Jun 4, 2015

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand




While horror cinema can sometimes be rather romantic in a somewhat sleazy sort of way (especially if vampires are involved), genuine horror-romance hybrids featuring an equal amount of attributes from both genres are exceedingly rare for obvious reasons, as Jane Austen fan-girls could care less about body counts and no die hard gorehound wants to consider the idea that zombies can be lovelorn. While classic Gothic flicks like Alfred Hitchcock’s Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca (1940) and Jacques Tourneur’s Val Lewton-produced classic Cat People (1942) mixed horror and romance to a certain degree, they did it in a somewhat traditional quasi-Victorian fashion and not in a modern way that would appeal to most post-Night of the Living Dead horror fans. While probably not featuring enough blood and guts to give ‘torture porn’ fetishists a hard-on or wet their gashes, the largely unknown British flick Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972) aka The Exorcism of Hugh directed by film editor turned one-time feature film director Fred Burnley is a rare horror-romance hybrid that manages to have more or less equal doses of both genres. Based on the somewhat more popular 1969 novel of the same name by English author, playwright, stage actor, and popular newscaster Gordon Honeycombe (who incidentally portrayed a newscaster in the classic British horror flick The Medusa Touch (1978) starring Richard Burton), Burnley’s film is a work I discovered upon reading about it in the book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012) by Canadian horror/cult film cineaste Kier-La Janisse. While I certainly do not agree with Janisse on everything in regard to horror and exploitation, I can usually trust her opinion on films about truly hysterical women who have become sad forsaken slaves to ‘mad love’ and she was certainly right in her praise of Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, which depicts the level of desperation a woman reaches after she falls in love for the first time after being unhappily married and must choose between a lovelorn life without her beau or the possibility of an eternity in hell with her one true love. Indeed, the film is about a doomed love affair between a woman who comes to the remote British Isle of Jersey during wintertime to think about whether or not she should divorce her husband and soon meets and falls in love with a sensitive islander, only for said sensitive islander to soon tragically drop dead during a vacation in Scotland yet for his corpse to reanimate and continue to ‘haunt’ his beloved, who is in complete denial of her beloved’s death even though he cannot talk and his body is beginning to rot. Undoubtedly a somewhat slow and uneven work that could have easily been made better with a different musical score (horrendous Hebraic composer Nachum Heiman is probably best remembered, if at all, for his work on the Israeli cult flick An American Hippie in Israel (1972) aka Ha-Trempist) and by editing out about 20 minutes or so, Burnley’s film is still certainly a singularly haunting one-of-a-kind work that is like a somewhat superior quasi-supernatural horror equivalent to the somewhat botched Yukio Mishima adaptation The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976) starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson sans annoying children meets John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) except less violent and set at daytime. Of course, the film is also much more genuinely romantic than My Boyfriend's Back (1993) as far as zombie romances are concerned and features a sort of impending metaphysical doom and gloom that is in stark contrast to its solacing beach scenes. Indeed, probably the most offensive thing about Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is that it really features some beauteous and breathtaking scenes that truly challenge the viewer's expectations in regard to the horror genre, which alone is reason enough to see it. 




 Anna Robinson (played by Susan Hampshire, who is probably best known for playing no less than five different characters in Harry Kümel’s Jean Ray adaptation Malpertuis (1971) aka The Legend of Doom House) is stuck in a loveless marriage with a banal guy and she somewhat resents her husband because she hates being a housewife and feeling like a ‘kept woman’ and an ‘object,’ so she has come to the Isle of Jersey of the Bailiwick of Jersey to decide whether or not she should get a divorce. Luckily for her (or so it seems at first), Anna soon meets a tall, dark, and marginally handsome lighthouse-keeper named Hugh Dabernon (hack actor Michael Petrovitch of Tales That Witness Madness (1973) and Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (1982) aka Escape 2000) while roaming the rocks near a lighthouse and she more or less instantly falls in love with him and his strangely charismatic ways, so she naturally does not have to think hard about whether or not she should divorce her dolt hubby. Upon first meeting Hugh outside the lighthouse he works at, Anna remarks to him, “It’s very lonely here” and he matter-of-factly replies, “Like the edge of the world,” which is probably the best way to describe how the two’s love affair feels as they, like most couples that are genuinely in love, act like they are the only two people in the world. Hugh also sets the tone for what will happen later in the film by remarking regarding his rocky hometown, “Perhaps there’s a road hidden under the water…lined with drowned souls,” adding, “Before they built the lighthouse, this was a graveyard for ships.” In the end, the area will also be the graveyard for the two foredoomed lovers. 




 As Hugh remarks to Anna regarding he and his older brother George Dabernon (Frank Finlay of Clive Donner’s Dickens adaptation A Christmas Carol (1984) and Tobe Hooper’s Colin Wilson adaptation Lifeforce (1985)), “We're all that’s left of centuries of Dabernon lives.”  Indeed, Hugh comes from an ancient clan that has inhabited Jersey Island since the beginning of recorded history, thus lending a sort of vague mystical Lovecraftian feel to the film that certainly adds to its already foreboding atmosphere.  Since George is obviously a closest queen and latent homo who clearly will never have kids of his home, it is ultimately up to Hugh as to whether the Dabernon family name will live on, but unfortunately fate has different plans for him and his genetic line will ultimately reach the same sad end as Lovecraft himself, as a man whose family name will die with him. Before he even kicks the bucket, Hugh acts somewhat eerie and morbid, as he has a sort of moody broody essence about him and says strange quasi-esoteric things to the protagonist like, “The past is another country…someone once said. We’re a part of the past, Anna. Some part of us is always there,” while the two are standing inside an ancient tomb.  Of course, it is quite obvious that one of the reasons that Anna is so attracted to Hugh is because he, unlike her bourgeois husband, has a mystifying quality about him that she cannot quite pinpoint.  As Anna complains regarding her husband, “What he really wanted was a wife, not a person. Just someone to be there…so old fashioned,” yet she is certainly willing to be “old fashioned” with Hugh and live the life of a conventional housewife, even when her loverboy becomes a smelly rotten corpse. Hugh’s parents died when he was young, so his camp-as-the-queen brother George raised him and is thus quite overprotective with him, as if he is a bitchy old mother who would love nothing more than to carry her son's testicles around in her purse. Indeed, when Hugh brings Anna back to the family house, his big bro acts quite bitchy as if he is on the rag and has run out of tampons. When George walks in on Anna and Hugh naked in the bed the next morning, he becomes exceedingly enraged and acts all the more bitchy and complains to his brother, “it’s disgusting…in mother’s bed” and “I don’t want to find her here when I get back,” as if he has incestuous feelings for his brother and wants to keep him for himself. As Hugh jokes to Anna regarding George while arguably hinting that his big bro is a homo, “He’s never seen a naked woman in his entire life.” 




 While they have only been together for a couple days, Anna soon tells Hugh, “I want to be with you always” and adds regarding her estranged husband, “He couldn’t believe that in one week I could meet someone and everything would change.” Upon meeting up at a loud and crowded restaurant, Hugh yells to Anna in a brief scene of comic relief, “I want to make love to you in Scotland,” so the two soon take a honeymoon-like vacation to an idyllic coastal area of the country that does not look all that different from Jersey. When Hugh does boyish things like run in and out of a cave that ocean waves are constantly crashing into, Anna gets irrationally worried and bitches “I don’t like it here” as if she can foresee that something terrible is about to happen to her lover. Naturally, when Anna runs down the coast in a giddy fashion while yelling childish things like “yay!” while her beau is chasing her from behind and eventually turns around to see Hugh lying on the beach as if he is dying, she completely panics and goes looking for help. Ultimately, Anna finds an old Scottish couple named Mr. and Mrs. MacKay (David Garth and Betty Duncan) who call a grouchy old physician named Dr. Irving (Jack Lambert of the Hammer horror flick Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) starring Christopher Lee) to come to Hugh’s aid, but their efforts ultimately prove to be in vain. When Dr. Irving takes a look at Hugh and informs Anna that he has died of a heart attack, she cries so hysterically while screaming things like “It can’t happen… It can’t happen…He can’t die. He can’t die… He can’t die… You can’t die” and “You can’t die. You said you’d never leave me. HE SAID HE’D NEVER LEAVE ME!,” that the somewhat insensitive doctor has to shake her while yelling in her face, “Stop it! Stop it, you hear!” to calm her down. Upon learning that Hugh has died, Mr. MacKay somewhat humorously remarks, “He was a fine big fellow. Strange, him dying like that” and his wife superstitiously replies, “It’s the Lord’s judgment, that’s what it is.” After having a nightmare while sleeping at the MacKay’s home, Anna gets her big wish when Hugh comes back to her in the middle of the night, though he does not seem like his normal aphorism-spouting self. Indeed, the next day Anna brags to the MacKays that there was a mistake and that Hugh is alive, or so she thinks. 




 Although Hugh does not say a single word the entire time and maintains a creepy sort of flat affect as if he is lacking a soul, Anna does not consider that there is something not quite right about her beau until a day later when they return to the Isle of Jersey and she demands that he speak and say “I love you” but he does nothing. Instead, Hugh is somehow eventually able to non-verbally ‘transmit’ “I love you” to Anna, as if he is a sort of ghost that has lost control of his decaying body. When George gets back to the house, he can instantly tell that his brother Hugh is a walking corpse and proceeds to berate Anna for causing his little bro’s undead state, stating to her, “If it weren’t for you, this would have never happened. He’s possessed, isn’t it? Possessed by you! You’re a witch…trafficking with the devil. You have conjured an evil spirit into his dead body.” Of course, Anna is in serious denial and remarks to George regarding Hugh’s dubious condition, “My love for him has given him life.” To demonstrate that Hugh is nothing but a rotting corpse, he sets his brother’s hand on fire, which does not even cause the lighthouse-keeper to flinch. Ultimately, George comes up with the curious idea to have his brother get an exorcism (obviously, the film's alternate title The Exorcism of Hugh was later created to cash in on William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), which was actually released a year after Burnley's film), but while driving to the exorcist undead Hugh grabs the steering wheel and causes his big bro to drive off of a cliff and die when his van explodes and bursts into flames upon hitting the ground. When police come by the house to tell Hugh that his brother has died in a horrible accident, Anna tells the cop that he is dead and hands him a death certificate that was given to her by Dr. Irving.  While Anna pretends that things are normal at first by making her lover extravagant meals that he does not touch and by ignoring the fact that he is a creepy fratricidal zombie with cold dead eyes that moves around like a somnambulist, the protagonist can only deny reality for so long before she begins losing her mind.  As the days pass, Hugh’s body begins to rot and his eyes turn black and Anna finally begins to accept reality and eventually cries to her zombie lover, “Please stop loving me, just please let me go. I don’t want to die,” but he will not go away, at least at first. After a fight where Anna beats in Hugh’s postmortem pretty boy face with a candleholder and rips open the rotting flesh on his cheek and forehead, the lovelorn zombie finally gets a clue and decides to leave for good. While Hugh’s slow-witted yet well meaning coworker Collie (Michael Craze) comes by and brings Anna flowers after sensing that something might be wrong with her, the suicidally lovesick protagonist cannot get over her lover or the possibility of living life without him and follows him the sea where they are assumedly united in eternity via death in what is indubitably a genuinely darkly romantic ending.  Indeed, while Anna might be somewhat of a birdbrained twat of a character, her devotion and commitment to her lover is strangely admirable and heartwarming in the end.





 Interestingly, not unlike the character Hugh in Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, director Fred Burnley would die suddenly in a somewhat absurd fashion a couple years after the film’s release in 1975 at the premature age of 41 and would never direct another film again. Even worse than suffering a heart attack despite being young and healthy like the character Hugh in the film, Burnley died of lung complications from exposure to bat feces (!) of all things while filming the documentary Alexander von Humboldt - 1799 for David Attenborough's 1975 series The Explorers. Starting out as an assistant director on the popular black comedy The Ladykillers (1955) starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, Burnley basically mainly worked as an editor and BBC hack for most of his filmmaking career and never really got to try out his real talent on anything of significance aside from Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, which was both a commercial and critical failure, hence why he probably did not direct another feature during those three years before his untimely death in 1975. Considering the fact that it was only released once on VHS in the UK and nowhere else, the film was actually fairly hard to find until relatively recently after it received a DVD release in both the UK and the United States. Featuring an uniquely unsettling and almost otherworldly use of the sea comparable to Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976) starring Millie ‘Anne Frank’ Perkins and unconventional approach to the undead somewhat comparable to Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974) aka Dead of Night, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand ultimately manages to capture the best and worst of 1970s horror cinema as a sort of morbid yet romantic soap opera-ish melodrama where all the characters sport aesthetically vulgar post-hippie haircuts and wardrobes.  Indeed, it is certainly the sort of horror film you might have expected from Douglas Sirk had he been apolitical and somewhat less talented. Ultimately, in its depiction of a woman living with the reanimated corpse of her dead lover, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is a sort of allegory for the irrevocable pain that one feels upon losing a lover for whatever reason, thereupon making for a rare horror flick that will certainly bore the shit out of teenage zombie film fans yet at the same time can be appreciated by people that loathe horror so long as they have ever experienced heartbreak. Somewhat strangely, the film also resembles the François Ozon flick Sous le sable (2000) aka Under the Sand starring Charlotte Rampling so much that I have to assume that the screenwriters of the French flick had to have seen Burnley's work and felt it would be a good movie to quasi-plagiarize due to its relative obscurity. While not exactly up there with Leslie Megahey's Sheridan Le Fanu adaptation Schalcken the Painter (1979) in terms of artistic merit and emotional impact as a work of idiosyncratic British Gothic horror, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is certainly infinitely more intriguing, enthralling, and inventive than probably 95% of both zombie flicks and horror films in general that have been released over the past decade or so.



-Ty E

12 comments:

Tony Brubaker said...

I want to bugger Susan Hampshire (as the bird was in 1955 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously). Such a shame shes British garbage though.

Tony Brubaker said...

Just with regards to how the director snuffed it, you could say that he was a slightly older version of that other talentless British toss-pot Michael Reeves.

Tony Brubaker said...

Just with regards to "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With The Sea" (1976): I want to bugger Sarah Miles (as the bird was in 1959 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously). Such a shame shes British garbage though. When she was a young bird she had that classic cheeky look of those gorgeous little lustpots who get buggered and sodomized senseless over on "Ass Teen Mouth" and "First Anal Quest". Sarah would`ve been perfect for those sites 56 years ago back in 1959 when the bird was 18 ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Just with regards to "The Fog" (1980): I want to tit-fuck Adrienne Barbeau (as the bird was in 1963 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Tony Brubaker said...

Admittedly the picture on the advertising poster is very nice and charming and ro-girl-tic but even there there is still a sexual inuendo, did you notice it Ty E ?, on the left of the picture, the lighthouse, its obviously a metaphor for a big knob thats about to be shoved up Susans bum ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, early in the reveiw you used the phrase "classic British horror flick", isn`t that an absurd contra-twat-tion in terms ! ?, to call any British film (horror or otherwise) 'classic' is literally the equivalent of saying: "classic pile of dog-shit" ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Susan Hampshire has always come across as a sort of classic 'English Rose' type bird but when she was a young bird i bet her sweet arse-hole gaped wide open thousands of times for all the lucky bastards who were poking her bum with their willys ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

In "Into the Woods" i love the way the big bad wolf doesn`t want to eat the little girl, but rather he wants to shove his willy up her sweet little 8 year-old bum, ahhh...the truth, it is so magical and beautiful and perfect and 1000 times better than lies and hypocrisy ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Its so irritating and embarrassing whenever you hear nauseating and idiotic British accents in otherwise brilliant and marvelous American made blockbusters, the British completely ruin those movies, i think British actors and actresses should be per-girl-ently banned from appearing in American made movies, that would ensure that EVERY American made blockbuster was great instead of being besmirched and polluted by British scum.

Tony Brubaker said...

I want to bugger Meryl Streep (as the bird was in 1967 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Tony Brubaker said...

I want to bugger Sigourney Weaver (as the bird was in 1967 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, are you and your bird getting ready for the birds world cup ?, America have got to lift that trophy Ty E, for them to return with anything other than the gold medals would be unthinkable.