From a Whisper to a Scream Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Jeff Burr
Written by C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott and Jeff Burr
1987, Region A, 100 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on April 28th, 2015
Vincent Price as Julian White
Clu Gulager as Stanley Burnside
Cameron Mitchell as Sgt. Gallen
Terry Kiser as Jesse Hardwick
Susan Tyrell as Beth Chandler
Harry Caesar as Felder Evans
Rosalind Cash as Snakewoman
Miriam Byrd-Nethery as Eileen Burnside
Martine Beswick as Katherine White
Tommy Nowell as Andrew
Angelo Rossitto as Tinker
The town of Oldfield, Tennessee, has a violent history, stained with the blood and sins of countless generations. Beth Chandler is a journalist covering the execution of convicted murderer Katherine White. Once the death sentence is carried out, the reporter visits local historian Julian White, uncle to the condemned. He refuses an interview, but opts instead to share a collection of short stories that will shine a light on how things work in this community. The tales are widely varied in nature but all feature similar themes of suffering. There are horrors of incest, necrophilia, voodoo, witchcraft, cannibalism and good old fashioned murder. Mr. White conveys just how deeply rooted the evils are in this place, as his journal entries date back as far as the Civil War. Ms. Chandler politely listens to his rhetoric, but is more interested in his affiliation with these events and she is determined to learn how he remains untouched by all of this darkness.
From a Whisper to a Scream is an anthology film told in four parts that are linked by the librarian wraparound segments featuring actors Vincent Price (Theatre of Blood) and Susan Tyrell (The Forbidden Zone) as Julian White and Beth Chandler respectively. Price is wonderful as the mysterious historian in one of his final genre performances, and adds a much-needed gravitas to the material. Tyrell plays it cool in an unusually reserved performance that doesn't allow her to shine until the end. Horror fans will enjoy a few quick cameos during the prologue in which Katherine White is executed. Martine Beswick (Trancers II) is the doomed woman who seems to get off on lethal injection, and perennial tough guy Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) appears as the warden. This sequence feels like a last-minute addition and the feature would play just as well starting off with Chandler's arrival at the White residence.
The four tales presented are well-crafted short films that will certainly please audiences. In the first story, Clu Gulager (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2) stars as Stanly Burnside, a mild-mannered pushover working a dead-end job, forced to care for his invalid sister Eileen, played by Gulager's wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III). Stanley has a lot of pent-up frustrations and when he finally loses control of his emotions, he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. This episode makes the most of its confined running time and includes many taboo elements and a surprising twist ending that is sure to disturb.
Another story features Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man) as the head of a travelling carnival filled with freak show performers. She rules the troupe with an iron fist and they know better than to cross her. She has used her magical powers to bestow twisted talents upon her performers and can be just as harsh in taking the gift away. Cash is intimidating in her role as the Snakewoman, and owns every moment of her screen time. Fans of classic horror cinema will be happy to see Angelo Rossitto (Freaks) as a diminutive Barker.
The next tale focuses on Jesse Hardwick, a con artist running from a group of thugs who are not happy with his schemes. Left for dead in the bayou, Jesse wakes in the small cabin of a mysterious man named Felder Evans. As Jesse recovers from his injuries, he suspects that his host may have discovered a secret to eternal life, and is determined to claim the prize for himself. The always-welcome character actor Terry Kiser (Friday the 13th Part VII) is terrific as Jesse, the grifter in over his head and racing towards an unfortunate end. Harry Caesar (The Longest Yard) shares great chemistry with Kiser, matching his intensity as Evans, the old man with a secret.
The final story focuses on a small band of Civil War vets headed by Cameron Mitchell (Without Warning), captured by an unlikely squad of child soldiers. The young patriots are led by Andrew (Tommy Nowell, Friday the 13th Part VI), who preaches against the evils of adults in this bizarre Lord of the Flies environment. Mitchell gives one of the best performances of his twilight years and Nowell holds his own as the creepy young sociopath.
Director Jeff Burr (Pumpkinhead II) makes a strong debut presenting this terror quartet in a variety of styles, as each is set in a different time period. The Clu Gulager and Vincent Price segments are contemporary, while the Terry Kiser tale is set in the 1950s. Rosalind Cash's carnival travels through the 1930s, while Cameron Mitchell fights his battles in the late 1800s. Burr throws everything he's got into making these horror shows come to life and pulls off an impressive victory with each one. From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring) was co-written by Burr along with Producer Darin Scott (Tales from the Hood) and C. Courtney Joyner (Prison). These three talented men show a respect for the genre that suggests these stories are love letters to an earlier era. Inspired by the tone of EC Comics Tales from the Crypt and riding the success of films like Creepshow, From a Whisper to a Scream is a fun ride that holds nothing back. If you missed this movie when it first made the rounds in theaters and on late-night cable television, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to Oldfield, Tennessee.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture pops like never before. Colors are strong but do not bleed, and black levels are particularly deep. There are a few instances of minor print damage and possibly some compression crush, but honestly this film has never looked better.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track handles things nicely without stepping on dialogue levels. Music and effects mix nicely without becoming intrusive.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Scream Factory has packed this release with a surprising wealth of extra features that will make fans rejoice.
The fun starts with a pair of audio commentaries, the first from Director Jeff Burr, a man who knows how to tell a story. Even better, he is able to stop one anecdote to comment on something currently on screen, finish the thought and then return to the original longer story without missing a beat. Anyone familiar with his conversational style found on other releases will know that this is a great track to listen to. The second commentary comes courtesy of Producer Darin Scott and Writer C. Courtney Joyner, and these two old friends are clearly having a blast watching their first feature effort together. This conversation is just as informative as Burr's and definitely worth checking out.
As for video-based supplements, we get a documentary on the making of From a Whisper that runs longer than the feature itself. Return to Oldfield (116 minutes) is a surprisingly thorough piece that covers every aspect of the production from concept to release and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Burr continues to impress with his willingness to share as much information as people are willing to watch. The filmmakers are quick to point out their mistakes and how they recovered from assorted setbacks. There are countless interviews with just about everyone involved, including members of the local community who came out as extras for crowd scenes.
Up next is a documentary on the popular Super 8 phenomenon of the 1970s that takes a look at a group of friends (Burr and company) who were exposed to this cheap and easy gateway drug to independent film. A Decade Under the Innocence: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking (77 minutes) is an unapologetic love letter to nostalgia. There is quite a bit to recommend here for anyone familiar with this beloved format that help capture home movies and inspired countless film enthusiasts.
Jeff Burr introduces a gallery of stills (10 minutes) that plays as a slideshow and features countless images from the production and promotion of the feature. It is amazing how well-documented this project was and that everything has been carefully catalogued for the past 30 years.
Rounding things out are the original theatrical trailer and a series of TV spots.