One of the "big three" Italian horror directors of the 1970s (the other two being Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento), Mario Bava's colourful filmography emcompasses just about every genre imaginable - whether or not you include the scores of films for which he received no official credit. Equally at home directing action hero cheese (such as Hercules vs. the Vampires) as with impeccably plotted gialli (like The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace), Bava was master craftsman who had little interest in fame and critical recognition, often taking on projects purely so that he could earn a living, yet his influence can be seen in the work of many of the most prominent big-name directors of today, from Tim Burton to Martin Scorcese to Quentin Tarantino. His stalk-and-slash romp Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) created a sub-genre that the less enlightened frequently assume started with Friday the 13th, and his credentials as a cinematographer gave him an exceptional command over both monochromatic and Technicolor photography. Indeed, his physical resemblance of Walt Disney is made all the more uncanny by the fact that their films share a great deal of similarities in terms of colour styling! Bava's final directorial effort before his death in 1980, Shock (Italian title: Schock) is one of his more understated works, but still contains copious examples of his masterful composition and ability to generate suspense.
Dora Baldini (Daria Nicolodi - then-girlfriend of Dario Argento) and her young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) move back into the old family home that they vacated after the death of Dora's first husband, Carlo. Her new man, Bruno (John Steiner), tags along but is frequently away working as an airline pilot. Therefore, he is unable to witness the bizarre changes in Marco's personality, the poltergeist-like phenomena taking place in the house, and Dora's progressive loss of sanity. Yes, in a riff on the age-old haunted house tale, something is not quite right in Baldini home, and it seems to have something to do with the death of Carlo, the exact details of which Dora, for some reason, is unable to remember.
Shock appears to have been something of a departure for Bava, given its miniscule cast, focus on the psychological, and rather conservative visual style. Bava's son Lamberto, who served as co-writer and assistant director on the film, admits that the script came about as part of a desire between himself and Dardano Sacchetti to create a movie more along the lines of American thrillers à la Stephen King (although the literature of Edgar Allan Poe was probably equally responsible for shaping the tone of the film), and as such its style has, in his own words, "less of [his] father". The lurid primary colours that were prevalent in much of Bava's 1970s ouevre are here replaced by a decidedly subdued, naturalistic palette, and the director's trademark matte and glass paintings are nowhere to be seen. Bava still finds room for camera trickery and elegant composition, however. In one early scene, for instance, a bizarre curved hand ornament placed near the camera perfectly envelops the bodies of Dora and Bruno, who are having sex on the couch. Initially seeming like merely a throwaway moment designed to indulge in the wacky nature of the prop in question, the shot takes on a new meaning later on in the film when it becomes apparent that the house has a mind of its own and is intent on controlling its occupants.
A criminally underrated performer, Daria Nicolodi copes admirably with the daunting task of carrying the entire movie while portraying a character whose sanity is slipping away. Virtually every scene is told from her perspective, and had she been a less capable actor, the whole film could conceivably have fallen apart. Her character here is vastly different from that of tabloid reporter Gianna Brezzi in Profondo Rosso, the part for which she is probably best-known, and here she proves that she can tackle serious drama with as much skill as the light-hearted comedic banter with which she indulged with David Hemmings in Profondo Rosso. John Steiner, an Englishman with a fairly extensive line-up of Euro-horror films under his belt, plays the dull but seemingly well-meaning Bruno with a fair amount of skill, and it was certainly surprising to see him as such a sympathetic character after previously only being exposed to his role as the slimy conservative journalist in Tenebre. David Colin Jr. is not so good, but given his young age this can perhaps be expected and even forgiven.
The score is the result of the efforts of a band announced as "I Libra", which was in fact comprised of most of progressive rock group Goblin (if you're keeping track of the Argento connections, we're up to four now), minus keyboard maestro Claudio Simonetti, and it is an effective, kitschy, synthesized affair that manages to hit the right notes, covering everything from the more peaceful moments to the scenes of nailbiting tension. It's far from their best work, however - more along the lines of Solamente Nero than Suspiria.
Shock is available both separately and as part of a double-pack with Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, an unsettling and unique tale of madness, sexual frustration and demonic possession (reviewed here by Gary Couzens). Since the double-pack represents a far better deal than buying the two films separately, I have linked to it in the Affiliates panel rather than the single release. Note that the double-pack release features a dual-sided DVD with one film on each side.
The DVD features a serviceable but unremarkable anamorphic transfer, preserving the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The print is in good condition and there are no major artefacts, but some softness prevails throughout. Three audio mixes are included, provided the option to view the film in its original English, Italian and French dubs (the entire film was, unsurprisingly, post-synched), but no subtitles are available, effectively ruling out the Italian track for English speakers and ruling out the DVD entirely for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Bonus features consist of the lengthy Italian theatrical trailer (which can be watched with or without English subtitles), as well as two US TV spots (which market the film under the title "Beyond the Door II"), and an interview with Lamberto Bava, where he discusses the genesis of the film's premise, as well as discussing his experiences directing a number of scenes, and explaining some of the film's more beguiling special effects shots.
Shock is ultimately not the glorious swansong for Bava's illustrious career that a man of his talents deserved, since it lacks much of his trademark style, but it is a solidly constructed thriller with a strong lead performer and some generally arresting imagery. If you intend to pick it up, however, it would probably be best to do so after first checking out some of Bava's more celebrated works, such as the seminal gialli The Girl Who Knew too Much and Blood and Black Lace.