One Of The Scariest Scenes In Dead Silence Crawls Into Darkness

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Matt rants about "Dead Silence" for the seventeen billionth time here on /Film.)

James Wan and Leigh Whannell shaped an entire horror movement with their rise to fame "Saw," and have since become contemporary mainstays both with collaborative and separate successes. Among them is a wooden bastard child — 2007's "Dead Silence," their follow-up to 2004's "Saw," was decimated by critics. Whannell has famously gone on to reveal his displeasure with how the studio machine treated "Dead Silence" (in a now-deleted personal blog entry), seemingly leaving a sour taste in everyone's mouth. Many have tried to forget "Dead Silence" exists, except me.

It was August 2017 when I was allowed to write my defense of "Dead Silence" for /Film's "The Unpopular Opinion" column. Not a single word has lost meaning, down to the most emphatic praise. Between evil ventriloquism, heavy usages of red lighting, and terrifying sequences drenched in shadows, you can see Wan playing with all the signatures that'd eventually make their way into "Insidious" and "The Conjuring" universes. "Dud Silence: The Hellish Experience of Making a Bad Horror Film" was the title of Whannell's blog entry — I'd argue it was no failure. It's a shame to hear how terrible the experience was, but if it brings comfort, the product is far better than critics at the time were willing to admit.

The setup

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) receives a suited ventriloquist dummy from an unknown sender. Its name is Billy. Jamie doesn't think much of the gift and leaves his pregnant wife home while he picks up dinner. He returns to find his wife's fresh corpse with her tongue cut out, jaw agape like she died mid-squeal. Jamie's released from custody since there's no evidence against him, then spies a message inside Billy's box about a deceased ventriloquist named Mary Shaw from his hometown of Raven's Fair.

The story so far

Jamie returns to Raven's Fair in search of answers. His wealthy father Edward (Bob Gunton) and much younger wife Ella (Amber Valletta) offer dead ends. Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) still finds Jamie suspicious and becomes a persistent tail around Raven's Fair. Local mortician Henry Walker (Michael Fairman) and his senile wife Marion (Joan Heney) are the ones to indulge Jamie's investigation by spilling the urban legend of Mary Shaw; killed by a mob, buried with her dolls, now a vengeful spirit who slaughters those who scream. Jamie digs deeper into the specter of Raven's Fair known as Mary Shaw, but Henry's willingness to help Jamie seals his fate.

The scene

Henry creeps his mortuary's viewing room to Marion speaking towards a closed coffin. Sneak camerawork reveals she's asking Billy — propped in front of the coffin — to "say something." Henry grabs the doll and angrily sets bulgy-eyed Billy down in his working quarters. Henry searches for his shovel to bury Billy; the doll's eyes follow Henry like Billy's alive.

Suddenly, whimpering can be heard from a crawl space. Henry presumes it's Marion, saddened by his scolding. He walks to the entrance and grabs a flashlight, unaware that Billy's eyes are still following like they're magnetized. As Henry unfastens the door and crawls in headfirst, Billy's head rotates, watching Henry shuffle into the enclosed area.

Henry crawls on his hands and knees around wooden support beams towards what looks like a sobbing Marion. The sulking gets louder as Henry approaches until he taps on "Marion," only to discover a doll in Marion's clothing. At this moment, the hatch door swings closed — almost total darkness outside the flashlight engulfs.

Henry scampers like a spooked vermin to the door, begging Marion to let him out. As he bangs and pleads, the sound is sucked from the crawl space. The flashlight's circular illumination scans Henry's surroundings but finds nothing, so Henry starts pounding again.

"Hello, Henry," says a voice that's not Marion.

Henry turns around in complete terror. Then, as the camera slowly zooms into the darkness between rows of wooden beams, a hand reaches around one of the further supports. It's rotten gray and has putrid black fingernails — the hand quickly pulls back out of sight.

Henry turns back toward the locked exit but instead comes face to face with Mary Shaw. He makes the mistake of screaming, which allows Mary to kill the poor older man. She smiles, laughs, and lunges, leaving a dying Henry with no tongue, forced to watch Mary devour his missing mouth muscle.

The impact (Chris' take)

I love "Dead Silence." Hell, I'm pretty sure I love "Dead Silence" more than the folks who made "Dead Silence," primarily because James Wan and Leigh Whannell have all but disowned the film due to studio tampering and poor box office. In fact, when I met James Wan once (#humblebrag) and told him he should make a "Dead Silence" sequel, he replied: "But no one saw the first one."

I did, James Wan. I did. And I loved it. 

There are a whole slew of scenes from "Dead Silence" that I love for their creepy, Hammer Horror-influenced atmosphere. But this is definitely one of the scariest scenes in the movie (the other involves the same character from this scene, Henry, when he was a curious kid). Have you ever been in a dirty crawl space? That's scary enough on its own. Now imagine a giant puppet woman is down there, ghosting around and sticking her giant ghoul tongue out. Terrifying!