Classic movie review: The Shout (1978)

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Drama, English language, Horror, Older releases
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The-shout-poster

UK 1978

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

86 minutes

 

Based on a short story by Robert Graves, The Shout is a very atmospheric horror picture full of striking sounds and images. The opening scenes occur at a psychiatric hospital, where various people are organising a game of cricket in the grounds. Quite who are the patients and who are the staff is never entirely clear. Inside the scorekeepers’ hut, Crossley (Alan Bates) begins to tell Robert Graves (Tim Curry) an extraordinary “true” story. But is this story really true or is it the delusion of a mental patient (Crossley himself admits to occasionally modifying his tale, so as to keep it fresh in the telling)?

At any rate, the film shifts to the countryside where Crossley accosts Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) following a church service, claiming to be a traveller who has been walking for two days. That Hurt is about to have his life turned upside down is strongly hinted by the fact that he has been engaging in a little philandering whilst his wife Rachel (Susannah York) waits at home. Crossley invites himself in for lunch, during which he claims to have spent 18 years among the Aborigines in Australia. He says that the Aborigines permit the killing of their newly-born children, and that he himself has killed two of his own. Not exactly ideal dinner table talk at the best of times, this particularly upsets Rachel as, we learn, she and Anthony have not managed to have any children together. Apparently overcome by a migraine, Crossley is given a bed to rest on, at Rachel’s insistence. Thereafter, he becomes difficult to budge and starts to come between Anthony and Rachel. At one point he tells Anthony that he has learned Aboriginal magic, and has spent 18 years developing a shout so powerful that it can kill. Anthony scoffs at this and Crossley gets angry. He tells Anthony that he will demonstrate the shout for him, but that he had better stuff up his ears with cotton wool or wax. The next morning, they set out for the beach together where Crossley does indeed give his demonstration…

The Shout could be seen as a bit of a shaggy dog story were it not for the excellent performances from all involved. In particular, Alan Bates is absolutely outstanding as Crossley. From the moment he makes contact with Anthony he is a dark, brooding, and dangerous presence. Nonetheless, director Jerzy Skolimowski teases the audience throughout by switching between this horrifying tale and the ongoing cricket match at the psychiatric hospital (in one scene a patient is heard muttering Shakespeare’s words “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”). Skolimowski also makes great use of sound and image to build the atmosphere. As the opening credits role we see a grainy shot of a dark figure walking down a hill. The accompanying music is largely subsumed beneath the sound of the harsh wind. Anthony himself is a musician, who we see experimenting with sounds in his recording studio (at one point he places a microphone inside a jam jar, around which a fly is buzzing). Then there is the shout itself where, in addition to the supernatural sound produced, we see Crossley prepare himself by stretching out his arms and leaning backwards at an impossible angle. It is a really striking shot, and once the shout begins the camera focuses in on Crossley’s mouth. I won’t spoil things by describing the aftermath of the shout, but it is a scene well worth seeing.

Rating: 8/10

 

The Shout is currently showing at the British Film Institute as part of the Made In Britain: Jeremy Thomas season. The next showings are 6th April (21:00) and 15th April (18:30).

 

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