"Silent Rage" is a kicky new film with martial artist Chuck Norris hoofing it up as a small-town sheriff with toes of death -- a curious footnote in a formula horror film that borrows liberally from "Halloween II" and "Frankenstein."

As in "Halloween II," the antihero is a psychotic ax murderer who, despite his psychiatrist's best efforts, takes out his Freudian flip on innocent townspeople. However, a B-plus goes to director Michael Miller for holding it to one whack per customer.

Anyway, after giving the maniac time to do his damage, Sheriff Dan Stevens and his posse arrive, shoot him till he looks like a sieve, then take him to the Institute for medical care. A team of scientists -- Dr. Philip Spires (Steven Keats), Dr. Paul Vaughn (William Finley) and Dr. Tom Halam (Ron Silver) -- save his life via genetic engineering. He is given an experimental serum, which, like chicken soup, couldn't hurt since he is brain dead anyhow. Alas, it deranges his cellular structure, leaving him speechless, ornery and virtually indestructible.

What could be more frightening than an indestructible murdering mutant? Consider the unbelievably horrifying performance of Stephen Furst as Charlie, the sheriff's deputy. Couple Furst's incompetence with a scene like this one and you know real fear:

Charlie tells Sheriff Dan that he just isn't made for law-enforcement. Not because he's incredibly out of shape and dumb as a post, not because he can't drive a squad car. No, no, no. It's worse. The coquettish Charlie confesses to some pretty grim experimentation of his own. He tells of giving his first puppie a bath by swishing it around in the toilet. Then he put it in the freezer to dry. Voila! the first freeze-dried pupsicle.

If this is the comic relief, when can you come up from under your chair? Well, there's a disco love montage between Norris and perky little Toni Kalem, who plays a researcher at the Institute. There's also a great, silly scene in which Norris, using his feet like a dog having his tummy tickled, defeats an entire gang of bikers at a local dive and grill. It's smashing.

Alas, the sheriff and his girl have no such luck with the monster who just keeps reviving -- after they run him down with a truck, knock him over a cliff, throw him out a sixth-story window, etc. He keeps on coming till they shove him down a well. "Is it over?" she asks when they hear a kersplash. ''It's over," he says. "It's over." All's well that ends well.

SILENT RAGE -- At 17 area theaters.