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

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.

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

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…

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.