‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November
This 1978 British horror from Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand fuses that mystery staple, the old dark house – seen in many a classic, including James Whale’s 1932 whodunit and the long-running Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap – with the in-vogue satanic frighteners of the day like The Omen and Race With the Devil.
Stepford Wives heroine Katharine Ross and Mission: Impossible‘s Sam Elliott play an American couple who become reluctant guests at the English country mansion of a dying Satanist, who believes Ross to be the reincarnation of his mother and next in line to head his powerful cult. But standing in her way is a group of odd houseguests, who soon meet with spectacular deaths including drowning, burning, impaling and a botched tracheotomy.
The cast boasts some famous faces, including The Who’s Roger Daltrey, playing a music impresario – of course; Charles Gray (still my favourite Blofeld) as a weapons dealer; and West End actress Margaret Tyzack (who’d go on to play Bianca and Ricky’s gran in EastEnders) as a nurse who can turn herself into a cat.
With its themes of reincarnation, possession and telekinesis, The Legacy follows in the wake of other occult-themed films like The Omen and Suspiria. But while it’s no masterpiece, and didn’t catch the box-office alight – unlike Gray’s character, it’s still a stylish exercise in suspense with some decent special effects and another great score from Theatre of Blood composer Michael J Lewis.
Today you can visit the film’s location, Loseley Park in Surrey, as the house and gardens are open to the public all year round. But if you do, watch out for any suspicious-looking nurses lurking about.
The Shout (1978) | Alan Bates gives his loudest performance in the bewitching and bewildering British occult thriller
A FILM OF INTENSE PERVERSITY – THE MADNESS OF THE MIND
While on scoring duties at a cricket match in the grounds of an asylum in the village of Lampton, author Robert Graves (Tim Curry) is introduced to one of the inmates, Charles Crossley (Alan Bates), who proceeds to tell Graves a strange and terrible story about how he met one of the players, Anthony Fielding (John Hurt)…
After inviting himself into the Devon cottage home of Fielding and his spirited wife Rachel (Susannah York), Crossley tells Fielding of the strange gift he learned while living amongst a remote Aboriginal tribe: he can kill anything and anyone just by shouting at them. Sceptical yet enthralled, composer Fielding, who also dabbles with experimental sound recording, agrees to a demonstration – and gets the shock of his life. But is Crossley’s tale fact or fiction?
IT’S JUST NOT CRICKET!
The Palme d’Or-nominated occult thriller The Shout is without doubt one of the strangest titles to emerge out of late-1970s British cinema. With an eye on creating an art house film that cineastes could muse over, producer Jeremy Thomas (this was his second film) hired Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (on the back of his excellent underground cult drama Deep End) to weave his magic on a sinister 1924 short story from Robert Graves (of I, Claudius fame). The results are bewildering and bewitching in equal measures.
Skolimowski took the job primarily because he wanted to film a typically English cricket match. He does just that by fashioning a Pinter-esque drama with supernatural overtones set in the windswept sand dunes of a coastal Devon. To give the spooky tale its quirky edge, Skolimowski incorporates Australian Aboriginal mythology – which was used to great effect in Peter Weir’s disturbing 1977 apocalyptic thriller The Last Wave. While its debatable that Weir’s film influenced Skolimowski, his thriller certainly evokes Jonathan Miller’s 1968 BBC TV adaptation of the MR James ghost story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, especially in Mike Molloy’s serene photography of the north Devon coastline, and 1961’s Whistle Down the Wind, which also featured a stranger (also played by Alan Bates) insinuating himself on a family in a remote location.
The Shout itself is a heady explosion of sound effects that would have impressed in its day, especially in cinemas where the new 4-channel Dolby Stereo had been installed. The film’s soundtrack, meanwhile, was supplied by Genesis’s Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks. Also impressive is the cast: Alan Bates, fresh from TV’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, oozes masculine charm as the brooding, bellowing stranger, who may or may not possess shamanic powers; Susannah York, who’d do Superman next, plays the restless, often naked, Rachel with elegant ease; and John Hurt gives an understated performance as her wayward husband. Also in the mix is Tim Curry in one of his few straight-acting roles, playing a fictionalised Robert Graves; and a very young Jim Broadbent making his film debut as a hospital inmate.
On the flipside, however, I was left confounded. High on menacing atmosphere but low on substance, The Shout takes the long way round to nowhere. Even Skolimowski’s skilful direction can’t make up for the film’s many loose ends – especially the ‘shocking’ anti-climax. Still, this peculiar film is one to muse over – again and again.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Shout is presented by Network Distributing, part of The British Film collection, in a brand-new High Definition transfer made from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special extras were originally included on the 2007 DVD release, except for the interview with producer Thomas, which is exclusive to this release.
• Interview with producer Jeremy Thomas
• Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
• Original theatrical trailer
• Textless material
• Image gallery
• Original press material PDFs