Skip to main content

Maybe he was just too strong to die?

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand
aka The Exorcism of Hugh
(1972)

(SPOILERS) A Jersey-set (the Channel Island, that is) curio based on actor and news reader Gordon Honeycombe’s first novel, for which he also furnished the screenplay, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand makes for an unlikely zombie movie. Not in the ravenous-for-flesh sense, but the more traditional revivified empty shell. Indeed, going in knowing nothing – provided you haven’t been spoiled by the alternative and misleading title The Exorcism of Hugh – you’d have no inkling that anything supernatural’s in store for almost half the running time. While the sudden shift in genre engenders interest, this is nevertheless a cold, distancing tale, told at a torpid pace, in which it’s difficult to summon much engagement with the main protagonist.

At the outset then, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand takes the form of a so-so, wispy romance, as Susan Hampshire’s unhappily married Anna, visiting Jersey to get away from it all, falls for Michael Petrovitch’s ruggedly self-assured, popular-knitwear-sporting local airport manager Hugh (so local he’s given to announcing “We’re elemental people. Everything must be renewed”, as if he’s in fact living on the Outer Hebrides, while giving her a guided tour of Jersey dolmens; there’s also a diligent but rather laboured smattering of local surnames and community positions).

Uptight brother George (Frank Finlay) doesn’t approve of their relationship, even less so when one of the couple ends up as a walking corpse. Petrovitch (also making his feature debut) looks a little like a young Martin Shaw, but he isn’t exactly the most sympathetic type, so when he drops dead on a Scottish beach – Jersey also doubled for Scotland, including the sequence of Hugh scampering about the Devil’s Hole – it’s more a case of wondering what will fill the second half of the film rather than feeling a terrible loss.

George: He died up there, on that beach in Scotland.

Of course, Hampshire can be something of an acquired taste too, and here she’s just too simpering and drippy in the first instance (while fretting over whether to run off with Hugh) and freaky in the second, when her lover turns into a mobile cadaver and she’s caught engaging in necrophiliac acts (until even she blanches, seemingly at the realisation he really is dead: doh). The process by which he’s reanimated is left unclear – we can assume it’s her extreme grief that does it, as she suggests “My love for him has given him life” – but he’s an uncommunicative sod, unnervingly staring and only occasionally making utterances as a voice in her head.

George: It’s revolting. His flesh is cold, dead. There is no pulse, no heartbeat. His body is rotting. It’s disintegrating, hour by hour, and something must be done.

If Honeycombe and director Fred Burnley (an editor making his feature debut; he died only three years later) had made the couple more relatable, the subsequent events might at least have elicited a degree of sympathy, but we have to conclude that others’ finger pointing isn’t entirely unwarranted (“Well, it’s the lord’s judgement, that’s what it is” comments a prudish housewife of their then still mutually living and breathing affair). Finlay’s good puritanical value in his limited screen time, giving the picture a much-needed boost when he accuses Anna: “He’s possessed, isn’t he? Possessed by you… You’re a witch, trafficking with the devil. You have captured an evil spirit into his dead body”. Even if the dialoguedoesseem more appropriate to a Hammer Horror. There’s a vibe of the uncanny impacting on the everyday that was so effective in the following year’s Don’t Look Now, but with negligible accompanying dramatic tension.

George: Exorcism. The spirit must be exorcised. And then he can rest. Then he can be at peace.

The alternative title comes from George announcing that he will take his brother’s body for exorcism; Hugh tells her “It will be alright, Anna. Don’t stop him” before sending George to his death in a flaming car wreck. She is shown to be silently aware when this occurs, smiling rather chillingly.

Anna: Is this all there is?
Hugh: No. It all begins again out there.

The torrid climax fails to resonate for this reason, as having initially resisted the overtures of her rotting companion, Anna agrees to wade out to sea with him, joining him in death. It might have been poetic, but – despite the insistently ‘70s-dreamy ‘la-la-las’ on Nachum Heiman’s soundtrack – it’s merely dour and dismal.

Of note are some nice – if wintry – shots of the Corbiere Lighthouse and causeway and the presence of Michael Craze (formerly Doctor Who companion Ben) in the supporting cast; he’s apparently drifting aimlessly in search of a subplot, until we realise he’s simply there to bear witness to Anna’s demise. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is perhaps not a forgotten feature that really merits rediscovery, but it would doubtless gain significantly from its location-rich milieu if the leaden pace didn’t drag it down.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

The President is dead. You got that? Somebody’s had him for dinner.

Escape from New York (1981)
(SPOILERS) There’s a refreshingly simplicity to John Carpenter’s nightmare vision of 1997. Society and government don’t represent a global pyramid; they’re messy and erratic, and can go deeply, deeply wrong without connivance, subterfuge, engineered rebellions or recourse to reset. There’s also a sense of playfulness here, of self-conscious cynicism regarding the survival prospects for the US, as voiced by Kurt Russell’s riff on Clint Eastwood anti-heroics in the decidedly not dead form of Snake Plissken. But in contrast to Carpenter’s later Big Trouble in Little China (where Russell is merciless to the legend of John Wayne), Escape from New York is underpinned by a relentlessly grim, grounded aesthetic, one that lends texture and substance; it remains one of the most convincing and memorable of dystopian visions.

The present will look after itself. But it’s our duty to realise the future with our imagination.

Until the End of the World (1991)
(SPOILERS) With the current order devolving into what looks inevitably like a passively endorsed dystopia, a brave new chipped and tracked vision variously in line with cinema’s warnings (or its predictive programming, depending on where your cynicism lands), I’ve been revisiting a few of these futuristic visions. That I picked the very Euro-pudding Until the End of the World is perhaps entirely antagonistic to such reasoning, seeing as how it is, at heart, a warm and fuzzy, upbeat, humanist musing on where we are all going.