Tuesday, September 20, 2005

FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM

In 1987, Vincent Price, the actor most identified with the horror genre from the late Fifties through the Seventies, made his last full-fledged appearance in a fright film: Jeff Burr's FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (aka THE OFFSPRING).

At the time of the film's original release, the elderly icon expressed his displeasure with the finished project, claiming that he hadn't known that the movie would be so graphic in its depiction of its violence and horrors. Well, it's understandable that the generous gore and sicker story elements (necrophilia, cannibalism, incest) might have disturbed this genteel gentleman, but it's a shame he couldn't see what a superior little chiller the movie really is.

FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is an anthology film (and the first of three such that we'll be discussing this week), with four stories connected by a framing sequence starring the legendary actor. Price is the librarian of the small Southern town of Oldfield, Tennessee, a town whose history is "written in blood on pages of human skin." When his niece (Hammer Films starlet Martine Beswick in a nice cameo) is executed for a string of serial murders, a reporter (Susan Tyrrell, CRY-BABY) pays him a late night visit, prying from him a quartet of tales recounting some of the town's horrific history.

The first story features Clu Gulager (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) in an extraordinarily creepy turn as a small-town nebbish with a penchant for necrophilia. The second features Terry Kiser (WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S Bernie) and the late Harry Caesar in a grisly, EC Comics-styled tale of greed and poetic justice. The third story features a sinister carnival run by voodoo priestess Rosalind Cash (THE OMEGA MAN) and a pair of ill-fated lovers. The film wraps up with a meaty anecdote set during the Civil War, with genre vet Cameron Mitchell as a Union soldier who has a run-in with a particularly precocious band of twisted tykes.

Unlike most horror anthologies, I thought all the stories were fairly strong, with the carnival story just a little less effective than the others. The first segment suffers from a few unconvincing effects shots, but otherwise, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is a superior horror film, and probably the hardest-edged of the anthology subgenre.

MGM/Sony's DVD is a bare bones affair, with a somewhat soft and grainy (although I suspect that's due to the way the film was shot) 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A full-frame, open matte version is also provided on the B-side. The only extra is another of those Eighties trailers that give away all the best stuff in the movie (so don't watch it until after you've seen the feature).

A great, unheralded horror, well worth picking up.

BUY: From a Whisper to a Scream