OOM#4 – The Shout (1978)


by Jaime Grijalba.

Fourth day of October Overlook Madness and we’re getting a little crazier, a little nuttier, a little more daring. Continuing with films from the 1970’s, we’re moving to this wonderful UK film with acting by John Hurt. So, what are we waiting for?

There’s an intense joy in watching a movie that people don’t discuss that much, specially in the horror genre, it happened to me in the first years of the 31 Days of Horror with ‘Eating Raoul’ (1982), which I watched before the Criterion disc came along and it was only a cult classic that wasn’t as revered as it is now. These days it’s hard to be the first one to mention that a certain film is great and hasn’t been discovered, and I’m not the first to say that The Shout is one of the most unsettling horror dramas that I’ve seen in a while, in fact, if I hadn’t been told about it by a friend, I wouldn’t have put it in my never-ending list of horror films that I must watch. In fact, it might’ve even be quite well revered at the time of its original release, after all it won the Grand Prize of the Jury in Cannes… but its legacy wasn’t as strong as other horror films from the era, and maybe because it didn’t jump straight into the genre, even if it considers killings and witchcraft among its more prominent themes. Maybe it’s the more uncomfortable meanings behind it, specially regarding madness and infidelity. There was a word in my head throughout the film which I won’t reproduce, as I don’t want to perpetuate its actual context, but you might see how that feels represented in a film like this.

The weakest element of the film is its enveloping narrative, which has Tim Curry visiting a madhouse before a cricket match between the interns and the doctors who care for them, and it is there that the story is told, almost as in a fable, about a couple (a man and a woman) that are suddenly being visited by a strange man named Crossley (played by Alan Bates) who says that hasn’t eaten anything in two days. Obliged to take him in, the musician (played by John Hurt) and his wife (played by Susannah York) have a really awkward lunch that comes along with tales of Australian magic, tales of child killings, sudden bouts of migraine and people throwing their food to the trashcan. It’s how Crossley’s presence slowly starts to pervade into the daily life of the couple, and slowly but surely his intentions become clearer, as he tries to subvert the relationship through the apparent use of magic and other sorcery, and end up with the musician’s wife . The fantastic tales that he relates of the Australian Outback includes the mastery of a certain death spell, a shout that kills everyone who hears it, and John Hurt, being a little tired with the presence of Crossley, wants to hear it by himself.

I think that the weakest element of this film is how it tries to tie things together from our reality with the magic logic, specially after the shout demonstration there are certain stones buried in the sand that appear and represent the souls of people in the town… but that never truly becomes more explained than that, and it becomes some sort of deus ex machina, as if the only way to make everything make sense towards the end and try to connect to the madhouse where it all started was through some element of supernatural forces that is available to anyone (and not only to those with access to magic)… but that doesn’t truly matter when one takes into account the superb craft in terms of direction and acting, and how it quietly sets its strange mood, and how the character of Crossley seems so artificially intense, only to later be subjected to his deadly shout, and be scared senseless.



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