(Jerzy Shokimowski, UK, 1978)
This well-made, little seen thriller from the Polish director of Deep End gets a much deserved revival (like Deathline) courtesy of Carlton Video's series of Rank reissues. Filled with familiar faces for British viewers, this unusual (Cannes Award winning) film will come as a complete antidote to the wave of by-the-numbers plotting and direction found in most contemporary Hollywood counterparts. In fact, if this were a French film, I'd wager that it was already in development in some executive's office as another US remake, a la Diabolique. During a cricket match at a lunatic asylum, patient Alan Bates relates a strange story to Tim Curry about composer John Hurt and his wife, played by Susannah York. It seems that Bates once lived with Australian aborigines, who taught him the secret of a deadly shout which has the power to kill anyone within earshot. He moves in with the couple and starts an affair with York. Meanwhile, Hurt wants to harness the energy of the shout for his experimental, electronic music and will not rest until he has discovered the truth about his guest's strange powers.
In this fascinating film, Alan Bates is on top form, as indeed are all the leading players, and with less weight and longer hair than usual he cuts a suitably enigmatic and attractive protagonist. What I found particularly gripping was the gradual decline into anarchy and the surreal. The script is a slow-burning fuse, but once it reaches the flashpoint of Bates' first demonstration of the shout (a moment of shuddering effectiveness) everything, including the narrative, descends into pandemonium. Looking back, it could be said that this structure has parallels with the writings of J.G. Ballard. Much of the filming took part on location in North Devon and the striking coastal landscape is a perfect setting for the flashback story - the Devonshire sandbanks reflecting the Australian outback where Bates' character acquired his sinister talent. In one sitting there are too many fleeting images and cross references to decipher in order to get everything from the screenplay, so this will undoubtedly replay repeated viewing. With odd moments of off-hand humour and the question of whether Bates is himself insane hanging over the proceedings, The Shout is a skilful and dramatic piece of unsettling film making. For me, this film is something of a discovery.