In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories to a nosy reporter — stories that reveal the town’s “long history of violence.” The library and its records serve as a framing device for the other stories in From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, 1987), similar to the structure of the 1993 film Necronomicon, Book of the Dead. That film is based on a series of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories; this film raises a glass — literally — to Lovecraft, as well as Poe, “those two masters of horror.”
A classic tale, this is not. The most frustrating thing about the film is that you can see how it could have been a decent film, had its production values been higher and the different stories bound more closely together. The film’s fatal flaw is that for a film whose premise is based entirely on place, its stories have a total lack of place. The stories, although set in different time periods, could be set almost anywhere:
- The first tale is modern-day, and its only sense of location is that it’s a town with some kind of factory or shipping business.
- The second story takes place in a swamp filled with voodoo magic (more like Louisiana than Tennessee).
- The third story takes place in the 1930s at a creepy carnival.
- The fourth and final story could be anywhere in the U.S. South at the end of the Civil War.
The films opens on a woman being executed by lethal injection (we later find out she’s a serial killer who’s been murdering people since she was seven years old). A reporter present at the execution (Susan Tyrrell) then drives to Oldfield to interview the woman’s uncle, Julian White (Vincent Price).
She walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire. His more formal, professorial attire — a tweed coat, shirt and tie, pocket square — blends in with the shabby library interior. In an amusing review from the Movie Librarians website, A. G. Graham states, “I found the library fascinating — it looks like an antique store threw up to create a set,” and concludes, “If nothing else, watching this film will make you itch to go dust your books.” :D
Julian White is not pleased at this late visitor, stating, “The library is closed, and I want to be alone right now.” But as she continues to ask questions, both about the town and about his niece, he relents and starts providing information and stories about the town’s history.
- “You could read the whole history here yourself.”
- “I have something I want to show you. These are the original town records. If you read these, you’d find out what kind of people settled here, what kind of lives they chose to live. It goes back to the Civil War.”
- “Oldfield’s history is written in blood.”
The reporter also gets in a few choice zingers in reference to the library:
- “The atmosphere of this library is getting to me, but I don’t think it would drive me to commit murder.”
- “Tonight, your niece becomes another sickening entry in your library.”
The librarian reveals the history of the librarian before him, who used to bring young girls to back room for “romantic interludes” — until one night, a husband “dealt with their indiscretions with an axe” and buried both of them under the floorboards. “At night, I swear, you can sometimes hear the lovers’ screams.” Too bad there are no flashbacks to that Naughty Librarian. ;)
There is not much scope or depth to this reel librarian, but Vincent Price manages to inject what dignity he can into the role. Julian is a watcher of history, not a participant in life. As he states late in the film, he “was lucky enough to sit back and watch the murderous parade pass by” from the (seemingly) safe walls of his library. But is that safety an illusion?
The films ends on a twist — but one could also argue the film ends where it begins. “Welcome to Oldfield” indeed.
And now I have to go dust my books… ;)