10/15/10

Deadly Doll’s Choice: From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)

Hey, pssst. I got a movie to tell you about. This isn’t just any movie, but rather my monthly movie swap with Emily from The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense. If you haven’t guessed from either the title or the sight gag, she chose From a Whisper to a Scream a.k.a The Offspring. So as not to ‘keep them separated’ let me take a moment to mention that I chose for Emily the evil progeny film Audrey Rose featuring a relatively young Anthony Hopkins. So don’t forget to head on over there after this and see what she thought of my pick for her. Back to the movie at hand. What we have here is am ‘80’s era anthology film that feels like it’s picking up where Amicus left off. This is partially because the three stories are tied together by none other than Lair favorite Vincent Price, but also because when I think anthology horror, the British company springs instantly to mind. However, this is far from a staid British horror film. It takes the formula and amps up the sleaze and the gore.

In portions of film between the stories, Vincent Price plays the librarian and historian of Oldfield, a town with a strange and tragic past pervaded by killers and perverts. His own niece had just faced execution for crimes going back to when she committed her first murder at eight years old. A reporter shows up to interview Price‘s character, Julian White, about his niece. Instead, White launches into a series of tales to illustrate how somehow Oldfield breeds these kinds of people. The first is a tale of a mild mannered man driven to obsession and murder that. The second story illustrates how deadly greed can be. That even when some men have everything, they still must have more. In the third, man finds out that he who eats glass should throw no stones, and in the final scenario, Civil War soldiers are confronted by horrors of their own making.

As is the case with almost any anthology, some of the stories are better than others. For me it was the first two tales that really captured me. Clu Gulager, a longtime character actor and father of Feast director John Gulager, stars in this segment as Sidney Burnside. He’s a meek man who has been saddled with his sickly sister (Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Barney Miller) for life. Over time he has fallen in love with the Grace Scott (Megan McFarland) a beautiful young girl who he works with. He’s ecstatic when she agrees to go out on a date with him, but the date goes very, very wrong. Then, when you think that there’s no possible way that this meek fellow will do worse than killing a woman, he goes way worse. In a church. In her coffin. Yeah, it goes there. (I have to kind of imagine at this point in the film that Price had no idea what the stories were really going to be like.) Gulager sells the character perfectly, and when he gets his comeuppance, and let’s face it they all do, it makes you want to clap and cheer. He really sells his incredibly nebbish looking killer in a way I can only compare to the Cereal Convention in Neil Gaimen’s first run of Sandman. I know that’s a strange reference, but anyone who has read that issue will know what I mean.

The second story, about the gambler Jesse Hardwick (Terry Keiser, the titular character in Weekend at Bernie’s) who gets gunned down by some guys that he owes money. Taken in by an old man in the swamp, Felder (Harry Caesar, The Lady Sings the Blues, Breakin’ 2), is nursed back from what should have been a fatal wound. Jesse soon discovers that Felder has a secret to longevity and perhaps even to immortality, and he must have it. It goes without saying that things go bad for Jesse, and when I say bad, I mean real bad. Let’s just say that he had a little research into what it’s like to be a living corpse well before his days as Bernie Lomax. Keiser gives a great despicable performance that again encourages the audience cheer when his fate befalls him. Both Lomax and Keiser’s segments hit the nail on the head and delivered the goods.

Unfortunately, that means that I loved the first half of the film, and was completely flabbergasted and bored with the second half. The third story about a glass eater that tries to get away from his carnival captors and the fourth with Cameron Mitchell as a Civil War soldier whose regiment encounters a cult of war orphans cause the film to run out to steam. The glass eater’s story was ruthlessly melodramatic and only brought up by some nifty practical effects. After the first two tales of murder and vengeance, it felt a little drab. The fourth story, of the cultish kids, definitely had possibilities, but with so little time to explore the story, it did very little for me. Neither one of them I felt packed any kind of punch at the end, and after seeing what the first two were like, I expected the film to continue on the same theme.

That may be my biggest problem with the film. I like some kind of cohesion between the tales either due to the interlocking scenes or dramatically. Price’s scenes seem like they could have been done on an afternoon before the first shot has ever rolled and perhaps the first page written. Director Jeff Burr would go on to do other films like Eddie Presley, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and Night of the Scarecrow that I enjoy, but this was his first feature and so I can give him some leeway. I feel safe to say that he directed the crap out of From a Whisper to a Scream, but it didn’t amount to much for me. With the two stories I liked being frontloaded, it took a while to be able to separate them from the bad taste I had in my mouth as the film ended. Once I did, I decided that I would still recommend this film on the basis of just those two segments. There is also more than enough in the last two that they will surely also hit the mark for someone. Just not me.

In the end I’m going to give From a Whisper to a Scream an average grade, but the person that recommended the film is anything but. Not only is Emily reviewing Audrey Rose today at my request, but she’s had great horror coverage all month long. So hop on over there and see what she thought of my recommendation, and next month we’ll be back with another movie swap. (And by that time we’ll have actually met at Horror Hound Weekend, so be prepared for my review to be littered with in-jokes.) Come on back here tomorrow for the second half of my costume retrospective, and don’t forget to get your entries in for the Halloween Top 13: The Remake only 3 days left!


Bugg Rating


3 comments:

  1. Goodness! Just realized that by the next swap, we'll have ACTUALLY MET! That's epic!

    I do agree that the first two are probably the best in the film, but I kind of love the wrongness of the kids-gone-crazy-during-the-Civil-War aspect of the fourth. Of course, it also suffers from the fact that naything starring Cameron Mitchell is pretty much doomed to not be good, so that's a shame.

    The thirds story, by far, is the worst. Awful acting from the romantic leads, plus a payoff that doesn't fit the you-get-what-you-deserve aspect of the rest.

    Still, glad you got some joy from the first icky stories!

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  2. I can appreciate the wrongness, and perhaps a different order might make me feel differently. I'm going to try watching the last two stories again sometime when it's not hella late, and see if that changes things.

    Now granted, Mitchell is a better supporting player, but I've got to give it up for him. He had a long career that he put in the toilet, and that takes balls.

    Speaking of balls, we're going to have one at HHW...hmmm, that didn't come off sounding as quite right. Well it will truly be epic, and Cinni may never be the same.

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  3. We are going to have one very big ball come November. That sounded as right as it is true.

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