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30 For 31: Jerzy Skolimowski’s “THE SHOUT”

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The Season of the Witch is upon us, ye ole FANGORIA Readers! To many, Halloween means candy, costumes and creepshows of all sorts. But to the staff at FANGORIA, Halloween can mean something more entirely. Therefore, we present 30 FOR 31, in which FANGORIA recounts the cinema that most strongly represents what Halloween means to us. 

[The following essay contains passages from the book Chris Alexander’s Blood Spattered Book”, available now from Midnight Marquee Press]

Whether it be a low, wet, growl coming from deep within in the dark, a disembodied whisper from behind a long locked door, or the skin tightening timbre of a terrified woman’s pre-knife kissing scream, the use of sound has been manipulated since the dawn of horror cinema as a highly effective tool to terrify those lucky enough to blessed with good hearing. Sound fills in the blanks, giving audible life to seemingly benign objects, people and events and in turn transforms them, occasionally rendering them to downright shuddery. Sometimes sound is used to create tension, provide the aural punch line to an unbearable set up and sometimes its even used to lull the viewer into a false sense of calm before unleashing whatever beast the filmmaker has heretofore kept under wraps. But in Polanski pal Jerzy Skolimowski’s long lost 1978 shocker THE SHOUT, sound is used for even more aggressive purposes…to maim, to harm, to inflict agony and eventually, to kill every living thing in its path.

Church organist and erstwhile experimental music composer Anthony (the great John Hurt, he of David Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN and so many wonderfully eccentric turns) and his comely wife Rachel (the tasty British bird Susannah York) live a quiet, idyllic yet sexually vacant life in the English countryside. Into their pleasant but unremarkable home comes a brooding, ruggedly handsome, hirsute wanderer named Crossley (the late, legendary and notoriously self destructive British actor Alan Bates) seeking refuge and a hot meal, which the young couple skeptically oblige. It’s not long before this belligerent, sneering animal of a man begins slowly, methodically manipulating and controlling Anthony and Rachel’s lives, both physically and mentally.

Turns out Crossley isn’t just your run of the mill raving psychotic narcissist, but rather is a kind of an aboriginal warlock, a dangerous outback dwelling monster who claims to have murdered his children in order to learn the ancient art of psychic vampirism and the ever useful skill of killing by shouting. Taking the disbelieving Anthony onto the moors one night, Crossley crassly proves his case by simply opening his mouth, drawing in air and letting loose a lethal primal shriek from the very chasms of Hell. Things get very nasty and, needless to say, do not end particularly well…

Told as an extended flashback to ROCKY HORROR vet Tim Curry, THE SHOUT is the kind of lyrical, intelligent, enigmatic and frustrating work of psychological horror that the Brits were once so very fond of producing in the 1970s and that are simply, and sadly, not being made at all anymore. Filled with deranged, politically incorrect sex (fans of the lovely, mature and now, sadly deceased York take note), haunting nightmare imagery and an aura of icy, inevitable doom, the picture plays like the bastard offspring of THE WICKER MAN and Nic Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW by way of vintage Luis Bunuel; a movie of surreal, shocking, confusing, terrifying and occasionally absurdly hilarious power and the kind of eyeball spinning head scratcher that stays with you for weeks (in my case, years), requires multiple viewings and asks far more questions than it provides answers to. Driven by a powerful score by Genesis alumni Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, this is truly a living, breathing nightmare committed to celluloid, the ideal abstract Halloween chiller and I beg, nay command you to seek out a copy, like, yesterday. Do it, or I’ll scream.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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