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Shout (1978) | A bellowing Alan Bates stars in the bewitching and bewildering British occult thriller

The Shout (1978)

While on scoring duties at a cricket match in the grounds of an asylum in the village of Lampton, author Robert Graves (Tim Curry) is introduced to one of the inmates, Charles Crossley (Alan Bates), who proceeds to tell Graves a strange and terrible story about how he met one of the players, Anthony Fielding (John Hurt)…

After inviting himself into the Devon cottage home of Fielding and his spirited wife Rachel (Susannah York), Crossley tells Fielding of the strange gift he learned while living amongst a remote Aboriginal tribe: he can kill anything and anyone just by shouting at them. Sceptical yet enthralled, composer Fielding, who also dabbles with experimental sound recording, agrees to a demonstration – and gets the shock of his life. But is Crossley's tale fact or fiction?

The Shout (1978)

THE LOWDOWN The Palme d'Or-nominated occult thriller The Shout (opens in new tab) is without doubt one of the strangest titles to emerge out of late-1970s British cinema. With an eye on creating an art house film that cineastes could muse over, producer Jeremy Thomas (opens in new tab) (this was his second film) hired Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (opens in new tab) (on the back of his excellent underground cult drama Deep End (opens in new tab)) to weave his magic on a sinister 1924 short story from Robert Graves (of I, Claudius fame). The results are bewildering and bewitching in equal measures.

The Shout (1978)

The Shout itself is a heady explosion of sound effects that would have impressed in its day, especially in cinemas where the new 4-channel Dolby Stereo had been installed. The film’s soundtrack, meanwhile, was supplied by Genesis’s Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks. Also impressive is the cast: Alan Bates (opens in new tab), fresh from TV's The Mayor of Casterbridge, oozes masculine charm as the brooding, bellowing stranger, who may or may not possess shamanic powers; Susannah York (opens in new tab) plays the restless, often naked, Rachel with elegant ease; and John Hurt (opens in new tab) gives an understated performance as her wayward husband. Also in the mix is Tim Curry in one of his few straight-acting roles, playing a fictionalised Robert Graves (opens in new tab); and a very young Jim Broadbent making his film debut as a hospital inmate.

On the flipside, however, I was left confounded. High on menacing atmosphere but low on substance, The Shout takes the long way round to nowhere. Even Skolimowski's skilful direction can't make up for the film’s many loose ends – especially the ‘shocking’ anti-climax. Still, this peculiar film is one to muse over – again and again.

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE The Shout is presented by Network Distributing (opens in new tab)