The Offspring (1987)
"It's like something written by Poe or
Lovecraft," Susan Tyrell says to Vincent Price after the last episode of this uneven
anthology pic segues back to the framing story. Unfortunately, this boast is unjustified
as the movie has little in common with the two literary giants either in terms of subject
matter or quality.
The latter two segments--one involving a carnival
glass eater and one detailing the grisly deaths of some no-good Union soldiers at the
hands of a houseful of Confederate orphans--are especially poor, taking forever to make
their predictable points.
The first two stories, however, while also basically
predictable, do have much to recommend them. In one, the best episode of the lot, the
great Clu Gulager gives an immensely entertaining performance as a mild-mannered, likable
old bachelor who takes care of his pathetic sister and who also happens to have
necrophiliac intentions toward younger women. It's a sick, fairly brave concept, made
palatable by director Jeff Burr's tasteful (tasteful when compared to Love Me Deadly
anyway) handling and Gulager's humorous performance. The scene with Gulager nervously
puffing a cigarette when a co-worker innocently mentions the murder Clu committed the
night before is a classic.
The other decent episode--a cautionary tale about a
greedy white-trash hood sheltered in the swamp by a black man who possesses a
life-prolonging voodoo elixir is made entertaining by good acting, well-measured plot
development, and some particularly evocative background music, though the story's final
ringer is a bit of a steal from the "Wish You Were Here" segment in TALES FROM
THE CRYPT. The framing device also contributes to the movie's unevenness.
The essential idea is promising: librarian Vincent
Price explains to reporter Susan Tyrrell how it is that the (mythical) town of Oldfield,
Tennessee is a breeding ground for sin and murder. And for the first half of the picture,
thanks to Price's masterful delivery and some enjoyable campy dialogue, it comes across
well. But by the end, when it becomes apparent that Tyrrell's considerable talent has been
wasted and when the whole concept fizzles in a slack "ironic" pay-off with
Tyrrell turning murderous on Price, the initial premise which could have built up
and out into something truly memorable is all but forgotten. But if the first half of the
movie weren't as good as it is, the falling off of the second half wouldn't seem so
regrettable, and rookie director Jeff Burr is a talent who deserves to be
encouraged. He's made a movie that, all flaws notwithstanding, does seem to be a breath of
fresh air in today's horror market in that it seeks to entertain via storytelling values
and skilled acting rather than just by spectacle alone. His skill in bringing out the best
in his actors is especially prodigious. (The fact that Susan Tyrrell didn't benefit from
this is more a scripting/casting misjudgment than a sign of directorial weakness.)
With a screenplay of sustained quality, and with
perhaps a better sense of pacing, Burr could probably come up with something more totally
successful than this not inauspicious beginning. Worth seeing for the first two segments
and for Price's performance. Filmed under the title From A Whisper To A Scream.
Nice joke in the end credits: "When in
Tennessee, visit the town of Oldfield."
--guest review by david walker