Originally released in 1988 by City Lights Home Video, Death By Dialogue is a 1988 horror film written and directed by Tom DeWeir, a successful stuntman who has amassed almost 200 film and television credits during his nearly 40-year career. His most recent stunt work credit was for 2020’s ill-fated The New Mutants. DeWeir’s directorial career was somewhat less successful, with his only other effort being a 1990 action film entitled Contra Conspiracy. Death By Dialogue also saw release as “Evil Nightmare” in some regions.
Cary (Lenny Delducca), presumably a college student, takes four of his friends on a trip to the home of his aging uncle, a now-disabled art dealer who spent some time lost in the Amazon rainforest many years prior. The man’s home, which he shares with his female assistant/caretaker, is decorated with the stuffed heads of the many animals that he’s hunted over the years, as well as with other artifacts. The house sits on property that once was the site of a thriving movie studio, its sets now long abandoned.
FILM FACT: The property on which Death By Dialogue was filmed, in reality, sits right next door to the infamous Spahn Ranch, itself a one-time movie set before serving as the “home” of the Manson Family in later years.
However, before we ever meet Cary and his friends, the film first introduces us to an older gentleman who serves as the groundskeeper for the property. When we first meet him, he’s in the basement of the home, digging through his boss’s various possessions. He finds and opens an old chest, discovering a ratty old script for a horror film entitled “Victim 66”. The man takes the script, reading through it before making his rounds, only to come across a line stating that a character with his name has been fired. Believing this to be a joke or prank at his expense, he tosses the script on a workbench and continues his errands. Unbeknownst to him, his reading of the script summons forth a lingerie-clad demoness, one that is only seen from a distance. Upon encountering this woman, the man is set ablaze by what is quite obviously a flamethrower, burning to death on one of the abandoned sets. The she-demon, for whatever reason, is never shown again.
The opening credits begin to roll, which is when we are finally introduced to Cary and his friends as they drive to the property in a convertible. This sequence is set to an abysmally awful (and somewhat repetitive) pop-rock song which is being sung by a woman who not only sounds as if English is her second or third language, but probably should have never been allowed anywhere near a microphone, if only for the sake of human safety. Among these friends is Ken Sagoes, “Kincaid” from A Nightmare on Elm Street parts 3 and 4, as well as actress-turned-stuntwoman Laura Albert, whose film career primarily consisted of showing her boobs in numerous low-budgeted films, but will probably be best remembered by horror fans for showing her boobs in 1988’s The Unnamable.
Upon reaching the home, Cary’s friend (and potential “love interest”) Shelly (Kelly Sullivan – Caged Fury, Dark Harvest) quickly discovers the script and pockets it for later reading. Just as quickly, the charred body of the caretaker is also discovered, albeit no longer on the set in which he met his demise. As expected, police are called in and a detective briefly questions the old man and his assistant. Despite this grisly turn of events, the group of young adults decide to continue their “vacation”.
Shelly takes to reading the script, finding the line about the caretaker being “fired”. She thinks little of this fact, more interested in joining her friends for a quick game of volleyball. Hey, it worked for Top Gun, right? Granted, the “boys” in that particular film at least looked like they understood the rules of the game. There are also a few scenes of the gang flying a kite and generally acting like children on one of the film sets. You know, just in case sports aren’t your thing.
Despite being the one who initially stumbled upon the caretaker’s corpse, and the one most visibly shaken by it, Linda (Albert) has no hesitation joining her boyfriend, Gene (Jude Gerard Prest), for some sexual intercourse in a barn on the property. It might be more accurate to call it “dry humping” as Albert does remove her top, which may have the primary motivation behind her casting, but not her panties. Both Linda and Gene fail to notice the walls of the barn moving and spouting blood before she is blown out of the hayloft door to her implied death. Gene stumbles out of the barn, looking more bewildered than worried, only to encounter a hair metal band performing in the surrounding woods. If viewers find themselves confused by this revelation, they can take solace in knowing that the members of the band look just as confused by their presence, but none more so than the lead singer, who clearly doesn’t know the words to the song that he is supposed to be lip-synching. It’s important to know that “axe” is another term used for a guitar… especially when it serves as an implement of death.
Soon enough, Shelly realizes that the script is writing itself with those around her serving as the plot’s doomed characters. To prove this point, a somewhat secondary character from earlier in the film resurfaces just long enough to meet a rather gooey, yet unclear demise. Eventually, Cary’s uncle discloses that the script is possessed by the spirit of a journalist who was killed by the tribe that he lived with during his time in the Amazon. The man’s soul was placed in an urn, which the old man brought with him when he returned to America in the hopes of burying it on the journalist’s native soil. However, this spirit escaped and took residence in the script for a film that was supposed to have been shot at the studio, ultimately leading to its closure. Truth be told, you can read this paragraph as many times as you’d like and the concept is just never going to become sensical.
The group is soon set upon by a trio of demonoids, two of which are riding dirt bikes, because why not? However, before any of this occurs, we’re treated to a rather odd and essentially meaningless dream sequence that seemingly only exists for the sole purpose of having Albert expose her breasts once more. Again, why not? She obviously paid good money for them! The demons do kill off at least one more character and generally torment the others. Yet, they do so at quite the leisurely pace, making the film’s final 30 minutes a bit of a slog despite the uptick in action sequences.
Death By Dialogue concludes in somewhat abrupt and unspectacular fashion before closing with a line of dialog that was clearly added in post-production. Obviously, either the director or producer (or both) found this line to be the film’s highlight… and they’re not all that wrong in their assumption. As the film itself is painfully unspectacular, maybe this decision wasn’t as bad of a choice as it might have been in a better film.
Overall, there’s just not much worth raving about with Death By Dialogue. Performances, while bearable, are pretty weak across the board. Then again, the film’s title seems quite befitting as the scripted dialog (or “dialogue”, if you prefer) gives the cast little to work with. Sagoes may give the best performance, but even then, it does seem like there was a conscious effort to have him say things that “Kincaid” may have said, including a couple jokes that somewhat reference his role in the Elm Street films.
Make-up and creature effects are also quite underwhelming, with most of the evil creatures looking like little more than guys in greyish face paint. If IMDB is to be believed, Tool guitarist Adam Jones may have worked as one of the make-up artists on the film. As Jones did have a career in film make-up and special effects before shifting his talents to music, there’s some chance that this claim is factual. If Death By Dialogue is any indication, it may also explain why he turned his focus to music as well.
While I personally find little to recommend about Death By Dialogue, I can easily see this being one of those titles that would develop a small, yet vocal fanbase if it were given a blu-ray restoration by a boutique label such as Vinegar Syndrome. For some crazy reason, there is an inexplicably sizable number of “connoisseurs of ’80s trash” these days willing to cough up their money when one of these rightfully forgotten films gets released by a trendy film distributor. Then again, I coughed up my cash for films such as Night Train to Terror and Hobgoblins, so who am I to speak?
Death By Dialogue is currently available on DVD, most of which are many years old and featured a rather poor-quality SD image.
Disclaimer: The following trailer is fairly spoiler-filled and in even worse picture quality that the available DVD copies of the film.