The Shout (1978)


UK. 1978.


Director – Jerzy Skolimowski, Screenplay – Jerzy Skolimowski & Michael Austin, Based on the Short Story by Robert Graves, Producer – Jeremy Thomas, Photography – Mike Molloy, Music – Anthony Banks & Michael Rutherford, Electronic Music – Rupert Hine, Art Direction – Simon Holland. Production Company – Recorded Picture Co


Alan Bates (Charles Crossley), John Hurt (Anthony Fielding), Susannah York (Rachel Fielding), Tim Curry (Robert), Robert Stephens (Doctor)


During a cricket game held in the grounds of an asylum, patient Charles Crossley tells the scorekeeper a story. He tells how experimental musician Anthony Fielding found him starving and invited him home. Crossley had spent 18 years living among the Aboriginies in the Australian Outback. He demonstrated to Fielding a killing shout he had learned from Aboriginal witch doctors. At the same time, the charismatic Crossley started using these powers to seduce Fielding’s wife Rachel.

The Shout is one of those horror films that avoids the horror label – and, for once, it is justified in doing so. It is more a film of layers and of puzzles than it is ever one of horrors. People find a great deal of significance in the way the story is told – its artificiality deliberately emphasized by revealing the teller to be a madman and pulling back to show the people in his tale are all at the hospital – although one is more puzzled by it than convinced of its significance.

The demonstration of the shout is startling, none the more so for the offhand shots of sheep collapsing and then seconds later a shepherd’s body rolling over in slow-motion. Interestingly enough, the film’s greatest moments of horror are, as surely befits the tale’s narrated medium, ones that are verbally related – the story Alan Bates tells within the story of how he killed his own children. Or the story of how Aboriginal witch-doctors can reach in and remove a victim’s kidney, and of how a witch-doctor cuts around his own waist and lifts the skin in order to bring the rain. (The scary thing about this latter story being how when Alan Bates gets up from the bed after telling it, one sees a scar around his middle). All this is dominated by a magnetic and captivating performance from Alan Bates. It is a film that is both complex and slight, fascinating and puzzling – which is no doubt exactly what Jerzy Skolimowski intended it to be.

Trailer here

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