Out of everything going on in the early 1980s, only two things really mattered. The first was the fact that the American slasher boom was in full swing, thanks in no small part to the runaway success of indie horror films like Halloween and Friday the 13th. And the second, as you’ve surely gathered by the title of this post, was that Chuck Norris’ career was on the rise, the action hero’s star quickly ascending to mythical proportions.
In 1982, the slasher craze collided with Chuck Norris fever. And Silent Rage was born.
Written by Joseph Fraley and directed by Michael Miller, Silent Rage begins with a deranged madman by the name of John Kirby going on a murderous rampage with an axe, hacking up a man and woman he had been living with. When Sheriff Dan Stevens (Chuck Norris) heroically arrives on the scene, a fight for survival ensues, and Stevens comes out victorious. But Kirby’s reign of brutal terror has only just begun.
The powerful man breaks free from his restraints and is subsequently shot several times by the police, and he’s pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. But when a Herbert West-like doctor decides to use an experimental serum on the lifeless corpse, Kirby comes back to life more powerful than before. His flesh and organs heal in an instant, making him a superhuman machine that cannot be stopped.
Crudely weaving the martial arts skills of its star into the established formula of slasher cinema, Silent Rage is a true genre hybrid if there ever was one. Driven by the strange goal of appealing to both Chuck Norris fans and fright fiends, a recipe for box office success at the time, the film struggles to balance the two genres, resulting in a wonderfully disjointed mixture of ass-kicking fight scenes and horror movie moments.
For roughly the first hour, Silent Rage jumps back and forth in tone, at some points feeling like a horror film and at other points making you forget there’s even a horror element present. Norris fans will surely delight in a random bar brawl that sees him dishing out roundhouse kicks left and right, and then there’s a romantic sub-plot involving the mustachioed action star trying to get back in the sack with an ex-flame.
I’m not sure anyone delights in seeing Chuck Norris have sex, but who am I to judge?
Though the body count tally reaches two within the opening ten minutes, it’s not until right around that hour mark that Silent Rage starts wearing its horror inspirations very proudly on its sleeve. When the once human John Kirby is re-animated as an invincible monster, the film gets bloody and becomes a full on slasher affair, and it’s hard not to notice the fact that Kirby is clad in a hospital-issue blue jumpsuit. Sound familiar?
Bullets affect the mute killing machine the way mosquito bites affect normal humans, and particularly when Kirby stalks and murders his psychiatric and the doc’s wife in their home, it becomes clear that Silent Rage is little more than Halloween disguised as an action film – and Kirby, as reflected by the wardrobe, is the film’s Michael Myers. Yea. Chuck Norris vs. Michael Myers. That’s this one in a nutshell.
Like Halloween 2, which came out one year prior, Silent Rage‘s main stalk ‘n slash sequence takes place in a hospital, and though Brian Libby is more goofy than menacing as the killer, the film does a commendable job capturing that slasher vibe – right down to the score. Kirby bear-hugs the deputy to death, sticks a syringe full of death serum into one doctor and snaps the neck of another, playing the role of Myers to a tee.
Of course, you can’t have a slasher movie – or even a weird slasher hybrid that stars Chuck freakin’ Norris – without a damsel in distress, and actress Toni Kalem fills that role in this one as Stevens’ love interest Alison Halman. Like a true final girl, she proves to be quite a fighter in her own right, going from victim to capable survivor when the film calls for that switch to be turned on. Laurie Strode, anyone?
As for Norris himself, he fills the role of Dr. Loomis, albeit the action hero version of the Halloween franchise’s lovable old man. Unsurprisingly, there’s a scene towards the end of Silent Rage where Stevens fires several bullets into Kirby’s chest, the force of the shots plummeting him out a window and sending him crashing several stories to the ground. Ya know, just in case you didn’t get what they were going for here.
In the final act, slasher movie and Chuck Norris action film fully collide in grand fashion, as Stevens and Kirby engage in a hand-to-hand battle to the death. The sequence has an almost surreal quality, as there’s just something about watching Chuck Norris pummel Michael Myers with roundhouse kicks that seems too wacky (and awesome) to be true. Stevens wins in the end, tossing the (still alive) bootleg Myers down a well.
Silent Rage is a Chuck Norris slasher film. THE ONLY Chuck Norris slasher film. And if that’s not more than enough reason to seek it out, buy it, and love it like a son, then I’m just not sure what is. A whole lot of wonderfully weird movies were made in the 1980s, to be sure, but whoever decided to make a Halloween ripoff and cast Chuck Norris as an ass-kicking Dr. Loomis deserves not just a medal, but a goddamn statue.
THIS is why we still love the ’80s.
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