During a cricket match at a psychiatric hospital, a man (Alan Bates, Zorba the Greek) tells a visitor a strange tale of a wanderer (also played by Bates) who arrives in a small coastal town claiming to have mystical powers, including a “Death Shout.”
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I’ll shout your bloody ears off!”
Like most people who were born in the 1960s, I watched a lot of films that explored alternative spiritual and religious beliefs. It was the “Age of Aquarius,” a time when partaking in unconventional rites was considered rebellious and hip. Isolation tanks, aboriginal mysticism, spiritual retreats, religious communes, etc. It is no surprise that so many films from that era reflected New Age trends.
By early 1980s, a film like Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout, an artsy exercise in mystical mumbo-jumbo, was considered passé. Too bad because this is a deliciously ambiguous and fascinating little thriller that didn’t deserve to sink into oblivion.
The Shout is simple and complex at the same time. The weird plot has an even odder atmosphere. Amazingly moody, the film skips violence in favor of eeriness, a risky move which later pays big dividends — this truly chilling thriller ends on an appropriately haunting note. There is also an element of doubt that I enjoyed immensely: Because the story is told by an unreliable narrator, you are not entirely sure how much of the tale is true, and how much is the product of a warped mind.
One of the pleasures of The Shout is its fabulous cast. Alan Bates gives a superbly controlled, cunning performance as the drifter who may or may not possess super-powers. Bates manages somehow to project charisma, despite the fact that he looks like a pitiful and disheveled homeless man.
Susannah York (Tom Jones) and John Hurt (The Elephant Man) play a troubled couple who unravel after the arrival of Bates’s character — York and Hurt are always welcome on my TV screen. As always when watching older films, it’s fun to see familiar faces at the beginning of their careers: Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) appear in small roles. Robert Stephens (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) has a “guest appearance” as a physician.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Similar to Peter Weir’s The Last Wave and Ken Russell’s Altered States, The Shout cleverly exploits the counterculture’s craving for far-out spiritualism. The film also works as a creepy quasi-horror movie — The Shout scared me as a kid and I’m happy to report that it still retains some of its original power. While it’s still obscure and hard to find, The Shout is worth tracking down. Color, 86 minutes, Rated R.