Horror, Nature, and Polish Cinema in Sand & Fury


Generoso and I rarely write about works that have almost identical characters and themes. Perhaps it’s the nature of the medium we each focus on, or perhaps it’s the time period, but in general we seldom manage to cross paths.

Consequently, when I picked up Sand & Fury a few days before our cross country move, I would have never guessed that the book would somewhat be an adaptation and expansion on Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout and the Robert Graves poem it adapted.

Cover of Sand & Fury

Whereas Alan Bates’s Crossley character in The Shout remains for the most part an enigma, his female screaming/shouting counterpart in Ho Che Anderson’s Sand & Fury receives a full character development treatment in the graphic novel. Our unnamed female lead carries a scream that brings death onto a person destined to die. Though her supernatural skills make her somewhat of a grim reaper, this angel of death is unwillingly on duty for someone else’s reign of terror; she has met and interacted with all of the victims of the the summer Hammer Killer, and all of these victims hear the angel’s scream right before the Hammer Killer strikes.

Consequently, the moments with the victims before the scream and before the Hammer Killer’s fatal blow haunt our grim reaper. To make matters worse, she let the Hammer Killer escape death from her scream once upon a time. She undoubtedly lives a horrific reality, but flashes of the angel’s previous life weave in and out of the current time, and gradually we understand that our reaper’s existence and all of the sadness and terror she must come to terms with stems from her hedonistic and selfish past.

Unlike some supernatural spirit directly out of the mouth of the underworld, this grim reaper once lived on Earth. A shark-like businesswoman and human being over all, she preyed on others’ emotions to reach her goals. Ranging from business partners to lovers to spouses, she chewed them up and spit them out with her philosophy of existence consisting of solely reckless hedonism unchecked by morality, loyalty, or any crumb of selflessness.

Though her pleasure seeking methods for the most part worked, she crossed paths with Elio Angermeyer, her boss, and after a long winded affair and a promotion, she also threw him aside, but alas, he was the wrong one to toss away. In a moment of pure wrath, Elio murdered the human predecessor to our angel of death and buried her in the desert; however, nature had something else planned for her, and when a rancher’s boy discovers her body and unearths it, she is unconscious but alive. When she wakes from her coma, she emits a scream that kills the family that discovers and begins her life as the angel of death bearing the fatal scream.

Loosely structured with fragments of various moments of time weaved together out of sequence, Sand & Fury experiments with the narrative structure to slowly reveal our angel of death’s connection to the Hammer Killer, but the reveal of this mystery lives in the shadow of the strength of the narrative: its ability to develop a rich understanding of why our unnamed reaper possesses her difficult power.

Toward the last third of the novel, our angel of death meets another screamer , Lydia Philadelphia and asks why they have the powers they do, and Lydia replies with, “It’s our burden.” In that simple and vague statement combined with the moments of the reaper’s past, we begin to understand that her current existence as the reaper and thus all of the awful moments she has to witness and prompt serve as an atonement to nature for her evil ways on earth before she died. The unnamed reaper carried no burden despite her cruel actions toward other people in her life, and after her mortal death, she now must carry the burden of the force of death.

Ho Che Anderson fills Sand & Fury with unnervingly horrific ideas, some which are realistic and others which are supernatural, and together, they succeed in what horror does best: understanding the truth behind human behavior under the most intense terror and duress. To further heighten each moment of terror, Anderson transitions his art style from a more flat black-and-white style to a more realistic black-and-white drawing style with splashes of red anytime blood is spilled, making each moment of violence more painful for the reader and for our grim reaper as well.

An example of the Black, White, and Red Illustration Style

With his narrative and visual form, Anderson alludes plenty of film styles, especially those of gialos and film noirs, but alas, his style in Sand & Fury most closely parallels that of Andrzej Żuławski’s in Possession with his use of hyperbolic moments of violence, fantasy, and horror and frenetic energy to better understand human existence. Whereas Possession uses horror to capture a spouse’s fears and sentiments about an infidelity, Anderson uses the same devices to understand karma-like forces, which restore balance to the world and to individual lives.

With the tale of the unnamed grim reaper in the Sand & Fury, we realize, as with The Shout, that as much as we feel we have control over our own environment and existence, forces exist (be it karma, God, Mother Earth, or the god and goddesses on Mount Olympus) that have their own plans for us, especially if we live only to please ourselves without any regard for others and even more so if we believe we can live beyond the grasp of their powers.

Sand & Fury by Ho Che Anderson is available via Fantagraphics Books.

Jerzy Skolimowski Directs Alan Bates In The Mesmerizing 1978 Supernatural Thriller, “The Shout”


Alan Bates and Susannah York in “The Shout”

I first saw Jerzy Skolimowski’s “The Shout” as part of the Harvard Film Archive’s sensational retrospective of the fifty plus year career of the famed Polish director and screenwriter of Roman Polanski’s “Knife In The Water.” “The Shout” is a faithful and visually stunning adaption of a short story written by poet Robert Graves, and of all the films that were shown during that retrospective back in 2010, it was the one film that left the greatest impression on me, even to this day.

A supernatural thriller shot with a non-linear narrative, “The Shout” uses a cricket match at a mental institution as its framing device. In the eerily scenic yards of the institution, we have Crossley (Alan Bates) a newly arrived mental patient who sits in a small shack besides a foppish, coiffed man named Robert (Tim Curry) who Crossley assists in scoring the match that features a team of loons. Shortly after Crossley’s ranting, we soon meet the charming young couple, Rachel and Anthony Fielding (Susannah York and John Hurt) who have domesticated themselves into an almost brother and sister relationship, devoid of any carnality. We first meet them at the nearby beach where they vividly imagine a man armed only with a sharp bone, coming towards him in a threatening manner. Somewhat flustered, the Fieldings saunter back to their idyllic country home in Devon, England where Richard composes experimental music by mostly capturing the sounds of nature and distorting them as he sees fit. Though Richard composes secular music, he is also the local church’s organist and despite his vicar’s plea for a resurgence of faith during Sunday services, Richard will leave the church for an illicit tryst with the wife of the local cobbler, but before he does, he will encounter Crossley.

Crossley sneaks up on Richard and immediately addresses the concept of the Christian soul and how it is “imprisoned by the body.” He then asks, “if imprisoned, wouldn’t the soul be better off inside of a tree?” Richard takes leave of Crossley but returns home to find him sitting in front of his house, looking for an invitation to lunch. Richard complies and soon Crossley will make his stay last much longer than anyone had hoped for.

During the subsequent lunch, Crossley regales our pastoral couple with tales of his Aboriginal life, his bride, and the murder of his own children, which he claims is a perfectly acceptable tradition for the Aborigines, but this fact does not go over well with the Fieldings, nor does Crossley’s story of female possession that can easily occur by the keeping an item of a women’s wardrobe. It seems that Crossley has found Rachel’s shoe buckle and with that discovery, his Svengaliesque inclusion into the Fielding’s lives has begun. Our Crossley also has confided in Richard his unnatural ability to shout a sound so powerful that it will kill all around it. Richard of course needs proof and follows Crossley to the same beach where he and his wife imagined the Aborigine coming towards them. Crossley does shout and all life around him suffers for it; he is an actual force of nature, and soon, he will take his possession of Rachel in the same way he controls his surroundings.

Director Skolimowski does an excellent job at keeping the identity of Crossley a secret, allowing the viewers to draw their own conclusions, adding to the thrill. Is he an Aboriginal shaman, in line with the powers of nature? Or is Crossley in congress with the devil aiming at the possessions of the Fielding’s souls? Or is his entire existence the ramblings of a mental patient? The simple fact is that it doesn’t matter how he (Crossley) goes about affecting those around him; it is why, which may come down to the basic idea of the conflict that occurs inside the character of Richard, an opportunist who seems content to distort nature with his recordings, his masculinity with his desire for domestication, and similarly his non-secular morality with his infidelity against his wife, Rachel. Skolimowski alludes to these transgressions in both the natural and spiritual world, leading to a conclusion that is a sort of Biblical punishment for those who defy both the kingdom of God and mother nature’s reaction with the film’s loudest “shout” being created outside of Crossley’s human body.

Original Trailer for 1978’s “The Shout”

Given the critical acclaim of Skolimowski’s earlier work and the author of the source material for “The Shout,” it should come as no surprise that the film version of the Graves short story would draw the immense talent it did, hitting the screen with the prime acting abilities of York, Bates, and Hurt as well as the fearless cinematography of Mike Malloy, whose imaginative visuals add much to the stark moments of natural conflict. Reviews of the “The Shout” at the time of its release vacillated between an overall dislike to overwhelming praise, which is best thing you can say about any great work of art as to how it effects people. “The Shout” did share the Grand Prize that year at Cannes with another misunderstood film of its era, Marco Ferreri’s ode to fading masculinity by way of the destruction of the natural world, “Bye Bye Monkey.”  I guessed people actually cared about an environment and its bond to masculinity during that decade.