In my younger days, friends and I would sit around and discuss possibilities of cross-overs in our favorite films. They did it in comic books all the time, right? We’d see Spider-Man show up in the Avengers, Batman would make an appearance in Green Arrow, and sometimes, we’d even see cross-company stuff, answering such timeless and profound questions as “What if Superman fought Spider-Man?”. Being a horror fan, I often found myself wondering such things as “What if the Freelings in Poltergeist had called the Ghostbusters?” or “What if John Rambo had visited Crystal Lake?”
Being that action films and horror flicks were pretty much the only things guys my age watched back then, questions like the Rambo one would often become hotly-debated topics; fortunately, we got a sort-of answer to at least one of those questions in 1982, when Chuck Norris ran up against a psychopath with some very familiar traits in the action/slasher film Silent Rage.
We open with an obviously disturbed man, John Kirby, having a rough day. He calls his doctor, letting him know that his meds aren’t working, and he’s really having some scary feelings; the doc kinda blows him off, not seeming to feel it’s much of a big deal. Boy, was he wrong; after a few more minutes of “household living”, John snaps like a cheap rubber band and (in a pretty nice slasher moment) acquaints the family with their local wood-choppin’ axe. Someone manages to contact the local authorities, and local badass and sheriff Dan Stevens personally shows up to apprehend the now-dangerously violent psychotic. Although he’s caught, Kirby breaks out of his handcuffs in a madman’s rage, and is gunned down at the scene. Near death, he’s taken to the hospital, where a trio of research physicians administer an experimental formula to him in an attempt to save his life (and of course, should they become filthy rich and famous, that won’t hurt either, now will it?).
The formula does what it’s supposed to do; Kirby’s organs and tissue rapidly heal from the bullet wounds, and he regains his strength rapidly; perhaps too rapidly. The formula seems to have the teensy-weensy side effects of basically giving him a Wolverine-like healing factor and superhuman strength; he’s virtually unstoppable…bullets, knives, burning…it doesn’t matter, he’s coming at you. Add that to the fact that he’s still completely batshit insane, and you have a formula for disaster that the little township will see the bloody results of before the night is through…thank heavens Sheriff Stevens is around to take care of things…but will the steely lawman be a match for a remorseless and nigh-invulnerable killing machine?
OK, so…it’s a Chuck Norris flick with a horror spin; you kinda know what to expect going in. The acting ranges from silly to pretty good (you do have names like Ron Silver and Stephen Furst in the cast, neither of whom phone it in, and I have to say, for spooky, Brian Libby as John Kirby is pretty damned freakish), the script is pretty cut and dried, and the action was ridiculously over-the-top. There’s your staple fight scenes for no reason other than to see Chuck Norris kick ass (although the fight in the biker bar is one of my favorite brawls in cinema), and the whirlwind sexual submission of the female lead to Chuck’s charms…but in John Kirby, you also have a pretty interesting bad guy.
The beginning sequence of him hacking through folks with the axe would have been a good prologue to a decent slasher flick, and the idea of the unstoppable psychopath was expanded upon with both a (albeit silly) reasoning, and a background story that was ripe for exploration…so the story has some value, but, alas, the trigger isn’t pulled. As it is, Libby’s performance is very Michael Myers-like, complete with the onesie coveralls and the total lack of sound in his movements (and his blank expression and wild hair, seen in shadow, could almost be the Shatner-mask), but that was quite clearly the goal. The plot is kinda comic-booky and there are some really obvious contrivances (my fave: the thus-far unarmed bad guy is stalking a victim, who just happens to be slicing salami, but not with a kitchen knife, or even a butcher’s knife; no sir, he’s using a gi-normous knife, one that would put a smile on Jason’s hockey-mask…how convenient, eh?), but creating high art isn’t the objective here; the flick is wish fulfillment on two fronts: first, for the studios trying to combine the two biggest money-making genres of the time into one film, and secondly for adolescent kids like me wanting to see the proverbial irresistable force meet the legendary immovable object. The ending left room for a potential sequel, but one never materialized; that’s likely for the best.
I’m not gonna embarrass myself or insult your intelligence by trying to sell this as a “good” movie, Fellow Fans; I respect both myself and you too much for that. However, I will say that the flick is a guilty pleasure of mine, one that I dust off from time to time and enjoy with a good bottle of wine or a few beers. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for a horror fan, a Chuck Norris fan, or any combination of the two, I’d say check it out; just have an open mind and an understanding of what you’re getting into…you just might find it to be fun. 🙂
A pair o’ pennies lighter,
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