Neither The Sea Nor The Sand 1972

Ah, zombies. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t get rid of the buggers when you realise you might have made a mistake wishing ‘em back from the dead. It’s that age old story – girl meets boy, boy likes girl. Boy takes girl to Scotland, boy mucks about in the surf, boy drops down dead. Girl understandably devastated, boy comes back from the dead. Much high-jinks ensue.

That’s about the size of Neither The Sea Nor The Sand, a peculiar little Brit horror which many had thought was consigned to the “dodgy tenth generation VHS copy” file (of which I have many), as it only came out on video once in the 80s, everyone couldn’t make up their minds about it and it effectively disappeared without trace. But now, thanks to the magic of DVD, Neither The Sea Nor The Sand is available for anyone to watch. Whether “anyone” would actually want to watch it is another story.

To say that Neither The Sea Nor The Sand is a “curio” would be understating it somewhat. Mainly a love story about the doomed affair between married woman Anna (the ever gorgeous Susan Hampshire) and young artistic type Hugh (Michael Petrovitch), about half way through it dips it toe into horror territory, when the young chap keels over for no reason on a beach, is pronounced dead, but then promptly reappears, seemingly alive, at the cottage door.

Why is never really explained – is it because of her love for him, his love for her, or some kind of all-consuming passion that somehow manages to defy the laws of physics? There’s even a vague nod to an idea that it might be something to do with Hugh’s long family history. But one of the film’s strengths is that it never tries to explain what’s going on – the sole idea behind it is to ask a very simple question – if you, as a grieving lover, got your wish to have them back, would it really be such a good idea? It’s the monkey’s paw, without the monkey.

"You really are dead!"

The film is perhaps more famous than it deserves for being written by Gordon Honeycombe, the bloke brought in to TV-AM to add a bit of gravitas who immediately found himself working with a streetwise rodent (“Eeee, Ratfans!”). Honeycombe is a bit of a renaissance man – newsreader, actor, playwright and novelist, he’s even appeared in a Brit horror himself - The Medusa Touch, as a (wait for it) newsreader. Neither The Sea Nor The Sand is based on his novel of the same name, and he had a hand in its production, so you’d imagine that what you see on the screen is pretty much what he wrote down on paper. And boy can you tell – there are lots of portentious speeches about roads disappearing off into the sea lined with the damned, and impassioned one-on-ones between the two leads promising that this is the love affair to end all love affairs. The idea seems to be that by giving over half the film to their happy little tryst, when the twist comes it will be all the more devastating. But sadly, what might work on the page doesn’t really work on screen - Hugh’s death may be very realistic and medically sound, but it’s more than a bit lame – especially when you consider his health-and-safety baiting dance in the surf just moments earlier. And Hampshire, although gorgeous, isn’t the world’s greatest emoter – she’s far too much of a porcelain English rose to really open the floodgates, and after a brief screaming fit over the body spends the rest of the film not really reacting to a succession of strange events.

It’s far more rewarding, in fact, to keep an eye on the characters around the couple – Frank Finlay as Hugh’s’s camp-as-Christmas brother (“Doing that in mother’s bed – it’s disgusting!”), Michael “Ben from Doctor Who” Craze as Hugh’s best mate who he doesn’t really like (a character Craze played in a variety of Brit horrors), and Jack Lambert as a doctor who is a firm believer that when someone’s time has come, that’s it (cheers for that, Doc).

But that said, there are some unnerving moments – dead Hugh cannot speak, so his voice sort of drifts in with a vague echo. The death of a further main character is quite a shock, and after 80 minutes of vague nods towards the body horror going on, Anna’s final realisation of what has really happened (“You really are dead!”), complete with a quick zoom in on the now obviously dead Hugh, almost makes the film.

These days, zombie love stories are ten a penny, so I suppose we should give Honeycombe a bit of kudos for being there first. And although not particularly exciting, Neither The Sea Nor The Sand is lovely to look at and poses some interesting questions. But it would have been far more suited to being a one hour television drama.

Directed by: Fred Burnley
Written by: Rosemary Davies, Gordon Honeycombe
Cast: Susan Hampshire - Anna Robinson; Frank Finlay - George Dabernon; Michael Petrovitch - Hugh Dabernon; Michael Craze - Collie; Jack Lambert - Dr. Irving; Betty Duncan - Mrs. MacKay; David Garth - Mr. MacKay; Anthony Booth - Delamare

Last updated: July 8, 2010
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