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

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.