well done terror and action that transpires in the second half. While the fashion and technology are obviously dated, there is little else that keeps it from standing the test of time.