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 can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

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…

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985)
(SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and gleefully distr…

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

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…