The level of unintentional mirth in "Silent Rage" is convulsive enough to endear it to connoisseurs of the preposterous. Still, the movie may be too much of a dumb delight to retain a shred of credibility. As an exercise in brawling action combined with blood-curdling terror, it represents a botched experiment.

The idea is to add a fresh wrinkle to the successful martial arts formula of the star, Chuck Norris, by incorporating a monster. Cast as Dan Stevens, the strong, silent lawman in a Texas town, Norris is kept doubly busy defending the community against marauders. On one hand he must deal with a gang of degenerate bikers. On the other he confronts a relentless superfoe who seems to defy conquest: Brian Libby as a psychopath brought back from the dead and rendered virtually unstoppable by Mitogen 35, a wonder serum that accelerates the body's recuperative processes.

The film begins with director Michael Miller stringing out stalking sequences until they flirt with self-parody. Libby's character, John Kirby, suggests a scanner on the verge of a brain explosion. He enters placing a distress call to his doctors and then goes on a homicidal rampage, taking a hatchet to his landlady and handing Sheriff Dan a few lumps before being gunned down by another officer.

After being rushed to the hospital, Kirby appears to expire on the operating table. However, a pair of foolish Frankensteins--surgeons played by Steven Keats and William Finley--conspire to revive the patient with unauthorized injections of the miracle-working test serum. Naturally, this irresponsible act leads to disaster. Kirby responds so well to the treatment that he can sit up and stalk new victims, thereby prolonging the minimal hide-and-seek routine.

Even a popular formula demands clever variation, of course, but the monster ingredient plays havoc with a Chuck Norris action vehicle. Since the hero's ultimate problem is a superhuman antagonist, it's difficult to perceive his bouts with the bikers as anything but gratuitous.

Having dreamed up an exaggerated menace, the filmmakers diminish the hero's normally overpowering defensive capabilities. Although Dan keeps knocking Kirby down and temporarily out, he can't put him away, short of resorting to a chainsaw or a ballistic missile. The hero's prowess is bound to look like an exercise in futility as long as the filmmakers insist on a titanic villain. In fact, they insist so fecklessly that "Silent Rage" dithers out with the annoying hint that Kirby remains at large, available for as many sequels as the public cares to humor.

Norris' skill at martial arts stunts has no doubt made him a favorite with juvenile boys in particular, so it probably would be wise to avoid obstacles so farfetched that they encourage disbelief at all age levels. The horror elements also force "Silent Rage" into an R-rated corner without adding any originality or distinction.