From a Whisper to a Scream

Year 1987

Vincent Price as Julian White
Clu Gulager as  Stanley Burnside
Terry Kiser   as Jesse Hardwick
Rosalind Cash as Snakewoman
Cameron Mitchell as Sgt. Gallen
Susan Tyrrell as Beth Chandler
Lawrence Tierney   as Warden
Didi Lanier as Amarrillis Caulfield  
Director - Jeff Burr
Screenwriters - C. Courtney Joyner
    Mike Malone
    Darin Scott
    Jeff Burr

The movie From a Whisper to a Scream is a series of horror tales told by librarian Julian White (Price) to reporter Beth Chandler (Tyrrell) about the curse that exists in Oldfield, Tennessee. Each story is more polished than the next. The last history lesson is the finest of the bunch. So, if you look at things starting small, as in with a whisper, and ending in a the most unnerving, a scream, then the title matches the way the movie plays out.

Price doesn't have a lot of screen time. So don't watch this thinking it's a Vincent Price vehicle. He's the linchpin between vignettes. He does a decent job in the role, even going so far as effecting a (usually present) Southern drawl. It's still a pretty good horror flick even if Price isn't even in the majority of the scenes.

The back story is that White's niece has just been executed for murder. (Lawrence Tierney makes his cameo as the prison warden in this scene and then doesn't appear again.) A reporter visits White and he tries to convince her that the niece is a product of Oldfield and that she's not the first to come under its evil spell. For examples, he speaks of Stanley Burnside (Gulager) whose infatuation with a woman led to his becoming a murder, then Jesse Hardwick (Kiser) who criminal who wanted a potion and became the victim of revenge instead, a side-show glass eating freak who dared rebel against the owner of the Carnival and suffered the consequences of Snakewoman (Carter), and finally the resugence of Oldfield after the Civil War and the punishment of the bloodthirsty Sgt. Gallen (Mitchell).

Each of the stories is unnerving in their own way but they suffer from that B-movie feel. And not just B-movie from the eighties. If not for the occassional f-bomb (there was at least one) and some of the subject matter, this movie could have come out in the sixties. But it does have a certain style that makes it effective.

Some of the bad things are some of the actors, or more specifically, the actresses. For every strong Clu Galager, there's a weak Susan Tyrrell. For every powerful Rosalind Cash, there's a vapid Didi Lanier. It doesn't help that the script swings from not bad to uninspired. The horror part of the stories seemed to have gotten a lot of attention while the rest of the story was just thrown together as filler.

For a couple of examples, Burnside is a fifty something who's just weird. But he gives well attended parties. Well, at least one. He has a younger friend at work who share thoughts that only close buddies might. The friendship doesn't quite convince. It isn't out of place, but it's not handled credibly.

Trivia! Burnside has a sister who needs a cold bath her rheumatic fever. Uh. Not sure about this one. How can an old infection require ice baths to reduce the temperature? I thought that it was something that, once you were over, you were over. Anyway, Burnside has to help his sister bathe in ice water. Seeing his sister, played by Miriam Byrd-Nethery, being washed by her brother is borderline incestuous. There's a hint of that, too. Not brother-sister, but perhaps father-daughter. It's creepy and to good effect for a movie like this. Miriam Byrd-Nethery provides the only nudity in the movie as well. The trivia point? She was the real-life wife of Clu Galager. They were married for over fifty years. A husband and wife playing brother and sister is kind of cool for a horror movie.

Back to rushing things, let's quickly discuss Amarrillis' infatuation with the human goat. She goes from sideshow audience member to deeply in love awfully quickly. Too quickly. It's required for the story to make sense, but it doesn't convince.

In general, things move too rapidly in order to tell each story in the few minutes of movie time alloted to it. I understand the need and none of the stories, except perhaps for the last, is worthy of additional screen time. It just shows how the writers (four, count 'em, four) had a reach that exceeded their grasp.

I'm not sure what happened in movie regarding White's niece, either. The movie begins with her getting married and being in love. The next scene is her being unrepetant just before the lethal injection at the prison. She killed her husband, it turns out, but her story is never given. It goes from, "I'm in love," to "I'm not sorry I killed him," without any reason.

In the mixed-bag category you can lump the special effects. First of all, there are very few. This is a good thing as it makes the writers rely on acting and dialog to set the mood and tone. This is also a bad thing because it forces the writers rely on acting and dialog to set the mood and tone. When it works, it works well. Mostly...<sigh>. There are some "special" effects that are best forgotten. I've seen better taxidermy specimens than "living" creatures in this movie.

To summarize, it's not a bad movie. It could give you nightmares because the stories are original. It goes between good acting a shabby acting and the scenes are rushed. But it does have a dark mood and everyone gave it their best shot. Dislikable characters really are. There's no one to root for, unfortunately. Maybe White was right and there's a curse on Oldfield, an evil that comes from the ground, that turns everyone hateful.

There's a bit of profanity and one scene of breasts. Scenes are rushed, dialog is uneven, and pacing is an issue. But it's original and moody and creepy like an adult version of Creepy magazine. It's definitely a B-movie and there are better horror movies out there like Phantasm, but this one isn't bad.

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