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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » From a Whisper to a Scream (Blu-ray)
From a Whisper to a Scream (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // R // April 28, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Forget it, Beth; it's Oldfield. As sleepy as this little Tennessean town may look at first glance, the blood-spattered pages of its history books chronicle an evil that's endured for more than a century. Why would town historian Julian White (Vincent Price) bother to attend his daughter's execution? Of course she's guilty, the same as the countless others before her corrupted by the malevolence of Oldfield. Beth Chandler (Susan Tyrrell, playing against type) doesn't get it, so White gives the reporter a primer into Oldfield's dark, demented history with four of its most nightmarish stories.

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I have an insatiable hunger for horror anthologies, despite the fact that so many of them have segments that march in lockstep with the same familiar structure: (1) quickly establish the characters and the general scenario, (2) torture and torment everyone unfortunate enough to be in front of the camera, culminating in (3) some sort of grisly twist or denouement. Anthologies often immediately showcase what the horror at hand is: say, the murderous Santa Claus stalking Joan Collins in the original Tales from the Crypt, E.G. Marshall's violent revulsion of all things unclean in Creepshow, or the hellspawned cat in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. From a Whisper to a Scream takes an entirely different approach, one that fascinates me as a viewer and frustrates me as a reviewer. This anthology thrusts the audience into four strange, disturbing tales while clutching its most horrific cards close to its chest. An essential element of each of these journeys is not knowing what the hell is going on -- an unease often shared by its central characters -- and the more of the plot that gradually comes to light, the darker and bleaker the stories become. From a Whisper to a Scream is at its most effective with as little foreknowledge as possible about what's to come, so if my two sentence plot synopses sound awfully bland, it's just because I'm trying to avoid spoiling anything.

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In the segment that inspired the film's American title, The Offspring, Clu Gulager stars as an aging, bespectacled dweeb. With a perhaps too comfortable relationship with his sister (Miriam Byrd-Nethery) and harboring a particularly intense crush on his boss (Megan McFarland), Stanley has long struggled with love. As luck would have it, he's just found someone who doesn't struggle back so much. Next, a two-bit hood (Terry Kiser) is gunned down and left for dead, only to be nursed back to health by a kindly old-timer (Harry Caesar) in his cabin deep in the swamp. Little does Jesse know that he's stumbled onto the score of a lifetime, but you know what they say about being careful what you wish for. I guess it's about time for a break, so why not take a trip to the carnival? There's nothing that the freak show's resident glass eater (Ron Brooks) wants more than to run away with the love of his life (Martine Beswick). Is that sort of stinging betrayal any way to treat the carnival's snakewoman (Rosalind Cash) after all she's done for Steven and his fellow outcasts, giving them a home and a purpose? Ugh, it's enough to give a guy indigestion. Finally, Cameron Mitchell stars as a Civil War-era Union soldier who's decided to ignore the news that the War of Northern Aggression has come to an end. There's still a hell of a lot more havoc to be wrought in the smoldering carcass of the South, and Sergeant Gallen's reign of terror is only put on pause when he's taken prisoner by a most unlikely group of captors.

Although From a Whisper to a Scream marked the first professional writing credit for everyone contributing to its screenplay, this anthology is the work of young filmmakers who'd devoted half their lives to an onslaught of ambitious Super 8 productions. Weaving complete stories with a lean budget and limited runtime would be a mighty struggle for most, but Jeff Burr and his collaborators were entirely in their wheelhouse. I have no doubt that's why From a Whisper to a Scream ranks behind only Creepshow as my favorite '80s horror anthology. Storytelling is perhaps the film's greatest strength, as the premises of these segments are more complex and layered than anthologies often allow. There's so much more I'm aching to reveal about these storylines, and it takes a concerted effort to rein myself in. A greater emphasis on characterization is heightened by the terrific cast that these barely-twentysomething-year-old filmmakers have assembled. From a Whisper to a Scream brings out the best from such familiar faces as Vincent Price and the always reliable Clu Gulager, and even the notoriously just-there-for-a-check Cameron Mitchell proves that he's still got it. Most anthologies by their nature tend to be uneven, but From a Whisper to a Scream is remarkably consistent in quality. There's not a misfire in the lot, although the segment with the starcrossed lovers at the carnival admittedly doesn't reach quite the same heights as the others. The swamp and Civil War segments are both tremendous, and my only disappointment with Clu Gulager's starring turn is that I wish it were longer. The film's visual flair, ambition, energy, inventive screenplay, and accomplished cast draw my attention away from the seams that occasionally show in this very low budget production. It's even enough to make me overlook the repetition of screaming nightmares and final closeups of crying eyes. From a Whisper to a Scream is also infamous as one of the darkest and most disturbing horror anthologies of its (or, hell, any other) decade. Although it did somehow slink away with an R rating, the film doesn't push the envelope so much as eviscerate it, with dismemberment, exploding innards, necrophilia, incest, the most gruesome game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey you'll ever see, and horrors I can't begin to describe here.

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If From a Whisper to a Scream had been dumped onto Blu-ray with the same indifferent shrug as MGM's barebones DVD from 2006, it still would've come enthusiastically recommended. Scream Factory, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, Jeff Burr, and the army of filmmakers that contributed to this anthology aren't willing to settle for something that routine, though. Lavished with a new transfer and one of the most phenomenal special editions in Scream Factory's sprawling catalog, From a Whisper to a Scream readily ranks among the label's most essential releases. Very Highly Recommended.


Video
At its best, this newly-remastered presentation of From a Whisper to a Scream eclipses most every other '80s genre film that Scream Factory has released on Blu-ray. I was in awe of its definition and clarity throughout the opening execution sequence, for instance:

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Its colors are impressively robust. I found myself repeatedly marveling at the rich sense of texture. Though there is some speckling, it's far too light to ever really get in the way. Contrast is dead-on, bolstered by brilliant whites and deep, inky blacks. From a Whisper to a Scream often drapes itself in shadow, although some sequences -- night exteriors, particularly -- take that to an underlit extreme:

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The same as its DVD release nearly a decade ago, From a Whisper to a Scream is extremely grainy. That in and of itself shouldn't be considered a flaw, although the heavy grain does make the film look as if it's quite a few years older than it actually is. It's appreciated that this gritty texture hasn't been digitally smeared away, but Scream Factory's AVC encoder -- shaky enough under the best of circumstances -- is completely out of its depth here. One case-in-point:

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Look at the hard macroblocking around Harry Caesar's moustache and...well, the overcompressed-JPEG-on-an-Angelfire-fansite artifacting to basically everything else too. The clumsy compression leaves From a Whisper to a Scream looking more digital than it really should, and definition sometimes takes a hit because of it. Though this is not immediately apparent in motion, it's interesting stepping through the film frame-by-frame and looking at how the gritty texture appears and disappears. Scream Factory's encoding pipeline is broken, and I wish they'd hurry up and do something about it.

From a Whisper to a Scream arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, and it's been slightly letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.


Audio
Despite what's listed on the flipside of the case, From a Whisper to a Scream's 24-bit, stereo soundtrack is uncompressed rather than getting the usual DTS-HD Master Audio treatment. The end result is aurally the same, but with more than five hours of HD video on this disc, piling on over six gigs of uncompressed audio seems like an awfully inefficient use of space. The audio itself is fine. Dialogue suffers from light clipping and sounds somewhat dated, but none of that's to any greater an extent than expected. The faint hiss lurking in the background is wholly unintrusive. Bass response is modest, and although the sound design is very well done, there aren't any effects that really roar from the front mains. I wish the score by Jim Manzie (Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings) bared its fangs a bit more. The intensity of a drowning early in the film would've been greatly heightened by Manzie's music, for instance, but it's too meek in the mix to really get the blood pumping. Of course, all of this may very well reflect the way that From a Whisper to a Scream sounded theatrically nearly thirty years ago, so maybe that's unwelcomed revisionism on my part. No major complaints overall.

From a Whisper to a Scream's audio commentaries are also in LPCM, unexpectedly, and the same goes for all of the disc's extras. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are along for the ride as well.


Extras
Depending on how you want to look at it, Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of From a Whisper to a Scream is a triple feature, boasting two feature-length documentaries and some five and a half hours' worth of extras in all.

  • A Decade Under the Innocence (87 min.; HD): The story of From a Whisper to a Scream can't be told without a trip to Dalton, a fairly isolated little town in Georgia with a passion for cinema. When Super 8 opened the doors to amateur filmmaking in the late '60s, a group of extremely young cineastes wasn't content to passively watch movies and instead set out to make their own. A Decade Under the Innocence is about how kids like Jeff Burr and his friends learned the art of filmmaking by...well, making films, one ambitious production after another with a supportive and extremely enthusiastic community behind them. The documentary features interviews with the filmmakers and their friends and family alike, chronicling this tightknit group of filmmakers from elementary school through college and beyond. Not only is it a treat to see clips from so many of their movies -- among them Teenage Fright, Agent 005, Salt and Pepper, Let Us Prey, and Curse on the Werewolf -- but the overwhelming majority of them have been newly transferred in HD and look phenomenal. There are so many amazing stories, such as filming inside the Apollo 8 simulator and Dalton P.D. thinking they'd stumbled onto an actual bank robbery, and having pretty much the entirety of Dalton behind these kids makes the doc that much more infectiously fun to watch. I cannot begin to put into words how much I adore A Decade Under the Innocence, and I'm thrilled that this was expanded to feature-length rather than just being a couple minutes at the beginning of a more traditional retrospective.

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  • Return to Oldfield: The Making of From a Whisper to a Scream (116 min.; HD): Clocking in just shy of two hours, Return to Oldfield runs longer than the film it's documenting. It ought to go without saying that this is a startlingly comprehensive retrospective, featuring interviews with writer/director Jeff Burr, writer/producer Darin Scott, writer C. Courtney Joyner, writer/producer/transportation captain Mike Malone, producer Ron Arnold, makeup effects designer Rob Burman, caterer/mom Jeanne Burr, production designer Cynthia K. Charette, propmaster Mike Scheitler, scenic artist/P.A. Teddy Whittenbarger, and actors Will Huston and David Styncromb. There are also archival interviews with actors Cameron Mitchell and Clu Gulager as well as audio-only comments by actress/P.A. Deborah Defore and composer Jim Manzie.

    Return to Oldfield is exhaustive without ever being exhausting, and I loved every last minute of it. Among the many, many topics of conversation here are why Burr and company opted for a horror anthology in the first place, financing a feature film with the carpet barons in Dalton, GA, wrangling in famous acquaintances and friends-of-friends without the benefit of a casting director, shooting an ambitious anthology of mostly period pieces on a threadbare budget, the entire community of Dalton pitching in, and a too-brilliant-for-words story about casting Vincent Price that also includes Max von Sydow and a kinda vengeful Forry Ackerman. The spotlight is shone on each segment of From a Whisper to a Scream as well as its framing device, featuring such stories as filming necrophilia in an actual funeral home, ordering 300 cheeseburgers at Krystal's in the wee hours of the morning, using a carpet warehouse as a soundstage, and Vincent Price hurling obscenities at the filmmakers over a scratchy phone call on a Caribbean cruise. Post-production is briefly tackled as well, along with a domestic distributor who wasn't keen on the original title or Price's marquee value, the film's intensely polarizing critical reception, and a tribute to the late Bill Burr who hustled tirelessly to get From a Whisper to a Scream off the ground. Return to Oldfield is one of the best making-of docs I've come across in a long, long time, and it's essential viewing for anyone buying or renting this Blu-ray disc.

  • Audio Commentaries: Not content to settle for a pair of feature-length docs, From a Whisper to a Scream piles on two commentary tracks while it's at it. The first features writer/director Jeff Burr who, even after the nearly two hour Return to Oldfield, still has dozens of amazing stories tucked under his arm: Susan Tyrrell's "cuntie" fertility-style sculptures that rankled Vincent Price, the revelation that Clu Gulager wrote the creepy ode to Grace Scott, that we're looking at an actual razor blade being eaten (well, chewed, anyway), accidentally hiring the 5'10" Dan Frischman of Head of the Class fame as the carnival's little person, and Cameron Mitchell chomping down twelve cloves of garlic a day. It's also a blast to hear Burr run through a list of the gaffes that made it on-screen along with some of what he'd do differently if he were directing From a Whisper to a Scream now.
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    Writer/producer Darin Scott and writer C. Courtney Joyner chime in with a commentary of their own as well. It's a fast, energetic conversation that's overflowing with personality, with only one lengthy burst of dead air in the carnival segment killing the momentum. Although a lot of these stories have been told at some point on the disc by now, it's more than enough fun to warrant a listen, especially with such highlights as a depraved explanation about the ice in the Burnsides' bathtub, giving a piggyback ride to a surprisingly stocky and nearly 80 year old little person, and trying to do ADR with a teenage actor whose voice dropped a couple octaves after filming wrapped.

  • Still Gallery (10 min.; HD): Not only has Jeff Burr assembled a sprawling image gallery -- including stills from the set, press clippings, script pages, call sheets, handwritten notes, and correspondence from various investors, studios, and distributors -- but he provides running commentary over it all.

  • Trailer and TV Spots (4 min.; SD): An international trailer is included alongside five TV spots. All of this footage is 1.33:1. The trailer uses the film's original and superior title, From a Whisper to a Scream, while the VHS-sourced TV spots from this side of the Atlantic are promoting The Offspring.

There's not a DVD or slipcover this time around, but From a Whisper to a Scream does feature reversible cover art. The alternate cover showcases the film's American theatrical artwork as "The Offspring".


The Final Word
One of the greatest horror anthologies to emerge from the 1980s -- certainly the grisliest and most gruesome -- From a Whisper to a Scream has been lavished with a hell of a special edition on Blu-ray. Although Scream Factory's chronic compression woes continue to be a nuisance, this is an otherwise extraordinary release and easily ranks among the most essential in the label's library. Highly Recommended.
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