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.

13 thoughts on “Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)

  1. Too bad it wasn’t very well done because quite frankly, it sounds pretty damn cool. I think that plot idea could make a really good movie in the right hands. There are so many movies I’ve seen that weren’t very good but had a great plot device and seem ripe to be remade. This sounds like a definite candidate.

    And I know Frank Finley from Olivier’s Othello where he was excellent as Iago.

  2. I don’t even recall mention of this film by the British film magazines. If it played stateside at all it might have appeared on 42nd St without advertising. I’ll put it on my rental queue as soon as I have room.

  3. All I needed to hear was Susan Hampshire, and you sold me. I’m a big fan of hers from “The Forsyte Saga”. There is something about your description of her losing touch with reality and Hugh’s decaying flesh that reminds me of Repulsion.

  4. Jonathan – Well, I do think it’s worth a look and it might loose some of it’s charm if it was remade, at least for me anyway. I enjoy the ’70s feel the film has, plus I’m sure the sex scenes would be removed. Todays audiences don’t seem to like their horror & sex mixed… in retrospect, do people even have sex in movies anymore?

    Peter – I don’t think it was widely released in the US and I don’t ever remember coming across it on TV. As I mentioned above, a few of the films sex scenes would probably have had to have been edited out for TV, so maybe that’s why I never saw it? Who knows, but I’m sure the negative reviews didn’t help the film either.

    Marilyn – Susan Hampshire is really good here! If you like her, I think the film is well worth checking out. I’ve never seen the original Forsyte Saga, but now you’ve got me curious about it. I love a lot of epic British television dramas like Brideshead Revisited for instance, so I’d probably enjoy it.

  5. Hey Kimberly. I never saw this one even though I saw many of the other films done by the studio. While there were many films of the era that had flaws and that we might see ways we would improve it, I think Hollywood has a way of sanitizing much of what’s done today. Yeah, there isn’t much sex or nudity in films these days. Watching a lot of 70’s horror recently has reminded me of how people liked their horror and sex mixed together. I’ll definitely have to check this one out. It sounds like an interesting concept. I’ve always liked Susan Hampshire. Great blog on it.

  6. I’m finding the question of sex in movies interesting… It does seem like it’s gone away, doesn’t it? Not, of course, the idea that people will have sex or did have sex, but the actual issue of their sexuality and the sexuality as it exists between people sexually involved.

    I think first sex has always been more prevelant and that makes sense, as its more dramatic… it’s like how falling in love will always be the subject of more movies than being in love, because the drama and excitement is more obvious and on the surface. But it seems to me that even in that limited context it seems to be glossed over and not explored as a part of the characters and the whole of their relationship any longer.

    Obviously, exceptions like A History of Violence and Shortbus are notable for the fact of their being exceptions.

  7. The last relatively contemporary film I saw that explored sexuality as a potent aspect of human existence–particularly as it relates to guilt and death anxiety–was the indie film Habit (reviewed somewhere on my Web site). It was, interestingly enough, a vampire film where the vampirism might have been real or possibly a hallucination or exaggeration of the proclivities of a lover. This film reminds me a lot of Last Tango in Paris in its look at sex and death. It seems as though Bertolucci is the only major filmmaker around these days who is still interested in these themes.

  8. Keith – Thanks! I hope you’ll watch it sometime since it’s an interesting film.

    Neil – Since the ’80s it just seems like there’s been less and less sex and nudity in films. I’m sure it something to do with the conservative turn Hollywood has taken, along with various other factors like the AIDS scare, etc. Who knows…

    Thankfully once in awhile you still get a good film that isn’t afraid to show its characters in a healthy sexual relationship, but it seems really rare these days. I haven’t seen Shortbus, I but I really like Cronenberg’s History of Violence. Not only are the sex scenes well done in that film, but they feature a married couple which is pretty damn amazing. As someone who is in a happy and healthy relationship, it gets really tiring watching film after film featuring miserable couples in miserable marriages who never have sex.

  9. Marilyn – I should see Habit again since I haven’t seen it since it’s original release and I’m afraid I can’t remember it much, but thanks for the tip.

    Your right about Bertolucci though. He’s a director I really like and he’s always been comfortable portraying his characters in complex sexual relationships, even if he often gets a lot of flack for it.

  10. I had heard of Neither the Sand… from its mediocre reviews in both The Overlook Encyclopedia of Horror Film and Book of the Dead, a history of zombie movies. It’s been sitting in my Netflix queue for some time, but after reading this, and also seeing the lovely Susan Hampshire in the hypnotic Malpertuis from the same era, I think I’ll move it on up and take a chance.

  11. Will – The movie seems to generally get really negative reviews. It’s really unusual so I enjoyed it, but it’s not easy to recommend. I think few people besides myself will enjoy it.

    Anna – It’s great to see that Susan Hampshire has so many admirers! I haven’t sen her in a lot of stuff myself, but she was very good here.

  12. I was looking up Susan Hampshire to find out what this flick was called, and came across your page. I thought you might be interested to know a little funny history about it. The film’s location was shoot on our Island. Jersey Channel Islands. Of course you may already know that or not even care. I remember watching them shooting it as a child. This was a big and exciting thing for us at the time. My mates and I would follow them on our push-bikes from location to location. Once, she seemed to recognise us as having followed them and gave a little look of surprise then bent slightly over and waved at us. She had a beautiful smile and a genuineness about her. I think I sort of developed a little thing for her right then and there. It was sort of funny her bending like that. It was as though she were trying to acknowledge that we were children and get closer to us through bodie language.It was really quiet charming. because she was far enough away that there would be no real point in having to bend down to look at us. Being children and all. I remember that they didn’t think to much of the film when it came out in Cinema. That annoyed me because not only did I think that they were being mean to her but to us and all. For in a vicarious way, we felt that we were part of the movie too. So all these years later I wanted to see it again. I couldn’t remember what the movie was about except to say it had something to do with a ghost. So thank you for telling the plot line. Though I have to say that I still don’t remember it. LOL. I really just wanted to see how things have changed over the years and see if one can see my mates and I in any of the scenes. I know that sound just a tad bit vain but really it’s just for nostalgia. So, ta very much and I like your page.

Comments are closed.