From A Whisper To A Scream (Jeff Burr, 1987)- The anthology film is typically an awkward format for most genres, but for some reason it tends to lend itself well to horror. It might be that the start-and-stop narrative structure works well with the rising suspense structure of horror in a way that doesn’t translate as well in drama or comedy. Or it might just be because us horror fanatics are a greedy lot who appreciate that we can 5 horror tales for the price of one. Either way, anthology horror is a special genre of tiny terrors that continues to resonate decade after decade for some inexplicable reason. This week the good folks at shout factory have dug up a strange and forgotten little gem or portmanteau horror, 1987’s From A Whisper To A Scream (also known as The Offspring). Though a little uneven the twisted little indie flick feels like a Southern Gothic Tales From The Crypt, serving up gory morality tales with none other than Vincent Price as the master of ceremonies. The fairly forgotten film has aged surprisingly well over the years and is ripe for rediscovery on this gorgeously ghastly new disc.
The film takes place on the evening of the execution of a woman who allegedly murdered her husband (a cheery time to set any tale). A reporter on the scene decides to visit the local librarian and since that librarian happens to be played by Vincent Price, that means he’s got a number of tales about horrific supernatural shenanigans that went down over the history his town. The first involves an awkward old fuddy-duddy whose questionable late night activity with the corpse of a girl that he murdered leads to pint sized monster revenge 9 months later. A pretty dark n’ twisted start to this anthology to be sure, yet one that co-writer/director Jeff Burr has no trouble matching from there. The second is set in the ’50s and involves a criminal-on-the-run and a kindly old man who saves him in the swamplands and gives him the gift of immortality before some inevitably nasty revenge. The fourth is set in the 30s and involves a freak show, a glass eater, a spurned voodoo master, and an explosively bloody moment of revenge. The final tale goes back to the civil war for a tale of soldiers and unconscionably creepy kids that even The Children Of The Corn would rather avoid. From there it obviously all comes together with an ironic twist ending to the wraparound tale because that’s just how horror anthology movies work.
From A Whisper To A Scream was a breakout picture of sorts for young director Jeff Burr. He made the movie on a shoestring with his friends at the age of 24 and delivered one hell of a talent showcase and delightfully twisted exorcize in taboo-busting bad taste. It was enough to get him a gig on Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, a deeply troubled production that led to Burr having a career defined by franchise sequels that he couldn’t control. That’s a damn shame because From Whisper To A Scream remains a striking show off horror showcase all these years later. Sure, some of the acting is a bit wonky and the writing rather crude, but Burr definitely has chops and an outsider’s vision. His movie takes the Tales From The Crypt format and infuses it with distinctly Southern Gothic flair. The tales are all deeply ironic and laced deep fried Southern sleaze. Blood runs freely and surreal rubber effects dominate the screen, but always in service of some twisted narrative device driven by conceptual squirms. While the movie is clearly cheaply produced, Burr directs with color and style that heightens all of his nasty tales and ghastly effects. It might not be a groundbreaking scare feature and as with most horror anthologies the wrap-around plot is pretty much useless (aside from Price’s always welcome iconic presence of course), but Burr’s flick packs so much style, gore, and genre fun into 100 minutes that it’s cult status is richly deserved. It truly is a shame that Burr never got a chance to make a film so freely again because the kid clearly had talent and it would have been nice if the he’d been able to use it.
As usual, Shout Factory treats this forgotten gem with the reverence it has always deserved, but never received. The transfer is damn good, retaining the distinctly ’80s grain and deliberately muddy visuals of the original production while added depth, clarity, and color never visible in the film’s previous shoddy home video releases. Even better is the special feature section, which is easily one of the most overflowing Shout Factory has ever released. It kicks off with a two hour documentary (which is longer than the film itself) about the production featuring nearly every member of the cast and crew. The doc explores how three childhood friends turned their amateur filmmaking hobby into a feature that began as a road movie, somehow transformed into a horror anthology tale, and grew from being produced by friends on discarded film stock into a widely released cult flick that somehow starred Vincent Price. Next up comes an hour and twenty minute doc about the joys of amateur super 8 filmmaking featuring additional interviews from the boys (well, men) behind From A Whisper To A Scream about their early days and features a wealth of HD footage of their childhood projects. It’s a wonderful, unique, and unexpected feature that’s well worth a look. If you somehow think you didn’t hear every possible story about this film or it’s makers, then you can also dive into two audio commentary tracks by Burr and his best buds. Toss in the usual trailers and still galleries and you’ve got fantastic Blu-ray for an unfairly forgotten film and over 6 hours of bonus features almost as good as the movie itself. In other words, go out and get this right now, dummy.