Director: Jim Simpson
Writer: Nancy Doyne
Cast: Richard Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Reed Birney, Kristine Nielsen, Rose Weaver, John Kassir, Diane Peterson, and Christopher Durang
Composer: Jan Hammer
Air Date: 7/10/1990
In this atmospheric episode, a woman named Suzy (Patricia Clarkson) loses her ability to speak after witnessing a murder from her apartment balcony. Against the wishes of her husband Paul (Reed Birney), Suzy is confined to an insane asylum and placed under the care of Dr. Trask (Richard Thomas), the same man who committed the crime in question.
Despite operating on a flawed premise, “Mute Witness to Murder” will satisfy fans of the horror and psychological thriller genres alike. Additionally, many solid performances further boost the quality of an already intriguing narrative.
Richard Thomas’ skin-crawling performance is noteworthy, mainly because the creepy vibes emanating from Dr. Trask allow viewers to sympathize with Suzy’s predicament from start to finish. Likewise, Patricia Clarkson should be commended for conveying Suzy’s mortified reactions through facial expressions and body language alone. The fact that Clarkson managed to give such a powerful performance while remaining entirely silent (with the exception of a few grunts and groans) serves as a testament to her phenomenal abilities as an actress.
While the production values are nothing short of motion picture quality, several illogical plot devices hamper the credibility of Nancy Doyne’s narrative. For one thing, an individual with severe heart problems would likely never be allowed to work in a mental ward, where stressful situations abound on a daily basis. Also unrealistic is the fact that Dr. Trask manages to go about his barbaric business in the sanitarium without raising so much as an eyebrow from fellow staff members, even though his psychopathic tendencies become apparent within moments of his introduction. Unfortunately, weak points such as the above make for a somewhat shaky foundation on which to build a riveting suspense story.
Unlike most Tales from the Crypt episodes, “Mute Witness to Murder” lacks so much as a hint of moral commentary to condone its graphic depictions of violence and gore. That being said, a satisfying conclusion delivers justice for Suzy’s character, thus redeeming this entry from its nihilistic undertones.
Those who enjoy screwball shenanigans may find this installment disappointing due to its drastic deviation from the usual Tales from the Crypt formula; however, audiences who prefer serious horror over goofy slapstick may be pleasantly surprised with Jim Simpson’s somber approach to storytelling. Similarly, the nuanced performances of Thomas and Clarkson make “Mute Witness to Murder” an underrated gem that should appeal to fans who value subtle acting in tense scenarios.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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