June 3, 2013

Shock (1977)

Directed by Mario Bava. Starring Daria Nicolodi ("Dora Baldini"), John Steiner ("Bruno Baldini"), David Colin Jr. ("Marco"), and Ivan Rassimov ("Dr. Aldo Spindi"). Rated R

Source: Region 1 DVD (Anchor Bay)
Running time: 01:32:31
Country: Italy

Dora and Bruno are a happy couple who are living the dream. Bruno has a job as a commercial pilot, and they're able to live comfortably with their son (Dora's child from a previous marriage that ended tragically) in a spacious home that's well-stocked with J&B. But it's not long before settling into the home that a number of bizarre incidents transpire, most of which have to do with young Marco behaving in a way that suggests he's under the influence of some sort of paranormal puppet master. As the film goes on, more and more secrets are revealed in regards to why the family - specifically Dora - are being terrorized by something from beyond the grave.

While watching SHOCK, which was Mario Bava's last feature film before he died, I couldn't help but think about how familiar this movie seemed. I don't have the knowledge or time to determine the origin of the Horror movie trope at the moment, but I do know that I've seen it countless times - the family moving into a home (usually with a single child), the father/husband conveniently being gone all the time due to work and other commitments, the mother/wife being left alone and inherently more vulnerable to ghostly bullying (followed by a gradual descent into hysteria), and of course the aforementioned child acting as a gateway between the worlds of the living and the dead.

So yeah, SHOCK pretty much sticks with the formula mentioned above for most of its running time, and we have an annoying little kid getting a lot of screen-time to boot. In the context of Euro-Horror, if you thought Bob from Lucio Fulci's HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY was bad, wait'll you get a load of Marco in SHOCK. I would go on a road trip across an entire continent with Bob before I spent any amount of time with Marco. Yeesh. But anyway, another thing that overwhelmed my thoughts as I watched this film was how underwhelmed I felt by the overall lack of style. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but considering it was directed (and shot) by one of the great artists of Italian genre cinema, the plain look of the film is a disappointment. The same could be said for Bava's second-to-last film RABID DOGS, but at least that one had a fairly compelling story to make up for it; plus, Eurocrime wasn't exactly Bava's forte. Mind you, just three years earlier, Bava directed the stylish and atmospheric LISA AND THE DEVIL.

And then the last 30 minutes happens. SHOCK takes a huge turn and quickly goes from being a boring, formulaic, and unoriginal Haunted House movie to a stylish, surreal, and effectively scary Horror film once the layers peel away to expose something much darker than what's initially portrayed. To be fair, prior to this turning point in the film, SHOCK isn't utter dog-shit by any means. Daria Nicolodi is consistently great throughout the film (as she usually is), and the overall soundscape and score created by "I Libra" is quite good in spite of the lack of atmosphere for a good portion of the film. SHOCK also deals with the feeling of guilt - and how it can consume someone to the point of debilitation - in an interesting way.

If the first hour of SHOCK was as good as the last 30 minutes, Bava would've gone out on a high note, as this would have been up there with some of his best works; probably not on the level of BLACK SUNDAY or A BAY OF BLOOD, etc. in terms of being amongst Bava's more highly-regarded horror films, but it would have been a great Swan Song for him nonetheless. As it is, SHOCK lacks in the storytelling department and doesn't really do anything different from (or better than) its contemporaries, but a great performance from Daria Nicolodi, a fantastic and effectively creepy final act, and noteworthy practical effects and Haunted House gags make it worth checking out.

Score: 7


  1. It's hard to say how much of Shock is Lamberto's and how much is Mario's. Images and motifs that would have been amazing in the 60s come off as kind of off here. This film is definitely weak in spots but gets better with multiple viewings. The image of that hole in the brick wall is just haunting. Definitely some unforgettable moments in this one.

    1. I was thinking that too, Richard; how much of this is Lamberto and how much is Mario. And yeah, there's some strong, memorable imagery in this one for sure.

  2. Due to this spot on review I decided the first chapter I'd read in my recently acquired Tim Lucas Bava book would be the one on Shock. Having done that I'm now watching the film again. So in addition to your great review you helped me start the daunting task of reading the book. Not a negative comment on the book at all but it is so gigantic I have to sit on the floor to read it. I've always thought that despite the problems (that you mention in your review) Shock may be Bava's most underrated horror film. ( I wrote this out before but it disappeared when I hit publish. I apologize if it shows up twice.)

    1. Thanks, Brad! After writing this review, I scanned the IMDB reviews (which I rarely do), and a lot of the write-ups seem to be very positive. And the more I think about it - and perhaps if I were to watch it a second time in order to form a more solid opinion of it - I might agree with you that it's an underrated Bava film. Thanks for reading, buddy.

  3. It's been some time since I've seen this flick, but I do recall liking it well enough. Outside of the kid being awful and Nicolodi being in it, I don't really remember much about it. However, one scene pops into my head, and that's where the kid gets trapped in the basement which, from what I remember, was a pretty creepy moment. Awesome review, you sassy ass!