Horror antholo­gies are a big chal­lenge for gen­re film­mak­ers. It’s hard to come up with a set of sto­ries that main­tain a con­sis­tent lev­el of qual­i­ty and it’s also hard to cre­ate a wrap­around con­cept that will real­ly bring it all togeth­er into a coher­ent whole. However, the for­mat can be macabre mag­ic when it works, as proven by endur­ing fan favorites like Creepshow and the orig­i­nal Amicus ver­sion of Tales From The Crypt.

FAWTAS-posThough it not as well-known as the afore­men­tioned titles, From A Whisper To A Scream def­i­nite­ly belongs on that list. This inde­pen­dent effort, orig­i­nal­ly released as The Offspring, was an incu­ba­tor that pro­duced sev­er­al still-work­ing gen­re film­mak­ers: Jeff Burr direct­ed, C.Courtney Joyner con­tribut­ed to the script and Darin Scott both co-wrote and pro­duced. This humbly-bud­get­ed but ambi­tious film found the­se upstarts tak­ing the hor­ror anthol­o­gy into dark and dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry befit­ting its mid-‘80s pro­duc­tion vin­tage.

The frameFAWTAS-01work for From A Whisper To A Scream is pro­vid­ed by the fic­tion­al town of Oldfield, Tennessee. A reporter (Susan Tyrrell) inves­ti­gat­ing the exe­cu­tion of a female pris­on­er for mul­ti­ple mur­ders ends up at the book-filled home of town his­to­ri­an Julian White (Vincent Price), who hap­pens to be the uncle of the mur­der­ess. The reporter hopes for infor­ma­tion on her sub­ject but is instead treat­ed to a series of tales about Oldfield’s grue­some his­to­ry, which Julian uses to explain his niece’s mind­set.

The tales with­in this frame­work cov­er a vari­ety of set­tings and time peri­ods: a secret­ly twist­ed man (Clu Gulager) gives in to his dark pas­sions only to pay a sur­pris­ing price, a crook (Terry Kiser) is saved from cer­tain death by a swamp-dwelling man who might pos­sess pow­er­ful mag­ic, a glass eater (Ron Brooks) in a sideshow finds true love with a town­ie but must first escape the dark hold of the sideshow’s queen bee (Rosalind Cash) and the amoral lead­er (Cameron Mitchell) of a troop of Union sFAWTAS-02oldiers dur­ing the Civil War finds him­self trapped in a war-rav­aged town run by sin­is­ter chil­dren. The lat­ter tale has a clev­er tie-in to the wrap­around sto­ry, which deliv­ers a grim part­ing shot at the close.

From A Whisper To A Scream ris­es about the rough edges of its low bud­get because it is fueled by a sin­cere pas­sion for the hor­ror gen­re. Each of the sto­ries is smart­ly-craft­ed, fus­ing the Southern Gothic with E.C. Comics and always remem­ber­ing to deliv­er a killer pay­off with each sto­ry. The tales real­ly stick because they aren’t afraid to com­mit to the inher­ent dark­ness of the gen­re. In the­se sto­ries, love doesn’t con­quer all, vil­lains are FAWTAS-03often pun­ished after they’ve ruined the inno­cence of oth­ers and the prices peo­ple pay for their mis­steps are fre­quent­ly worse than you could imag­ine.

The film also impress­es with its style. What it lacks in tech­ni­cal pol­ish it makes up for with a deep-dish lev­el of south­ern atmos­phere: Burr shot the film in his home­town of Dalton, Georgia and he exploits its wilder­ness, swamps and vin­tage homes to their full extent. The pro­duc­tion design by Cynthia Charette and Allen Posten is very impres­sive for a low-bud­get effort, aid­ing the authen­ti­cal­ly south­ern feel in a big way, and the brief but mem­o­rable bits of bloody effects woFAWTAS-04rk are deliv­ered with gus­to by Rob Burman (the sideshow story’s finale deliv­ers his most mem­o­rable effects). Even the oblig­a­tory ‘80s syn­th score is above-aver­age here: Jim Manzie’s music is skill­ful­ly arranged and high­ly melod­ic.

However, the ele­ment of From A Whisper To A Scream that real­ly puts the whole enter­prise across the plate is the act­ing. Burr and com­pa­ny man­aged to secure an impres­sive array of a tal­ent for an indie effort and every­one ris­es to the chal­lenges of the mate­ri­al. Price and a sur­pris­ing­ly low-key Tyrrell anchor the wrap­around with ele­gant per­for­mances but the real scene-steal­ers appear in the indi­vid­u­al tales: Gulager gives a dark­ly humor­ous per­for­mance as a clos­et sadist, Kiser is mem­o­rably intense as a schem­ing crook, Cash plays her vil­lain­ous role with wild-eyed fer­vor and Mitchell gets the most out of the best role of his lat­ter-day career as a cru­el, cor­rupt mil­i­tary man.

In short, From A Whisper To A Scream is one of the best hor­ror antholo­gies to emerge from the ‘80s and well worth dis­cov­ery for any­one explor­ing this sub­set of the hor­ror film. It makes the most of the anthol­o­gy for­mat and — be fore­warned — it plays for keeps.