Silk (1986) – Smooth like shattered glass

“Don’t push your luck too far, Silk’s gonna get you no matter where you are.”  Take the uncredited Patty Smyth wannabe’s word for it, any cop that has their own theme song must be pretty badarse. Played by Cec Verrell, our titular heroine is indeed all that – looking as cold as ice with her slicked-back hair and a fantastic selection of 80s fashion. There’s a minor disappointment in that the rest of the movie isn’t quite as slick or stylish, or easily comprehensible for that matter, but that’s just par for the course. Silk comes from the prolific godfather of Filipino exploitation, Cirio H Santiago, glistening in a typically gritty, humid way. He’s packed the movie with his favourite elements – cops, drug trading, murder, and Vietnam veterans – feeling seriously churned out, like much of his work during the mid-to-late 80s. Even so, there’s a good amount of fun to be had, especially if you like your police business carried out with a hail of bullets.

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If you’ve had the pleasure of watching the insane “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vehicle Hell Comes to Frogtown, you’ll recognise the distinctive Verrell. Here she’s the decorated police officer Jenny “Silk” Sleighton, nicknamed so “’cause I’m so fucking smooth.” She lays the sultry voice on thick throughout, contrasting delightfully with all the arse kicking she does, almost Grace Jones style. Weirdly enough, the character is credited to a mysterious Claudine St. James, as if Silk exists outside of the production, though I’ll be damned if I can find any evidence. The story was written by Frederick Bailey, who also acts in the film as one of Silk’s police buddies, with Santiago helping out. Whether overly ambitious or a bit misguided, it comes across more as a collage of varied murders than a story, but if you pay serious attention and re-watch scenes, it’ll start to make sense. There’s a lot of dodgy dealings going on, involving the smuggling operation of one Lord Austin – Peter Shilton, no not the soccer player, the apparently debutant actor, despite appearing rather old and accomplished. His rich, British villain accent is a treat, though he is criminally underused, and sadly written into a corner.

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Silk, of course, must shut this international criminal activity down, even though that is technically the job of Detective Stevens, her superior and lover – played by the familiar looking Bill McLaughlin. Together they roam around Honolulu looking for links between the killings. That’s where Bailey and Santiago’s story gets particularly convoluted and difficult to follow. We witness many conversations loaded with complicated exposition, and that’s where the poor sound quality and numerous overdubs make things rather challenging. There’s also a shady subplot involving Stevens, which even after re-watching, I’m still not sure what the hell it amounts to. The actors certainly have their work cut out for them in tackling this noisy script, though some do manage. Zenaida Amador, who had also tried her hand at directing in the early 70s, absolutely nails her part as a grieving mother, even better she lead us to the great Vic Diaz. That said, his performance is a strange one, perhaps something to do with the fact he’s playing a drunk Japanese guy. Yes, if you were wondering, the proceedings are explained and given some causality throughout, though it will take a good ear and a quick mind to get it all in one sitting.

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With a script so convoluted, and poorly executed, the movie at least has ample opportunity for action to fall back on and keep things interesting. Luckily the actors do a serviceable job with the fight sequences, delivering some pretty sweet action at times. There are some tough, hand-to-hand scuffles, and shootouts aplenty, as Silk’s preferred method of catching criminals is with a bullet. She’s a pretty good shot too, at least conveniently until the climax. While numerous, unfortunately none of the action scenes go for very long, only stretched out occasionally by chases. While Santiago’s productions might be a tad shy of Oscar quality, the combat usually carries the other burdens. It certainly needs to in Silk, though there are moments when the low budget bites, and everyone really drops the ball. This includes one of the worst stabbing scenes committed to film, re-using the same shots and sound effects, broken up by a delightfully bad blood squirt. There’s also a rather excellent fight atop a tall building that ends hilariously, as a painfully obvious dummy thuds onto the concrete below. The tackiness only adds charm though, right?

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With the script being what it is, and with what must have been an incredibly small budget, serious responsibility rests on the small crew. On Silk there are a few regular Santiago collaborators who’ve tackled the challenge with varying levels of success. Cinematographer Ricardo Remias, himself a favourite of Santiago’s, does some decent work, providing plenty of decently executed night shots to build the dark, humid vibe. It’s only the second credit for the editor, Pacifico Sanchez Jr – who shares his name with my favourite beer – and while his inexperience occasionally shines through, for the most part things are relatively under control. That’s a pretty good description of the production as a whole – usually quite watchable, and in moments very cool, but with the occasional sore thumb situation. You will definitely notice that the movie was a total rush-job, and one done on the cheap in the Philippines, very much standard procedure for the legendary co-writer, director, and producer. That said, a decent job has been done adding in signage and buildings from Honolulu, though whether any of it was actually shot there or not remains a mystery.

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“She aint the usual cop that hangs around.” Distilled down, Silk is a quick and dirty tale of a hero cop fighting international criminals, made by the great Cirio H Santiago, and featuring the striking Cec Verrell. Sadly, it has been mixed with some very convoluted elements, in a stupidly ambitious narrative cocktail. This was actually Verrell’s first film role, a bit of a gamble for a lead, though luckily something Santiago isn’t opposed to. She seems to handle the pressure quite well, and her character is delightfully slick in that shameless, 80s action style. While not really driving the script, she is fittingly the main attraction of the movie, busting up criminals all over Hawaii with a sweet wardrobe. Fortunately this action is frequent, with our heroine only putting down the guns for a spot of romance, or to catch a luau. I mentioned that Santiago’s output around this time being seriously quantity oriented, even by exploitation cinema standards. Alas, Silk noticeably suffers from this. However, the blame more so lies with the convoluted, police-television-drama script. That said, the movie provides enough pleasure in the guiltiest sense to be enjoyable. My advice is to just give up on the story, open a bottle, and enjoy the mayhem.

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