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Director: Jeff Burr
Writers: C. Courtney Joyner, Mike Malone, Darlin Scott, and Jeff Burr
Cast: Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser
Length: 99 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1
Audio: English LPCM 2.0
- Return to Oldfield: Behind the Scenes 2hr. Documentary
- A Decade Under the Innocence: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking– Hour documentary tracking the Super 8mm filmmaking of five future filmmakers (Including Burr)
- Audio Commentary with Jeff Burr
- Audio Commentary with Darin Scott and Courtney Joyner
- Stills Gallery
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
At this point in time, anthology films — much like their related brethren in the found footage subgenre — have kind of exhausted their place in horror. Sure, they resurface every decade or so and experience a brief renaissance, but more often than not it seems that they are used more as vehicles for pushing forward a sea of ideas and directors, than really serving (what at least I feel) is their intention. The best anthology films, and something that is apparent in most of the early anthology work, is that the films are connected thematically. This is something that transcends genre, but horror has always handled the anthology in rather ingenious way. By the late 80s, anthologies were not novel, but they were still fresh enough to serve as a platform to propel careers forward. Predating both Romero and Argento’s Evil Eyes and John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, is Jeff Burr’s gory little romp, From a Whisper to a Scream aka The Offspring. While the film is perhaps most famous for featuring Vincent Price (and even more so for the fact that Price’s reaction to the film has been wildly disputed, but we’ll get to that), in reality, From a Whisper to a Scream is quite an impressive film, and one that has largely been overlooked in the horror canon. Released in a new Blu-Ray package by Scream Factory this week, we are now in a place to reassess the film on its overall merits — even if our love of Price will color that just a bit.
As briefly mentioned, one of the film’s greatest strength is the way that it coherently links all of the films together. In an era where this concept has largely been overlooked (with the exception of maybe VHS, which seemed a rather bright linkage), Burr’s linking of the stories through the simple device of an aging storyteller regaling a journalist on the evil past of their town Oldfield is surprisingly concise and effective. Vincent Price gives a hell of a performance as Julian White, even in spite of his reservations about the script. Though his performance is rather small, it is resounding and will stick with you, as Price’s performances tend to do.
The film follows through with four tales of taboo and vice and yet the film never seems to fall into the territory of overt-moralizing. These are quasi-moralistic tales but they do not derive all of their value from denigration their immoral subjects. In fact, we do not even always find pleasure in their demise of the subjects, making a more rounded depiction throughout. The first segment is easily one of the film’s most disturbing. The short follows an insipid loser Stanley Burnside (Clu Gulager), who after falling for and being rejected by his beautiful co-worker, violently attacks, murders, and defiles her corpse. The rest of the film follows in the wake of the actions, where Stanley has been transformed from dullard to drunkard. His actions — or guilt — do finally return to haunt him, incarnating in a vile little form, ending in a bloody little mess.If the first short is the film’s most disturbing, the second is perhaps its strongest. This segment, set in the 1950s, follows a gangster (Terry Kiser) on the run,tbea who, after nearly dying, awakens to find himself shacked up with a man who holds an ancient secret. It is not long before the gangster discovers that the man has the secret to eternal life. Despite my earlier remarks, the strength of the second piece is the very moralizing aspect of it. It remains one of the few cautionary tales within the film, and it works because of that fact. The third segment is probably the most ill fitting piece, yet nonetheless offers a great deal of value. Mostly, this segmented is highlighted by a great mis-en-scene, set during the 1930s in a traveling circus. While most of the short is rather forgettable, the gut-bursting (couldn’t resist) ending will be certain to satisfy. The last segment continues the trajectory backwards through Oldfield’s time, to the age of the Civil War. Having just come off a feature length project set during the Civil War, Burr is effective in conjuring up the right mood and feel for the times. Additionally, while the opening segment may serve as one of the most disturbing, this ending is a close second. In this last piece, Burr is able to effectively turn the tables, meeting taboo with taboo, and closing the film with a very dark note. While primarily known for his work in the “straight-to-DVD” realm, Burr showed a great deal of promise with From a Whisper to a Scream and it is a shame that it did not lead to bigger projects. Serving as his second film, and apparently his first “professional” work, Burr displays a level of proficiency that really out-shadows many of his contemporaries. History, however, has mostly relegated his career into obscurity. It does beg the question as to what kinds of films Burr might have made had this film been a hit.
The 1080p presentation of From a Whisper to a Scream is perhaps not the best we have seen from Scream, but neither is it problematic. Colors are nicely maintained, skin tones are rich, and the blood is beet red (just like we like it). There isn’t really any noticeable signs of digital tinkering being done here, leaving the rather grainy nature of the production intact. The feature documentaries, both shot digitally, look outstanding and it is nice to see that they were able to cram so much material on the disc without any terribly noticeable compression artifacts. Overall, a fine transfer that is hard to find much fault in.
For this release, Scream has presented only a LPCM 2.0 audio track, which is faithful to the source material. It perhaps isn’t as expansive as a 5.1 MA re-mastered could have been but the work is balanced and presents an even spread between the soundtrack, sound effects, and dialogue. Any problems in the track are probably the result of the rather cut-and-run filmmaking than the result of a poor transfer.
First off, color me impressed, because this disc features two really competent and entertaining feature length documentaries as extra features. The first, a kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ piece, entitled Return to Oldfield: The Making of From a Whisper to a Scream, is a two-hour film that tracks the production through every step of the process. It could be said that the documentary is, in some ways, better than the film. This is no slag at the film, but just to say how great this piece is. It is in this doc that you really get an impression of the difficulties that the crew went through getting the film produced with such a small budget. Additionally, you really get a sense of the complicated relationship that they shared with Price. Price, who didn’t really want to be involved with the film, made it clear that he was not happy during production. However, as the consummate professional that he was, Price showed up and delivered in strides (who would guess any different). The documentary does help to soften some of the word that has spread about Price’s absolute hatred for the film. Clearly, this was not really his kind of project, but they do share a letter that Price wrote in the wake of the film’s release that contrasts some of the reactions that are commonly shared about the film. The second doc, A Decade Under the Innocence, may be of less interest to some, but it still is a pretty endearing piece about five filmmakers (director being one of them) who all grew up together through the 8mm technology. This piece is fun and heartwarming but is also a great historical look at how technology has opened up the possibilities of future filmmakers (something that continues to change with the onset of digital cameras). In addition to these wonderful documentaries, the disc contains to two feature length commentary tracks, a stills gallery, TV spots, and a trailer for good measure.
The bottom line for this package is simple, this is a rather overlooked gem of American horror history. If Price alone is not enough to sell you, the film is one of the better examples of anthology filmmaking, long before the genre over-exhausted itself. If you are a fan of the format, there is little doubt that you won’t enjoy this piece but even if you don’t like anthologies, it is conceivable that this film would still work with you, as it feels less contrived than many. Performances across the board are a bit campy but in a fun way, and there is a great deal of gore to keep you interested. With the inclusion of Return to Oldfield and A Decade Under the Innocence, it is hard to deny the value of this disc. Equally over three hours of entertainment alone, this Scream package offers a great deal of value for your buck.