Ventriloquist dummies are creepy no matter what and immediately give horror material an extra boost, however in the case of James Wan’s Dead Silence it’s the ventriloquist herself that ends up being more terrifying, a ghostly presence called Mary Shaw who was once a woman that was barren and instead of having real kids, just made freaky dolls. She’s got a nasty vendetta against the townsfolk of Raven’s Fair, Ontario, relating to an incident from the collective past that has her return time and time again with her dolls to haunt them. Ryan Qwanten is a bit of a soup cracker as the lead, a thirty-something who once escaped the town and is called back by the mysterious forces at Shaw’s command, while the acting slack is picked up by other reliable faces including Bob Gunton, Amber Valletta and Donnie Wahlberg as one sarcastic detective who has no time for this hocus-pocus horseshit until it comes looking for him. Silver screen star Judith Roberts is incredibly effective as Shaw herself, a physically imposing, spectral presence and one hell of a resourceful, spiteful and dangerous otherworldly antagonist. There’s a few scenes where she stalks her prey that verge on that special nirvana of horror territory that actually has your hair standing on end and has you checking the closets later that night. The film is somewhat advertised as an evil doll flick and really that’s just the overall premise, most of the time it’s Shaw herself doing the hauntings, scares and killings and damn does she ever do a great job. Wan directs with sweeping, gothic stylish flair and has a sense of scope and spatial dynamics, Charlie Clouser composes a thunderingly melodic haunted house symphony of a score and the atmosphere hanging over this thing permeates everything. Also, I don’t think any film has ever had the balls to try and pull of a twist ending this… unflinchingly audacious and knowingly hilarious. It’s a bold, bold move but it somehow just works and adds to the charm, eliciting the prestigious slow clap reaction from me. Great film.
I will never not love Duplex, Danny Devito’s jet-black ode to neighbours from hell, a ninety minute domestic squabble of epic proportions and one of the funniest films of the last few decades. Devito knows how to do comedy at it’s meanest, lowest and most shamelessly un-PC, whenever he’s in the director’s chair you know you’ll get something that will either land squarely with those who have a deranged sense of humour (moi) or drive of the prudes in droves. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play a hapless NYC yupple (yuppie couple, just made that shit up) looking for their perfect little love nest to settle down in. They think they’ve found it in a gorgeous, spacious Brooklyn split-suite, but there’s just one problem: sweet, ninety year old Mrs. Connolly (Eileen Essell), who is the tenant equivalent of the plague. At first she’s a benign darling, but after a few weeks pass, she’s a harridan hellbent on making their lives into an extended nightmare of never ending chores, sleepless nights and maddening disruption. The solution? Well there’s many in the real world, but in Demented Devito realm it’s to kill her, of course, an eventual resolution they come to quicker than your average ruffled landlord. It’s all in good fun if you’ve got the wicked internal lens to angle at it, and I find it to be a consistent laugh riot with each repeated viewing. Essell is comic dynamite, pretty spry for an old gal and always game to make the dialogue sizzle, as the film sort of relies on her character to work. Stiller and Barrymore stir up a collective brew of exasperation and screeching hysterics, while the wicked good supporting cast includes Wallace Shawn, Robert Wisdom, Justin Theroux, Swoozie Kurtz, Maya Rudolph, Amber Valletta, Tracey Walter, Michelle Krusiec, James Remar as a shady hitman and Broadway’s beloved Harvey Fierstein as New York’s sleaziest real estate tycoon. Devito’s scripts almost always veer into a dark, bizarro cartoon style once the antics get feverishly out of hand, and bearing witness to the many varied and idiotic ways Stiller and Barrymore try to kill the old broad are a showcase of him at his nuttiest. Gross, unpleasant, cheerfully in bad taste, relentlessly raunchy and delightfully mean spirited, pretty much all the things a great comedy should be.