This entry is based on an event I call a “happy accident”, in where I stumbled across this film accidentally. It was around two or three years ago now and I was up late some weeknight on my own. We had a film-on-demand service where the film selections were generally odd B-Movies that we included in the package with no logic as to why these movies were included in the package.
The Shout was in there, and I basically chose to watch it because (a) it had interesting cover art, (b) John Hurt and Susannah York were in it and (c) I recognised the director’s name; Jerzy Skolimowski. He had done other films I recognised, including the 1970 film Deep End, a coming-of-age type of film about two young adults (one being a young Jane Asher) who worked in a public bath house in West London.
Back to the film on topic… The Shout fits into a category I call “British folk horror”, which are films with either somewhat pagan themes, hauntings or witchcraft that take place in the British countryside and, well, are very British. The Wickerman is an obvious favourite, and so are TV serials from around that time like Children Of The Stones or Sky. The film itself is based on a short horror story by the classic British poet and novelist, Robert Graves.
It was a very impressionable film to watch late at night and I got right well sucked into. With an unsettling synth/piano soundtrack by Tony Banks of the rock band Genesis (at the period where Peter Gabriel had just left the band), the film opens up and is primarily set in the bucolic rolling green hills of northwest Devon. John Hurt and Susannah York play a couple who reside in a cottage by the rolling sand dunes of the sea and their life is interrupted by an odd stranger who, after passing them on a stretch of Devon road on his motorcycle, decides to enter the couple’s lives by way of witchcraft — a craft the stranger (played by Alan bates from the Ken Russell film Women In Love) had learned from aboriginal tribes in Australia after being lost out in the outback for a long period of time.
The stranger then shows up at their house and throughout the film, becomes more and more invasive and sinister — using witchcraft, charms and spells done discreetly through everyday objects and possessions to eventually cast a spell on York with intention to oust Hurt out of his home. There are a number of details in the film that are integral to the plot that are difficult to describe in a film summary but that is the basic short-form overview.
The film title itself derives from a technique the stranger describes to Hurt called the “terror shout”, an ungodly terrifying scream that kills any living being that hears the sound without ear protection. There is a scene in the film where the stranger exercises this skill in the atmospheric dunes by the couple’s house.
Other interesting details to this film include scenes where John Hurt’s character is active in his studio, where he composes his work as an experimental “noise” musician. There’s a number of cool scenes where he’s seen screaming into a microphone and lighting matches on fire and recording it. It’s likely one of the few (only?) cinematic films where we see that sort of activity depicted on the “big screen”.
Anyway, I got briefly obsessed with this film for a while. It’s success for me lies in the thick, soupy mood that’s created with the location, editing and soundtrack in what on the surface appears to be a very standard stretch of Devon countryside. And the intricacy of the magical spells cast in the film with visible effects; only through everyday objects like stones and shoe buckles. It gives you this feeling that there’s a lot of dark mystery only slightly behind the veneer of everyday country life. And such is the success of a good British folk horror film.
The film now has a connection with Soft Riot work. An extensive dialogue between Hurt and Bates is used as an interval piece in the live set, and a shorter segment of that dialogue prefaces the track I Wanna Lay Down Nxt 2 U from the No Longer Stranger album.
All in all, this is a great winter film to watch if you’re a fan of the British folk horror genre. There’s also an appearance in the film by actor Tim Curry, playing a more subdued role from this classic performance as Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show only a few years earlier.
The Shout was nominated for the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival and received the Grand Prize of the Jury, so it would seem it’s overtly simple yet powerful concept had caught the attention of those in the film industry as well. It’s out on BluRay now apparently, so is a film that’s been given the re-issue treatment.