Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shock (1977)

Title: Shock (1977)

Directors: Lamberto and Mario Bava

Writers: Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sachetti, Francesco Barbieri, Paolo Brigenti

Cast: Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, David Colin Jr.


Shock was Maria Bava’s swan song. He had a long and illustrious career, making many horror films that would go on to become classics of the genre. But, this was his last one. Usually, as a director is reaching the end of his career, his or her movies tend to go down in quality and intensity. A good example of this is John Carpenter, who made many films that are considered classics during his early years, yet has made less then stellar films in the last years of his career. But whatever, what matters is that at some point in their careers, they made something that would last for years and years to come. For example, Dario Argento might have directed that horrendous version of Phantom of the Opera, but hell, what does it matter, he had already made Suspiria, Inferno and Opera! But back to Mario Bava. This was Bava’s last film before departing this world. How was it?

Shock is the story of a family who has just moved back into this old house. Dora is the mother, she is trying to recuperate from her last husbands suicide. He was a drug addict and apparently ended his own life. Dora and her new husband Bruno, along with her kid Marco are trying to continue their lives after the horrible incident. Problem is Dora still doesn’t have a grip on her emotions and to top things off, strange supernatural occurrences are beginning to happen in the house. Is Dora loosing her mind? Or is their some supernatural force at work here?

This film falls under the pantheon of what I like to call “evil little kid movies”. You know the kind. Movies about kids with an evil streak to them. This ‘evil little kid’ angle is the main reason why they changed the title of this film to Beyond the Door II for its U.S. release. Beyond the Door (1974) was an Italian horror film about a woman who was pregnant with Satan’s child. Beyond the Door ends with the evil little kid, smiling with an evil laugh at the camera. So, when the time came to bring Shock to American audiences, they decided to market it as a sequel to Beyond the Door, simply because it was also about an evil little kid, and also because the little kid who plays Marco (David Colin Jr.) in Shock also appeared in Beyond the Door as a possessed kid. But speaking of evil little kids, on Shock, the kid shreds his mothers underwear to smithereens! He does voodoo with his step fathers pictures! Little by little his evil acts increase in intensity until in one scene the kid tells his mom “Mom, I have to kill you!” There are some incestuous undertones in the film. The kid checks his mother out as she is bathing. He plays with her underwear. He wants to sleep with her and then caresses her as they sleep. He even makes sexual sounds and gestures while he is playing with her in the garden. So that gets a little creepy right there.

While watching Shock, you might recognize Daria Nicolodi (the actress who plays Dora in the film) from a couple of Dario Argento movies like, Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), Tenebre (1982), Phenomena (1985), Opera (1989) and most recently, in the god awful Mother of Tears (2007). She was Argento’s girlfriend when she made Shock with Mario Bava. On this film, she plays a mentally affected individual. Her husband committed suicide and as a result of that, she was admitted into a mental asylum where she received electro shock therapy. This woman has been through hell! It kind of made me wonder why a guy like Bruno (her new husband in the film) would be with her. I guess some guys have no standards at all. A girl tells me she’s been in a asylum and received electro shock therapy, that would raise a few red flags right there for me. But not with this guy, he went and married this looney lady. Not only that, but the guy is so smart that he moves with her back into the house where all the events took place! Dora’s mental instability starts to rise as she starts having these crazy nightmares, vague memories of what happened.

By the way, these nightmares offer us some of the best moments in the film. One nightmare has Dora dreaming a switchblade knife is flying through the air trying to cut her up! Even though the visual effects are a little dated, the idea behind the scene works. Unfortunately, most of the film is spent seeing doors and windows opening and closing by themselves. Rocking chairs and swings moving on their own. Piano’s playing a tune without anyone stroking the keys. Really low budget horror movie stuff. It gets a little repetitive after a while. The only real highlight comes whenever Dora has her nightmares; the rest of the film is a lot of low budget haunted house events like the ones I mentioned before. The movie does have one genuinely good scare in it, but I’m not going to spoil it for you ladies and gentlemen, you’ll have to see that one for yourselves. Still, I thought it was really excellent, and it was the one scare that made me jump up in surprise.

Dora's hair moves on its own in one scene

It isn’t until the films last 20 minutes that things start to get good. Same as many Italian horror films (I remember Beyond the Door doing the exact same thing) they have such a simple premise, that most of the films first and second half is mostly filler. They save the really good stuff for the last 20 minutes. After you watch the movie, you kind of get the feeling that it could have been over a lot sooner, it’s just that they stretch things out for so long. But speaking of those last minutes of the film, they do get pretty intense and gory. I really liked the final resolution of the film; I only wished that more of the movie was like the ending.

The main problem with this last Mario Bava film is that to me, it didn’t feel so much like a Bava movie. Upon some investigation, I discovered that Bava wasn’t completely devoted to this project due to health reasons. He would come during the day, talk with actors and storyboard certain sequences, and leave for the day. It was Lamberto Bava who was doing most of the directing; which would explain why the film is missing that distinctive Mario Bava visual flair. Shock (and Planet of the Vampires) served as Lamberto Bava’s training wheels, he was just getting the hang of the whole thing. Sadly, because of this, Shock can't really be considered a Mario Bava movie. It was missing that gothic feel that a lot of Mario Bava’s films have. The images in Shock aren’t filled with lush blues or reds, it has a more “real” look to it. In Shock, the colors seem dead when compared to other Bava films. Technically, with this film, Bava was passing the torch to his son saying “here, now it’s your turn to take over!” And Lamberto did. He kept making horror movies long after his father was gone.

Rating: 3 out of 5



Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

There is nothing new or innovative about Shock, but I love this film. It is far and away my favourite Mario Bava movie. This is possibly due to it being the first of the maestro's films I actually saw. Of all his films it is the one I return too the most. I know is it lesser Bava, and shouldnt really be compared to his major horror films of the early to mid 1960's, but there is just something about it. There is something mysterious and mystifying at times about the films we love.

Franco Macabro said...

I know what you mean Shaun, sometimes we love a film for personal reasons.

I did enjoy it though, specially the last 20 minutes. And there were some shots I enjoyed as well, like the one with the moving hair, or that jump scare! I havent seen a scare like that one repeated on any movie, it was pretty effective. I instantly rewinded that scene.

But some scenes didnt make much sense, like how exactly did the kid make Brunos plane go out of whack by simply placing his picture on a swing and swinging it back and forth! I was like swing voodoo? What the hell?

As I watched it, I felt that some scenes and images made no sense whatsoever. I was like okay, we are watching a syringe in close up...then suddenly, theres a sunset...hmmm I wonder why? Then we never go back to why the sunset appeared and it just looked like a muddled mess to me.

Still, with all these flaws, I found some good moments in it, which is why I gave it a 3.

Im still on my journey to watch all Bava movies!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

To be fair to the film though, I cant think of many Italian horror films that do make sense. Compared for example to the horror films of Lucio Fulci it is straightforward. You often find In Bava's films symbolism that doesnt make sense. It is almost as though the directors of popular Italian cinema were trying to make their highly generic efforts a little more arty (see also Jess Franco), or too at least ally it in some ways to Italian art cinema. There is a big cross over in the work of Argento for example - especially with Antonioni - the influence of Blow Up on Argento's films is profound I think.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Ive seen this one two times now and still havent grown very fond of it, but many people consider it to be the finest of the Exorcist ripoffs that flooded Italy in the 70s. Maybe 3 times the charm?

Franco Macabro said...

@Shaun: I know what you mean, Italian horror can really try you patience sometimes, Fulci, Argento, Lamberto and Mario Bava are all guilty of this.

But as you say, the movie is actually easy to follow, but every now and again, some image pops in and I start to follow where its going...and it goes nowhere. But this one has little of that.

Lisa and the Devil is the weirdest one of Bavas for me so far, lots of symbolism and lots of images that are hard to connect to the story or the film, sometimes I felt Bava was purposely trying to loose me, and the audience. But I actually enjoyed Lisa and the Devil for that weird surreal quality that it has.

Whats this about Blow Up and Antonini? Im lost there, I haven't seen that film.

@Carl: I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't say it was his best. As far as Italian Exorcist rip offs, I think the first Behind the Door did a little better in that department. Shock didn't feel like an Exorcist rip off to me. But Behind the Door did, every step of the way. It was too obvious.

As far as Exorcist rip offs go, I need to see Abby.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I'm surprised you havent seen "Blow Up" its one of Antonioni's most famous films. It stars David Hemmings as a photographer in swinging London who accidentally photographs a murder. Very existential, lots of typical mid 60's urban alienation stuff going on. Its a major link between Italian art cinema and popular Italian genre cinema. Most of themes of "Blow Up" can be found in giallo films and the films of Argento.

Franco Macabro said...

Well, this is precisely one of the benefits of talking with other film buffs, discovering filmmakers we didnt know about.

I had not heard about Antonini, but Im up for anything interesting. David Hemmings, I remember him from Barbarella. That premise sounds interesting...Im going to do some reading on Antonini's films, see what he's all about. Thanks for suggesting Blow Up, I love films dealing with existentialism.


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