The Shout (1978)
by Jerzy Skolimowski
Shout is a 1978 film based on story written by Robert
Bates stars as a dangerously loud-mouthed traveller whose presence
forces a wedge between husband and wife Anthony and Rachel Fielding.
Anthony (John Hurt) is a musician, but the music he produces is rather
unusual. No musical instruments are involved in the process, instead he
records sounds: a bee in a bottle, marbles on a tray, a violin bow
drawn across a sardine can. Strange, noises indeed and even stranger
music, but it seems to keep him amused. Anthony also helps out at the
village church by occasionally playing the organ when the regular
organist is unavailable. But while the vicar is preaching Anthony is
busy exchanging glances with the cobbler's wife and passing covert
signals to her, after which she makes an early exit, presumably so that
she can get to their rendezvous in plenty of time.
Rachel (Susannah York)
is blissfully unaware that her husband is
banging away at the cobbler's wife, possibly because she doesn't
accompany him to church, but more probably just because she is a
trusting soul who cannot see Anthony for the heel that he is.
The film begins by showing an array of people arriving at a mental
hospital, to attend a cricket match that is taking place in the
grounds. Anthony is playing, so Rachel drives him there and
then leaves. Tim Curry (of Rocky
Horror Picture Show fame) is also in
attendance. He takes the part of Robert Graves, but Graves doesn't get
to pick up the bat, instead he is given the job of keeping score and
placed in a hut with the rather unusual Charles Crossley. The doctor
who is in charge of the game tells Graves that Crossley is an
extraordinary man, who is incredibly well read and claims to have
travelled all over the world. Graves enquires why Crossley is at the
hospital and the doctor replies that he is not exactly normal. Crossley
believes that his soul has been shattered into four pieces.
While the two men are
keeping score, Crossley decides to tell Graves
his story and the scene changes to a windswept beech where Anthony and
Rachel fielding are lying together in the sand. They both wake up
suddenly though, and realize they have just shared the same
dream: an aborigine in a long tailed coat was running towards them,
carrying a bone in his hand. When they get up to go Rachel discovers
that a buckle is missing from one of her sandals.
Later that day Anthony has to play the organ for the Sunday service and
while he is inside the church, starring at the cobbler's wife, someone
lets down the tires on his bike. I thought it was probably the cobbler,
but I was wrong.
While Anthony is busy
pumping up his tyres a stranger in a long, black
coat tries to engage him in conversation, but Anthony wants none of it
(the conversation) because he will be getting none of it (the cobblers
wife) if he hangs around talking all day, so he makes his excuses and
When Anthony eventually arrives home, he finds the man in the black
coat sitting beside his gate. The stranger explains that he has been on
a walking holiday for a few days and hasn't eaten for the last two of
them. He identifies himself as Charles Crossley and asks if he can
invite himself to lunch.
Crossley proves to be a strange dinner companion. He explains to his
hosts that he used to have an aboriginal wife when he lived in
Australia. When asked if he had any children, he replies "None that
survived." Apparently, under aboriginal law, a parent has the right to
kill their children within a few weeks of their birth, and Crossley
chose to exercise this right because he knew that he would leave them
some day. This is such a shocking revelation that Rachel scrapes her
lunch into the bin and leaves the room. She and Anthony have never been
able have children. "I'm sorry if I upset your wife," Crossley says,
but somehow he does not look it.
A little while later, when Crossley faints at the table, Anthony takes
him up to the spare bedroom, which is rather hospitable of him bearing
in mind that Crossley is a stranger and could not be more stranger if
Once Crossley is in the
house it proves rather hard to shift him and it is not long before he
is trying to continue the strange conversation he began at the church.
All about the soul and how it can be transferred to a tree or a stone
for safekeeping. He even informs Anthony that an aboriginal Shaman
could kill just be pointing a bone at their victim, or even sneak up on
them, while they were sleeping, remove a kidney from their slumbering
body, clean off the protective fat around it, and then replace it—all
without waking them. Crossley assures Anthony that death would occur in
just a few days.
Anthony does not believe any of this, but then Crossley tells him
something interesting. He says that a Shaman taught him how to perform
the Terror Shout. It took him eighteen years to perfect the skill and
it kills instantly. Anthony is still sceptical, but agrees to accompany
Crossley to the beach the following morning, for a demonstration. He
does however take the precaution of taking the self professed
loudmouth's advice and blocks up his ears. It is a good job too
because, even with his ears blocked, the shout renders him unconscious.
It also kills every seagull within earshot, along with several sheep
and their shepherd.
After such a powerful
demonstration, Anthony is even keener to be rid
of his guest. Rachel, however, is not, and seems to be suddenly
strangely taken with Crossley. Perhaps it isn't so strange though,
because Crossley has the missing buckle from her sandal and he has used
it to perform some kind of strange Australian magic on her. He has
decided to force Anthony out and take Rachel and the cottage for
Towards the end of the film Anthony is less than impressed when his
guest announces that he and Rachel will be going to bed (again) and he
decides to do something about the situation. Remembering a previous
conversation with Crossley, Anthony rushes to the beach—while his wife
is rushing towards the bedroom—and searches the sand for stones until
he finds the one that contains the soul of his guest. Then, while
Crossley is banging away at Rachel, Anthony takes off his shoe and does
some banging of his own—on the stone.
The Shout is a
strange film, based on a strange story. It is also very
good and it makes a refreshing change from modern horror films. There
are no special effects to speak of in The Shout, the
itself all right without them and it would be impossible for
me to fault the cast; they are all excellent. It is Alan Bates, though,
who steals the show. His portrayal of Crossley is first-rate. Crossley
comes across as being as intelligent as he is dangerous.
If you like a lot of blood and gore in your horror
films, this one will
be a disappointment to you, because there is none at all. The Shout
works more on a psychological level and is the sort of film that
remains in your memory for a long time after watching it. If you are
the sort of person who enjoys a well crafted tale, you
will probably enjoy this one, I certainly did.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Runtime: 83 mins
Certificate: 15 (UK)
... Charles Crossley
Susannah York ... Rachel
... Anthony Fielding
Robert Stephens ... Medical Man
... Robert Graves
... Fielder who puts hand in cowpat
Susan Wooldridge ... Harriet
Carol Drinkwater ... Wife