The Shout (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Jerzy Skolimowski's The Shout is an adaptation of a short story by the noted classical scholar and pacificist poet Robert Graves (I, Claudius). The story caught the director's eye because of the prevalent "ambiguities and sense of the absurd." I have not read this story, but that comment surprises me because I've read "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God", and found Graves's prose to be tidy and straightforward, and his narrative to be logical. I don't know if Skolimowski is correct about the source material, but I can attest to this much: the movie version of The Shout is certainly ambiguous and unapologetically absurdist.

There is a core story inside of the various bizarre non sequiturs, but even that is decidedly offbeat. John Hurt and Susannah York play two English provincials who seem to have an open relationship. Their quiet life in Devonshire is interrupted by a stranger (Alan Bates) who ends up accepting their hospitality, then insinuating himself into their lives and never leaving. He spins mad tales of having killed his own children, and of having learned powerful and dark secrets in fifteen years of living with the Australian aboriginals. Among his purported powers is the ability to kill with nothing other than a powerful shout. He gradually uses his Aboriginal magic to turn Susannah feral and take her away from John, but John learns some tricks of his own, and ...

Oh, who knows.

As Vincent Canby wrote in his New York Times review:

The story starts off well, like almost any ghost story made up by a child, but then it becomes so full of loose ends, contradictions, cryptic symbols and close-ups of objects that, at the moment, have no meaning, that one eventually tunes out of the narrative, much as one does when the child's ghost story becomes too hopelessly muddled for even the child to unravel.

The time shifts from present to past, and there are flashbacks within flashbacks, and dreams within reality. Things happen in the present which inexplicably affect the past. Then there is a framing device in which the entire story is being recited by an inmate watching a cricket game at a mental health institution, and we see eventually that the husband and wife in the story are actually people from the crowd at the cricket game. So we think, at least momentarily, that perhaps the lunatic just made up a convenient story from the things he saw around him - except that ending is apparently not ambiguous or confusing enough, so there is also another framing device around that framing device, providing a completely different ending, and we aren't too sure what the hell that one means.

Sometimes the entire story just degenerates into silly romps. At one point it starts to rain during the outdoor game at the asylum, whereupon the scene on the cricket grounds makes a metamorphosis into complete chaos, with one man stripping off his clothes and dancing around while others blow up the scorer's hut, all of which has little or nothing to do with the story in Devonshire. This particular section was just deliberately noisy, obnoxious, and nonsensical. It reminded me of the Monty Python parody of Sam Peckinpah's films. The mayhem was not unique to this scene, however. To a lesser extent the entire movie is consistently loud, shrill, and more than a little bit incoherent.

Some of the horror genre sites love this movie. DVD Maniacs wrote:

With its eerie electronic soundtrack (one hates to call it a score, as it's more of a compilation of odd noises and stings) and moody cinematography by Mike Molloy, The Shout remains a noteworthy thriller.

They are correct about the cinematography. It is absolutely a a great looking movie. There are wind-swept sand dunes, angry oceanscapes, verdant country lanes, and picturesque countryside vistas, all integrated with the human forms in brilliantly artistic compositions.

I reckon you've heard enough to know whether you would like it. Even the positive reviews acknowledge that it is one of the oddest and vaguest films they have ever seen. I don't like The Shout at all, but I'm not a fan of surrealism or Theater of the Absurd, and you may be. One must acknowledge that the production values are excellent, and the actors are first-rate, so if you're up for something strange and deadly serious, this may turn out to be a favorite.


  • It is not available on DVD in North America. If you are interested, here's the info about the Region 2 DVD
  • The Region 2 version is a satisfactory transfer, but is NOT anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.


  • Susannah York shows everything at one time or another.

  • John Hurt shows his penis in one or two frames

The Critics Vote ...

  • It won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, a very well made film - but for an extremely limited audience because it is offbeat, enigmatic, ambiguous, confusing, and just plain strange; and it is a story with no clear ending. But then again, the beginning and middle aren't all that lucid either.

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