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TV Tuesday: Hammer House of Horror (The Silent Scream)



Here it is, the long-awaited episode with Peter Cushing! I’ve known it was coming and I eagerly anticipated it. It was well worth the wait, not only for Cushing, who delivers his regular terrific performance, but for a story that is truly scary, surprising, and thrilling with a perfect twist ending.

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In fact, as far as the acting goes, I was most surprised to find Brian Cox in the lead role. You know him from any number of genre and non-genre films; he currently has 221 credits and, at the age of 73, is still going strong. (If you’re a fan, check out L.I.E. from 2001; it’s probably one you haven’t seen.)

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He plays Chuck, an ex-convict who befriended Martin Blueck (Cushing), a kindly old concentration camp survivor and pet shop owner, when he visited him in prison. We know right away that Blueck isn’t really so kindly, and has sinister intentions, when we see the animals he keeps below the pet shop.

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He’s developed a way to train these animals to remain in open cages and partially emerge only during feeding time. I’m not sure what he ultimately hopes to achieve despite the fact that he regularly asks Chuck to “just imagine” the implications of his experiments.

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Chuck comes to understand those implications a little better when he’s employed to watch the animals while Blueck is out of town, and when he’s tempted by a safe located in a raised area above the “zoo.” The Silent Scream walks in Twilight Zone territory when Chuck’s actions result in ironic punishment.

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The story by Francis Essex is nuanced, raising details that aren’t fully explored, but add depth to the characters and indicate more happening below that isn’t explained on the surface. If you think about these details, for example, the sex life of Chuck and his wife, Annie (Elaine Donnelly), they’re likely to contribute to their motivations.

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Leonard Salzedo contributes the most exciting music yet for an episode of Hammer House of Horror. The emotion expressed when Chuck first returns home is a little over the top, but it’s soon forgotten when it takes us into more dangerous territory. On a side note, I like how different composers are employed for different episodes.

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That’s one characteristic that makes these episodes feel like mini-movies. Of course, there’s no connective tissue among them; it’s an anthology. However, using different directors, writers, composers, etc. make the series unpredictable. That’s why we watch some that are lackluster, and some, like this one, that are fantastic.

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Hammer Horror Film Connections:

  • Peter Cushing!!!

  • Alan Gibson directed Crescendo (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).

  • Leonard Salzedo composed music for The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).

Season 1

Episode 7

Written by Francis Essex

Directed by Alan Gibson

Starring Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, Elaine Donnelly Aired October 25, 1980 (UK) RT 52 min.

Home Video Synapse (Blu-ray)

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