Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Some horror movies don't realize that a good fright tale needs more than good intentions and earnest performances. This handsome English effort never begins to get a grip on the viewer. Fans of the talented Susan Hampshire (The Three Lives of Thomasina, Malpertius) may be delighted but for everyone else the movie will seem to go on forever. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is far too genteel to address its own subject matter.
Aimless Anna Robinson (Susan Hampshire) wanders the Jersey beaches and meets Hugh Dabernon (Michael Petrovich of Tales that Witness Madness), a local airline employee who lives with his fussy brother George (Frank Finlay), an antiques dealer. Married but disillusioned, Anna begins a passionate love affair. They fly to Scotland together, where Hugh suddenly drops dead on the beach. The local doctor (Jack Lambert) fills out a death certificate. Mourning on the sand, Anna is suddenly confronted by Hugh. He's cold, has no pulse and cannot speak, but Anna doesn't care. She takes him back to Jersey to hide from the authorities. Then George returns, accuses Anna of witchcraft, and resolves to take Hugh's possessed body to a priest for an exorcism.
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand has barely enough story for a half-hour's Twilight Zone, even though that show didn't normally embrace such morbid subject matter. Phil Hardy's Encyclopedia of the Horror Film tells us that author Gordon Honeycombe was a television interviewer, and we have to hope that his novel did something interesting with the premise. Director Fred Burnley turns the film version into a tiresome travelogue with scores of scenes that do nothing more than admire beautiful beaches. The movie pointlessly travels to Scotland, where Anna and Hugh roam more beaches while exchanging forgettable dialogue: "Is this more than an affair?" "Yes, it's a love affair."
The story doesn't even try to develop a theme. Anna is on the run from a bad marriage. Hugh has a domineering brother. The lack of context might be fine if Neither the Sea Nor the Sand made its lovers interesting people. Anna falls rapturously in love. Why? Hugh is definitely interested in her, even if his emotions seem shallow. Hugh's sudden collapse on the beach comes out of nowhere and has no resonance. The movie has nothing to say about it, not even a comment on the arbitrary nature of life. We spend the entire film waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, waiting for a sign that will make what we see make sense. Things occur, but no story is told.
Hugh the Zombie is only a little less personable dead than he was alive. He behaves like a serene stroke victim, staring with empty eyes. Anna's intense passion seems to have "willed" Hugh to return to the living, a notion reinforced by Hugh's infrequent telepathic remarks asking Anna to let him go.
Frank Finlay's George is given a few lines that establish him as a priggish and probably gay. When he sees Hugh the Zombie, George immediately decides that Anna has cast a spell on his brother (yeah, they call it romance) and bundles Hugh off to be exorcised. We're cheated out of a scene depicting their arrival at the church, which would have made a great Monty Python sketch. Anna does behave like a witch, influencing Hugh's actions by telepathic remote control.
All of this is inconsistent, slow and lacking in anything like common sense. Hugh's friend Colin (Michael Craze) shows in hopes of an opportunity to 'comfort' Anna. Elsewhere, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand avoids the bother of introducing characters or having them inter-react. We're instead given dissolve-crazy soft focus lovemaking scenes, which come off as yet more visual filler.
In its desire to be restrained and cultured -- "nice" -- the film avoids graphic content. Hugh is supposed to be a putrefying corpse, but he merely looks a little clammy, with slightly darker eye makeup. George burns Hugh's hand, and Anna smashes him with a candlestick, but the wounds disappear, suggesting a fumbled implication that what we see are Anna's subjective delusions. The point of view varies far too much to support that argument, especially considering the POV-neutral telephoto shots of pretty beaches that slow the narrative to a crawl. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is a misleading title, considering that we have to look at sea and sand for at least 60 of the film's 96 minutes.
Hugh is given some portentous dialogue about all life coming from and returning to the sea, so we're not surprised when the lovers end up washed away by a tidal surge that floods the causeway to the lighthouse where they met. It's also disappointing that a movie attempting to go against the trends of violence and grue should amount to so little.
Only a few horror films have successfully dealt head-on with necrophilia. Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil still impresses with its somehow beautiful imagery of a woman in a love embrace with a corpse. Of course, Bava's film couldn't even find a distributor until it was revised to jump on the Exorcist vomit wagon. In an attempt at the same transformation Neither the Sea Nor the Sand was apparently reissued with the title The Exorcism of Hugh.
Image / Redemption's DVD of Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is a very good enhanced widescreen transfer of a satisfactory source element. Only a few dirty opticals mar the clean visuals of beaches at dawn, beaches at sunset and beaches given an excellent Day for Night treatment. The dated soundtrack score alternates between moody tones and some annoying, bouncy instrumentals that might have escaped from an industrial film. The only extra is a gallery of stills and promotional artwork. The film was marketed with the image of the couple embracing against the sea, with the tag line: "A bizarre story of love, life and death."
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Image Gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 3, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson