Synopsis: Prepare to be shocked out of your skin with four grisly tales of terror in one small town! Legendary king of horror Vincent Price “gives his fullest, most sepulchral tones of macabre camp” (Los Angeles Times) to this gruesome anthology that will haunt you for days!
On the night his niece is executed for committing a string of brutal killings, historian Julian White (Price) reveals the sinister secrets of her hometown, Oldfield, Tennessee, a horrific hamlet that spawns evil! But as the town’s murderous legacy is exposed with White’s chilling accounts – including stories of a necrophiliac madman, a voodoo priest with life-prolonging powers, and a legion of children with an appetite for flesh – White doesn’t realize that he is about to write the final chapter of Oldfield’s morbid history…in his own blood!
eyelights: Vincent Price. its basic conceit.
eyesores: its uninspiring stories. its cheap effects.
“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.”
For one of his last big screen roles, Vincent Price was convinced by novice director Jeff Burr to star in his anthology film, ‘From a Whisper to a Scream’. The picture, which would eventually be released in 1987 under the alternate title ‘The Offspring’, found Price in a wrap-around story, setting up each vignette.
Price’s own character is Julian White, the reclusive grandfather of a serial killer who has just been executed via lethal injection. A reporter, Beth Chandler (played by Susan Tyrell), comes to interview White at his dilapidated library to get some insight into his granddaughter’s decades-long killing streak.
His theory is that Katherine White wasn’t evil. He offers as evidence the growing list of serial killers that his town, Oldfield, TN, is producing; he is of the mind that it’s the town that’s evil, and that it infects its residents. He tells Beth about a few brief incidents along the way, but he focuses on four specific tales.
1. Stanley Burnside is a clerk at a shipping company. A meek, awkward man, he lives alone with his ailing sister, with whom he has an incestuous relationship. But he secretly longs for Grace, his elegant colleague, and eventually racks up the courage to ask her out. Though she’d always been dismissive of him, he manages to convince her. But the date doesn’t turn out quite as planned and it provokes changes in the growingly disturbed Stanley.
Though it felt quaint in parts, and Clu Galager made Stanley nearly unbearable (and appropriately so), I enjoyed the transgressive aspects of this bit because that’s where the true horror laid. Ick. The scene at the funeral home was really creepy.
The finale, however, which was supposed to be the true punch of this short, was marred by cliché and really crap puppet work and blood. Sadly, the performances all around were also not quite stellar, and Megan McFarland’s Beth was stiff, unlikable.
2. Set in the ’50s, this one finds small-time hood Jesse Hardwick being double-crossed by his lover, who rats on him to the McCoy brothers. Shot as he attempts to escape his trailer, he is nursed back to health by an old man who finds him drifting on the river. When Jesse discovers that his benefactor has prolonged his own life by centuries through voodoo, he tries to coerce him into revealing his secrets. But the man has other plans.
I found this one really boring, partly because Jesse was uncharismatic, partly because not much was happening and partly because the big reveal was no great surprise. The finale, however, was twisted in a way that put a smile on my face.
3. Set in 1933, this one revolves around a blooming romance between Amarrillis, a local woman, and Steven, a glass-eater from the Lovecraft’s Traveling Amusement carnival. Though they want to be together, the sorceress who runs the carnival, and who imbued the performers with their abilities, won’t allow Steve to leave – leading to terrible results for the two.
Though the doomed romance story is compelling, I can’t say that I dug this one much; there wasn’t enough build-up in the tension for my taste. Some people, however, will no doubt appreciate the gore effects, low budget though they may be: given that Steven is a glass-eater, all sorts of nastiness comes of it. But that’s just not enough for me.
4. The last story takes us back to the Civil War, and it follows a minuscule regiment led by callous Union Sergeant Gallen, who leads his men to Oldfield only to land right in the middle of a group of Confederate children. The men are quickly captured by the children, who have disturbing plans set for them.
As can be expected, anything pertaining to war dulls my senses. There was a twist right at the beginning that I quite liked, which involved Gallen ordering his men to mow down white flag-waving Confederate men – only to find out that, unbeknownst to them, the war had been over. Beyond that, it left me indifferent.
‘From a Whisper to a Scream’ is low budget and it shows; clearly Burr had a difficult time recreating the settings and there were some anachronisms along the way. But that would have passed if he didn’t peddle cheap scares at times – like serving up nightmares, only to wake his characters out of it.
Thankfully, there are the recurring bits with Vincent Price, who is as charming as ever, playing it as subtle as he gets for the genre. And, as can be expected, it all culminates with a terrific twist, which is only marred by a really crummy practical effect. To me, this was by far the highlight of the piece.
‘From a Whisper to a Scream’ otherwise feels a bit drab. It has the same cheapie ’80s feel as other anthology films, such as ‘Creepshow‘, except that it doesn’t have equally creative stories to work with – nor does it have its playfulness to compensate for it. It’s okay, but it’s not engaging enough to make a mark.
This one’s for Vincent Price completists only.
Date of viewing: July 9, 2017