Wednesday, 29 July 2015

From A Whisper to a Scream (1987) | Vincent Price's final horror film on Blu-ray

Back in 1980, The Monster Club, starring Vincent Price, became the final nail in the coffin for horror anthology-styled chillers that had peaked in the 1970s in a series of Amicus-produced frighteners.

Seven years on, however, first-time director Jeff Burr tried his hand at resurrecting the genre in From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring), and even convinced retired horror movie icon Vincent Price to appear.

Now, the film, which ended up becoming Price’s final role in a horror movie, has been has been given a Blu-ray release from Scream Factory in the US, loaded with specially-commissioned extras, including two audio commentaries and two feature-length documentaries.

On the night that his serial killer niece Katherine (Martine Beswick) is to be executed, historian Julian White (Vincent Price) reveals to a journalist (Susan Tyrell) the sinister secrets of his hometown, Oldfield, Tennessee. But as the town’s murderous legacy is exposed by his chilling accounts – about a necrophiliac (Clu Gulager) and the monstrous offspring that results in his coupling with his dead sister; a centuries-old hermit (Harry Caesar) with life-prolonging powers; a ruthless carnival leader (Rosalind Cash) who uses voodoo on those who dare to leave her troupe; and a Yankee soldier (Cameron Mitchell) who discovers a legion of children with an appetite for murder – White doesn’t realise that he is about the write the final chapter of Oldfield’s horrible history… in his own blood!


Shot on location in Dalton, Georgia and in LA by Burr (who was just 23 at the time) and a group of friends in 1985 and 1986, this low-budget flick was released in the US as The Offspring and everywhere else as From A Whisper to a Scream (the title was changed for the DVD and Blu-ray releases).

In securing Price to appear, the now famous story goes that Burr brazenly rolled up at Price’s LA home, where he was invited inside by the polite Price, who read the script, but later declined to appear until Max Von Sydow's agent convinced him otherwise. Price, wearing his own clothes and a favourite vintage jacket, recorded his sequences in two days at the same studio in Venice, California where he had filmed his classic Poe films with Roger Corman – who ended up visiting Price, along with Hazel Court, Price’s two-time co-star, while he was on set. This incident is well covered in the Blu-ray extra, as is Price's expletive-laden ship-to-shore telephone call to Burr over changes in the script that was to turn in character into a hook-handed, disfigured Dr Phibes character.

For many Price fans, myself included, Vinnie’s scenes in the movie are the only reason for visiting Oldfield. It’s great to see our childhood hero back in the genre that had made him famous, and its nice to hear his iconic voice once more growling out some suitably menacing dialogue. But this wasn't the right vehicle for the veteran horror actor. It was exactly the kind of ‘gore’ picture, as he called them, that he disliked. Not surprisingly, Price later regretted taking on the role (he said he only did it for the money). It's a rather sad cameo, not unlike his brief appearance in another low-budget flick, the 1988 action comedy, Dead Heat. It was only by sheer luck that Tim Burton would give Price the fitting swansong that his Merchant of Menace persona so richly deserved, in the short film Vincent and in Edward Scissorhands.
Thank you card from director Jeff Burr


The Scream Factory/Shout! US Blu-ray release is based on a new HD transfer, presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. All previous releases of the film were cursed by being dark and grainy, so this is a huge improvement. I was lucky to get mine direct from Scream, so I got a nice little thank you card from director Burr as well as a film strip, featuring Anglo Rossitto

The special features include:
Return to Oldfield: The Making of Whisper to a Scream. This labour of love documentary contains lots of new and old interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and never-before-seen images of Vincent Price (including his letters to Burr). While you may not like the movie, Burr and his dedicated team should be praised for staying true to their purpose in giving the Hollywood bigwigs a run for their money. Their slick slice of American Gothic may not be perfect, but you can feel the love that went into making their dreams come true. This is the reason I got this release, and it's worth every pence/cent. It even made me want to watch the film again, and not just Price's bits.

Original film cell from A Whisper to a Scream
A Decade Under the Innocence: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking This one explores Burr and his Dalton, Georgia pals’ lifelong obsession for the film medium. Monster Kids will relate to this one (I know I did).
• Audio commentary with writer/director Jeff Burr. From script to screen, Burr leads us through the whole process of getting his film made, and talks about working with Price and Cameron Mitchell. Although packed with insight, there's a bit of repetition in the documentary.
• Audio commentary with writer/producer Darin Scott and writer Courtney Joyner.
• Animated Gallery. Burr comments (with lots of emotion) on the film’s production stills, press reviews and behind-the-scenes shots, including personal letters from Vincent Price.
• Theatrical trailer and TV spots.

No comments: