Monday, November 5, 2012

The Shout (1978)

          Offering a psychological twist on the ’70s supernatural horror fad, this bizarre British movie introduces viewers to a mystery man who says he can kill by screaming. Exploring that strange ability might seem like enough work for one movie, but the team behind The Shout tackles quite a bit more in terms of character and narrative. However, the filmmakers largely eschew definitive explanations for the strange things that happen onscreen, so The Shout ends up being thoroughly ambiguous. Some viewers may take the picture literally, some might interpret the story on a metaphorical level, and some will simply find the whole thing to be metaphysical hogwash. Yet in a sense, all three reactions are correct, because The Shout is such an abstract piece of storytelling (even though the progression of onscreen events is fairly linear) that it seems evident the filmmakers wanted to leave viewers perplexed.
          The basic story is that Crossley (Alan Bates), a swaggering stranger exuding dark charisma, worms his way into the lives of English music composer Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) and Fielding’s wife, Rachel (Susannah York). The Fieldings live in a remote coastal town, so the high fields and windswept dunes surrounding their house give The Shout a creepy, Wuthering Heights-esque atmosphere. This vibe is accentuated by the movie’s otherworldly electronic score, which was created by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford of the rock band Genesis.
          As the story progresses, Crossley captivates and frightens the Fieldings with stories of his training by an aboriginal mystic in the use of voice as a weapon, and eventually Crossley demonstrates his “gift” by screaming at a sheep until it dies. Furthermore, Crossley puts some sort of psychosexual spell on Rachel, thus emasculating Anthony and suggesting that Crossley wants to steal Anthony’s life (or his soul, or something). As directed by artsy Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski, The Shout has some undeniably disturbing moments even though the sum effect is dulled by vagueness. Bates’ intensity makes up for a lot of shortcomings, and the image of him standing on a sandy hill beneath an overcast sky while he screams to the accompaniment of shrieking sound effects is weirdly haunting. The Shout is not for everyone, but it belongs somewhere on the pantheon of intellectualized horror that also includes The Wicker Man (1973).

The Shout: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

I've only vaguely heard of this, but that poster is glorious!

Will Errickson said...

It’s years later and I’ve finally watched it! Wonderfully enigmatic “intellectualized horror” indeed. Fantastic imagery and eroticism—York is splendid! Make a terrific double bill with, say, DON’T LOOK NOW or Altman’s IMAGES, perhaps THE LAST WAVE or maybe even THE TENANT. A solid film for the arty, adventurous horror film fan!