Saturday, July 18, 2009

Film Review: FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987, Jeff Burr)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clu Gulager, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Vincent Price, Terry Kiser, Lawrence Tierney (SILVER BULLET, RESERVOIR DOGS), Susan Tyrrell (BIG-TOP PEE-WEE, TAPEHEADS).
Tag-lines: "Fear......Times Four."
Best one-liner: "One thing I've learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares. "

"Welcome... to... Oldfield...eckk..." Wow. All is not right in the little hamlet of Oldfield, Tennessee, and what should clue you in is that its denizens include the legendary Vincent Price, a couple of members of the Gulager clan, Lawrence Tierney, and Terry Kiser (Bernie from WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S). But this film, from STEPFATHER II director and Gulager family friend Jeff Burr, is closer in character to an anthology of depressing O. Henry stories than TALES FROM THE CRYPT. And my nearly four-star rating is probably a bit misleading since it garners some extra stars from Clu and Vincent, and they're hardly in it. But I'm gonna go ahead and focus on the parts of the film they are in, cause, by gum, they're the best parts. Vincent functions here as Debbie Harry from TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, if you will. He's just there for the frame story, which is kinda weak, and he's pretty decrepit, but goddammit, he's still VINCENT, and he's always amazing.

So let's get on to the meat of things, the segment which showcases the demented Gulagers, Clu and his wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery.

Their performances as elderly siblings are heartbreaking, and dripping with pathos: Clu the sad old man who pines for a young woman so much that he kills her and rapes the corpse, and Miriam the sad old woman who is in love with and demands to be frequently bathed by her brother. Instead of being delightfully demented or totally twisted, this piece is agonizing, somber, and it makes you feel kind of dirty.

It's art, to be sure, but damned if I could watch it again. And the Gulagers are so 'effin good that you empathize with each one to an absurd degree.

By the time Clu offs his sister, and the demon baby from the necrophilia session returns with a bone to pick, the rest of the movie doesn't matter.

This is all you need to know: the Gulagers are brilliant, and Price is still a legend. RIP Vincent and Miriam. Clu continues to appear with family members in totally whacked out films (most recently, the FEAST series).

-Sean Gill

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