EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally ran on October 17, 2017, which was early in the life of this site. I’ve adjusted it, added to it and hopefully improved it to celebrate Arrow Video’s release of Shock.
We went to see Blood and Black Lace in the theater once and there was someone who talked about the movie before it began. Maybe he was bad at speaking in public, but in short, told everyone how the movie inspired Friday the 13th (I’d say A Bay of Blood versus that one) and how it had a different title. And that was it. I was incensed. I wanted to get up out of my seat and scream that Mario Bava is the reason why lighting is the way it is and his use of color and how I can cite hundreds of films that he influenced. But I sat in my seat and boiled while the movie unspooled, because I’m really passionate about Mario Bava and don’t need to make a scene and miss seeing one of his films on the big screen.
Shock is Bava’s last film. Following a series of failures to reach theaters, including Rabid Dogs, Lamberto Bava continued to push his father to make a new movie. Originally written by Dardano Sacchetti and Francesco Barbieri after they wrote A Bay of Blood, this movie was loosely based on Hillary Waugh’s The Shadow Guest. Lamberto has also stated that he wanted this to be a modern film — check out Stephen Thrower’s part of the Arrow Video release for more about that notion — that was influenced by Stephen King.
Bava started pre-production as early as 1973, shooting screen tests with MImsy Farmer for the lead role. Shot in five weeks, some of the film was directed by Lamberto based on his father’s storyboards, which is why he has the credit “collaboration to the direction.”
I kind of love that this was called Beyond the Door II here in the U.S., but I really like the original title better. It’s a sparse film — there are only three characters (well, three living characters).
Dora (Daria Nicolodi, who should be canonized for giving birth to both Suspiria and Asia Argento, as well as roles in Deep Red, Inferno, Opera and so much more) and Bruno (John Steiner, Yor Hunter from the Future‘s Overlord) are a newly married couple who have just moved back into her old home — the very same place where her drug-addicted husband killed himself — along with her son, Marco.
Dora’s had some real issues dealing with her husband’s death. And Bruno is never home to help, as he’s a pilot for a major airline. Either she’s losing her mind or her son is evil or he’s possessed or her new husband is gaslighting her or every single one of those things is happening all at once. You have not seen a kid this creepy perhaps ever — he watches his mother and stepfather make love, declaring them pigs before using his potential psychic powers to throw things at them. Then he tells his mom he wants to kill her, followed by nearly making his stepfather’s plane crash just by putting an image of the man’s face on a swing.
While Bava was sick throughout the filming (and his son Lamberto would fill in), you can definitely see his style shine through the simple story. There’s one scene of Dora’s face and her dead husband’s and then her face that repeats vertically that will blow your mind.
The secret of the film? Dora’s ex-husband forced her to take a mix of heroin and LSD, at which point she tripped out and killed him. Bruno dumped his body in the ocean and arranged for her to be placed in an insane asylum until she recovered. Now, the ex-husband’s ghost has returned and demands blood. And he gets it.
Perhaps the finest shot in here is when Dora is lying in the bed and you see her hair fall like she’s upside down, but then it goes back like it’s in the wind, all while it seems like she’s being ravaged. I have no idea how Bava did this shot, but it’s so visually arresting that it’s stuck in my mind for days. There’s also his famous Texas switch where Marco runs into his mother’s arms, only to be replaced by her ex-husband and that horrifying scene with the rake.
There’s also music from I Libra, a Goblin off-shoot. It seems kind of strange against Bava’s old school direction, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love it. It’s a stylish and scary film that’s way better than any Exorcist clone, despite its U.S title.
Arrow Video’s new release of Shock features a brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. There’s new audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, plus new interviews with Lamberto, Dardano Sacchetti and critic Alberto Farina.
You also get a video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, The Devil Pulls the Strings and Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a video appreciation of Shock by Stephen Thrower that is worth the price of this disk.
You get even more — the Italian theatrical trailer, 4 U.S. Beyond the Door II TV spots, an image gallery and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava.
You can get this from MVD.