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Feature: Dead Silence

Who's in charge?

We encounter a creepy chorus of dummies on the set of this new film, a Gothic tour de force from Saw director James Wan

There are those who may laugh at growling CGI monsters, scoff at demonically possessed little girls or yawn in the face of a madman with a chainsaw, but even the most jaded Horror fan can’t deny an increase in heart rate at the sight of a ventriloquist’s dummy turning its head without Human manipulation. There’s just something intrinsically terrifying about the icons of childhood when they’re turned towards evil purposes. And so, on a visit to the set of the film Dead Silence, the sight of 101 unique dummies staring out with their blank dummy eyes from individual glass cases is enough to send a chill up anyone’s spine.

The room, ostensibly situated above a theatre, is filled with cobwebs, crafting materials and assorted doll parts. This is the dusty attic workshop of Mary Shaw, the film’s main baddie. Once a well-known ventriloquist in the town of Ravens Fair, Mary’s career and life came to a tragic end when she was blamed for the death of a missing boy. The town took its retribution by cutting out her tongue and murdering her, a fate now suffered by those who incur her wrath as a vengeful ghost. There’s even a children’s rhyme to go along with the legend:

Beware the stare of Mary Shaw
She had no children, only dolls
And if you see her, do not scream
Or she’ll rip your tongue out at the scene

“She’s not a nice lady,” says Judith Roberts, who plays Mary Shaw in the film. “She’s done some pretty horrific things. A great ventriloquist, is what she is, in the town. And she was hurt in many ways by feeling left out, and I think her answer is to have taken on all of these dolls, these wonder dolls. And then had them and made them, and then realized she could speak through them and get her satisfaction and expression that way. She has 101 of them, and each one is different. And each one means something different to her. And she loves them and maintains them. There’s a little crazy in her association with that. She doesn’t like people as much as she likes these babes. Her boys and girls.”

At the helm of this macabre story is none other than James Wan, the wunderkind director who made a bloody splash on the Horror scene in 2004, with the low-budget indie film Saw. Wan is quick to point out that, just like his last film, turned the slasher thriller on its ear, Dead Silence won’t be your typical evil dummy film.

“Despite all the dolls you see around us here, it’s not a killer doll film,” Wan says during a break from filming on the set. “My dolls never get up and walk around. It’s not a Chucky movie. That’s the first thing I want to say.”

So what do they do then? “That’s for you to find out!” Wan teases.

by Cindy White

Read the full interview in
Shivers #132

Photo © Universal Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #132
March 2007
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