SILENT RAGE. Columbia Pictures, 1982. Chuck Norris, Ron Silver, Steven Keats, Toni Kalem, William Finley. Director: Michael Miller.

   Silent Rage is the annual Chuck Norris action melodrama, an event that seems to attract the kind of involved, excitable audience the early Clint Eastwood films drew into the theaters. I saw this on a Sunday night with my seventeen-year-old son in a suburban theater with an audience of young wiseacres, some motorcycle freaks, and a smattering of older couples who looked as if they would have been more comfortable watching the American Film Institute tribute to good-hearted Frank Capra.

   Local reviewers — who apparently loved the film even while hating it — have criticized Norris for his blatant use of the psychotic horrors of the Halloween-type film and have missed the point that this is not just Halloween Whatever but Frankenstein 1982.

   I must admit that it is good to welcome back the devoted, amoral scientist who gives life to a powerful, inhuman creature and cries out in the best Colin Clive tradition, “We’re scientists, not moralists!” This time there are three devoted scientists: a good, moral type with a beard and a lovely, talented wife; an intermediate scientist who knows that what he’s doing is wrong but continues to do it with a perpetually perplexed knotting of his forehead; and the super-baddy who has a neat moustache and burning eyes and keeps repairing the monster when it returns to the laboratory after each of its murderous sorties.

   Settings are always handsome in Chuck Norris films. The laboratory is bathed in a penumbral, soft green light that kept distracting me from the actors when they babbled on too long about their great work and its unfortunate consequences. The art director also designed an attractive house for the good doctor and his artistic wife, with stairs into the basement and up to the attic so that the monster can chase people up and down a lot.

   Norris has moved from his expensive town house on the bay in last year’s Eye for an Eye into a frame structure with a multi-level living room nestled among the pines and a deck that looks out onto a cycloramic shot of mountains. (I just wish that movie-makers would master the art of meshing these rear-screen projections with the actors’ foreground posturings.)

   The monster spends most of his time lurching about the good doctor’s house or lying on his table and peering slyly at the unobservant doctors who think he’s unconscious. The green lab is his home and some jaundiced types may wonder why monsters have to have more attractive surroundings than ordinary folk. The bad doctor has an apartment in the hospital, but it’s a functional, undistinguished place that suggests he’s insensitive to his living space — if not to his working space — and probably makes an implicit statement about his limited moral sense.

   The middle-sized bear — sorry — the middle doctor doesn’t seem to live anywhere but the laboratory and will probably remind some of you of professors you had in college who looked like fish out of water when you met them walking on campus.

   The dilemma in the film is the problem Norris — a fancy judo type — has in dealing with a creature who just wants to break his neck or spine or slam him up against a wall. The creature also has a limited ability to repair itself, is almost indestructible, and couldn’t care less for the niceties of the carefully choreographed Norris style. Coincidence solves that problem and it may or not satisfy you.

   The most spectacular scene is the obligatory one in which a character is flung through a closed window and the camera catches him in mid-air amidst showering slivers of glass. The director and cameraman are very professional, and, while I may have treated this film with a light touch, it’s probably because I was a nervous wreck by the end of it, and the various chases and fights are real nerve-tinglers.

   Norris is his usual likeable, unflappable self. In his first appearance in the film, he walks up on the porch and knocks on the screen door of a house in which a clearly certifiable loony has just axed two people. To me, this captures the essence of the Norris persona, with a polite respect for rules but the willingness to deploy great physical skill to combat the baddies when it is clear that violence is the only solution.

   Whatever else may be happening on the screen and in the real world these days, it’s good to know that the mad scientist and his fiendish creation are still running amok on neighborhood screens and that right still triumphs over might. But don’t despair — the final frame of the film is right out of Halloween and all its imitators and don’t be surprised next summer to find me reporting on Silent Rage II.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982.