Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cinebomb #7: The Shout

How fitting that David Cronenberg cast Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimoski as Naomi Watt's irascible uncle in Eastern Promises. While Skolimoski is a good character actor, I suspect the casting had more to do with Cronenberg's affinity for Skolimoski's films than his burly personality.

Skolimoski has directed over twenty films, the majority Polish language. Most western film audiences were introduced to his work via the startling Deep End (1971). But his lone horror outing, The Shout (1978), has deservedly become something of a cult favorite. Why? It's oblique, dreamlike and frustratingly formless. In other words, a perfect cinebomb.

The late Sir Alan Bates (Women in Love) stars as the enigmatic Crossley, a traveler who slips in between John Hurt and Susannah York. Using aboriginal magic he learned during an 18-year drift in the Australian outback, Crossley beds York and drives Hurt nuts. All of this smarmy intrigue is offset by Skolimoski's outlandish (and many times absurdist) touches. (Crossley talks of how aboriginal witch doctors can bring down rain by cutting a flap of skin around their waists and pulling it up. We see just such a scar on Crossley.) The film's titular trick - a shout that can literally kill - is surely one of the creepier, if understated, devices in film history. Seeing Crossley blast down a herd of sheep is truly mind-boggling. Like The Wicker Man, The Shout is a great example of '70s experimentalism running headlong into metaphysical (and "native") horror.

Now, if you could only find a decent copy in the states.

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