Killing sheep, pelicans, and people with The Shout (1978)
Instead of subjecting myself to more crappy American horror, I try for some British horror instead. The Shout (1978) is an obscure example of post-Hammer horror from England I found out about while reading about director Jerzy Skolimowski. The Shout has the most unique premise I’ve ever seen, so I guess that’s one thing it has going for it. I think this could be one big allegory or one big mess. Either way.
The story opens at an insane asylum, where everyone is playing Cricket and Charles Crossley tells his friend Robert a story of how he learned some Aboriginal magic to produce a “terror shout” with the sound of his voice. He can also control people and manipulate them with sound, like some kind of demented radio DJ. Of course, this story is proposterous, so I figured that this guy must be crazy. The movie plays with this notion.
The movie also plays with themes of religion and superstition. If that weren’t enough, Crossley contrasts just about every accepted practice in family and marriage with his crumbling morals and stange beliefs. Crossley is the main subject for most of the movie’s themes. He speaks like a jerk and acts like one too, using his life with the Aborigines as justification. He imposes himself on a couple meets by chance and acts like a weird stalker around his new friend’s wife.
Nobody believes that he can shout people to death and I don’t blame them. So he takes his pal out to the dunes and tells him to plug his ears. Crossley demonstrates his terror shout and drops a herd of sheep dead in their tracks with the sheer decibel level produced by his voice. It’s sorta amusing. He accidentally kills the shepherd. Oops.
You must be wondering if this idiot really can kill people with his voice. After Crossley finishes his story, we’re left to wonder the same thing. I’m convinced the guy was crazy and the whole story was from a raving loon, since the movie paints him as a resident at the asylum. I’m not sure what the other stuff means or what it’s trying to tell me. It has more unexplained symbolism than even Stanley Kubrick can produce.
In the end, this film is probably about perception. Even Crossley himself is an engima. He tells his friend Robert that his story cannot be trusted, because he often remembers things differently. The movie uses glimpses of the painting Paralytic Child Walking On All Fours by Francis Bacon as an example of manipulating perception, because the image in the painting is not clear. Is it a human? Animal? Crossley’s story is filled with truths and half-truths. While Crossley tells the story, we the audience are in his head, so most of the movie cannot be trusted anyway. What is real? The movie gives the impression that we are watching Crossley’s desires or self-consciousness brought to life on the screen.
This movie is confusing, but it’s still worth a watch for the imagery and allegory. It doesn’t rely on shocks and jumps for scares, imposing instead a feeling of uneasiness throughout the story. Alan Bates gives a disturbing performance as Crossley, and has the most frightening eyes to back it up. The last ten to fifteen minutes are the best in the film, as Crossley becomes more manic, angry and obsessive. The climax seems to contradict everything I’ve told you about this movie, but I guess that’s the point, because the movie is about perception. The director invites our perception into the story and asks our opinion, perhaps like Kubrick, which is maybe why I found it confusing. It’s not clear-cut horror, but the director does a great job creating a disturbing world inside the mind of a man.