One of the most unusual movies I’ve seen this year is the low-budget British horror film Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972), which was released on DVD from Redemption in January. This odd little movie was originally produced by Tigon, a British studio that was behind some of the most entertaining horror films of the late sixties and early seventies such as Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), Witchfinder General (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), The Blood Beast Terror (1968), The Nude Vampire (1970), Doomwatch (1972) and Virgin Witch (1972).
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand has suffered from negative reviews since its original theatrical release in 1972 and it hasn’t fared much better on DVD. Critics seem to enjoy pointing out the movie’s many flaws, but I think the film has something to offer broad-minded viewers. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is not a great film and many people won’t enjoy its atypical plot or be impressed with its strange charms, but it manages to create an unnerving atmosphere and sustain it throughout its 110-minute running time. It also makes great use of its coastal locations and offers viewers an interesting look at love after death.
This low-key and languid film tells the story of a tragic romance between the pretty Anna (Susan Hampshire) and her handsome lover Hugh (Michael Petrovitch). The ill-fated couple meet on a deserted beach one afternoon and are instantly drawn to one another. Anna is trapped in an unhappy marriage that she’s desperate to escape from, and Hugh is trying to distance himself from his domineering brother. As these two melancholy people come together its hard not to root for them, and when Hugh tells Anna that he’ll never leave her, we want to believe him.
While the two lovebirds are enjoying a coastal holiday together in a quiet cottage far away from family and friends, Hugh suddenly collapses and dies due to complications from a heart condition. Naturally Anna is devastated by Hugh’s unexpected death and the local doctor sedates her. When Anna finally awakens she is desperate, alone and confused. She longs for Hugh’s return and aimlessly wanders the beach where she and Hugh spent their last happy moments together.
In the evening Anna begins to see ghostly shadows outside her window. When there’s a knock on her cottage door she opens it to find Hugh standing there apparently alive and well. Anna is overjoyed by the sudden turn of events and she eagerly accepts Hugh’s recovery without asking any questions, but her lover isn’t exactly acting like himself. Hugh doesn’t utter a word and appears to be in a state of shock. Instead of taking him to the hospital, Anna decides to return home with Hugh and urges him to “act normal.” She tries to get him to talk to her, but Hugh is only able to utter a slight moan and he continually stares at her with unblinking eyes. Just when Anna is ready to give up any hope of ever communicating with Hugh again, she hears a voice in her head saying “I love you” coming from Hugh. Her ability to communicate with her lover telepathically seems to give Anna hope, and she decides to tell Hugh’s brother about the situation she and Hugh have found themselves in.
Hugh’s brother George (Frank Finlay) is a bit superstitious and he immediately suspects something is wrong. He believes that Hugh has become a possessed member of the walking dead. George reminds Anna that Hugh doesn’t look well and is clearly decomposing right before their eyes, but Anna doesn’t want to hear it. She is happy just to have Hugh near her even if he has become a silent unblinking zombie. He has apparently been reanimated due to Anna’s inability to accept his sudden death and the powerful undying love they share together. There is also some suggestion that Hugh’s Scottish ancestry, which can be traced back to the middle ages, might have something to do with his current state. But that aspect of the plot is never fully fleshed out.
As Hugh’s looks begin to rapidly decay, his behavior becomes more unpredictable. In turn, Anna’s fragile grip on reality begins to dissipate and the strange existence they share together starts to unravel. The word “zombie” is never uttered in Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, but anyone who sees Hugh’s lifeless stare, sluggish walk and slowly decaying flesh will immediately be reminded of the walking dead seen in countless other horror films. Unfortunately for horror fans, the necromantic aspects of Neither the Sea Nor the Sand are downplayed. The film shares more in common with romance novels and classic gothic literature than typical horror films or zombie movies made during the same period.
As I mentioned above, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is not a great film and it has plenty of flaws. The most apparent ones are the uneven soundtrack, occasionally silly dialogue and the rather absurdly shot ending that will undoubtedly leave a few viewers laughing out loud like I did. But even with its flaws, I still found a lot to like about this unusual movie. One of the best things about the film is Susan Hampshire’s terrific and engaging performance as the love-struck Anna. Susan Hampshire is an award-winning British actress who really gives everything she’s got to her role and I thought she kept the film interesting even during its dullest moments.
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand was directed by Fred Burnley and it was his only feature-length film. Unfortunately it was also his last. The director shows that he’s got some skills here so it’s a shame that he didn’t go on to make more horror movies. I had a hard time finding any information about him except his rather thin profile on IMDb. Hopefully the bad reviews he received for Neither the Sea Nor the Sand didn’t discourage him from directing again.
Neither the Sea or the Sand is currently available on DVD from Amazon and it should also be available for rent from online sources such as Netfilix and Greencine.